How would you handle this?

Joined Mar 2, 2002
This question has probably been asked before, but...

I don't do much catering anymore since I opened the restaurant. But we do offer some "group deals" for up to 200 people- buffet style mostly. I have done quite a few of these. We have set amounts we deliver based on the number of people, and we have never run out of food- except once. This lady ordered fajitas for 25 people. She also got some sides and dessert. The buffet was set up for people to make their own fajitas. It was a drop off and leave job. She called back after lunch (not during, when I could have done something) to say that everything was okay, except that they ran out of meat in the fajitas. In other words, people picked it out and left the veggies. Like I said, this has never happened before. I had just fed 200 hungry college students the week before, and they didn't run out of meat! This lady just had an odd crowd, I guess. I didn't know what to tell her though. I didn't want to make it sound like I was blaming her or her lunch crowd. I explained that our meal deals were based on weight and number of people and that it was not arbitrary. She had actually ordered several times from me before and not run out of anything. I explained she had received the same ratio as always. She wasn't rude to me, but I could tell my explanation didn't exactly satisfy her either.

How would other caterers deal with this situation?
Joined Apr 19, 2001
Rita, I would stick to your guns; as you said, this person has ordered from you before and been satisfied, you explained to her how your portions are measured; it's out of your control if 1) it's a drop-off; 2) it's a buffet; 3) she didn't bother to call til after!

If you want to keep her as a client (or if she has a mouth in the community and could make nasty for you), maybe offer her a deal on her next catering job.
Joined Mar 2, 2002
Thanks for the input. I did offer her a deal for next time. Hopefully I'll continue to get her business. I'm not sure what I would have done/should do if one client out of many runs out of food and lets me know in time for me to do something about it, though. If almost everyone is saying it is enough, what about the one odd ball who says it isn't? Say the lady had called me during the lunch to send more meat and I did, and then it started happening every time with her but none of my other clients? Is that a can of worms I should open, or would it be better to stick to my amounts and try to explain that we can't have portion control on a drop off buffet?

I used to work for a catering company (technically as the "catering director", although I never had any control over anything since the owner was such a micromanager). The owner would always provide so much food that even a group of bottomless pits could never possibly run out. His food cost, when ever he managed to figure out what it was, was terrible. People were taking a lot of the food home with them.

Joined Apr 19, 2001
Argh - just posted a wonderfully written replay, and hit the close button and lost it! I'll try again!

How are you figuring portion sizes? If you're going by what you serve as a portion in the restaurant, I'd maybe up that a little, to allow for not being able to control portion size, and the fact that folks will be coming back for seconds.

I always ask the client what their 'guest profile' is; are they a bunch of young,hearty eaters, or a ladies social club? If they're a big-eatin' crowd, I'd suggest to the client that she get maybe 1 1/2 times the amount for the usual size; i.e., for a crowd of 25, maybe do portions for 35 or so - and charge her for it!

I know what you mean about tons of leftovers, too; I've worked jobs where we've used every half-pan we brought, along with raiding the tupperware in the host's home! I don't know how this woman I worked for made any money!
Joined Dec 2, 2000
It's pretty difficult in a situation like that..
See I am a people pleaser, having been in the medical field for so long. I am faced with the same situation now..
I have a fajita bar party coming up and I mentioned to the hostess that I was a bit worried of people picking out the onions and peppers etc..
I always add extra and charge for it..
However I suggested someone serving the meat.
I would freak if my food ran out.. I much rather not make a huge profit than have that happen.
Iam sure it will one day.
Anyway. she asked if I would serve and I gladly said yes.
She is paying..
What Iam planning to do however is add a clause in my contract that states something to that effect.
That if someone is accepting a drop-off that they would be responsible if the food ran out.
In a nice way ofcourse.
I would then beat it to death while setting up the contract , that it would be wise to order a little bit more food so that you don't run into trouble.
People and food are a no no.
They just go nuts.

Hind sight is 20/20.
If she loves your food she will hire you again.
If she doesn't hire you.. oh well. Her loss..

Good luck
Joined Mar 6, 2001
We found the only way to have a consistant and great product was to always be there to serve it. There are so many factors that can go wrong with drop offs. We thought it basicly came down to two types of catering, your either there and monitor the whole food service or your a carry out/drop off caterer.

I know that sounds rather hardlined but it's really true. When it's your food it's always your name on the line. People are quick to bad mouth something and they don't always have a clue as to the "whys" of what went wrong in their opinion.

We'd cater parties where the govenor (or some other "important person) was two hours late showing up to the party and as you served yet another round of H.d's you'd hear the guests mumbling among themselves "where's dinner? Something must be wrong with this caterer...?" and it's not like you can address each guest and tell them "well the hostess wants to wait" or "the hostess told us their'd only be 20 guests, sorrry we didn't plan for 40". Your trapped in a no win situation.

My point is there's always situations like this. You can explain everything all you want to the host, but the guests who are your next potiental clients never know it's not your mess up. It's frustrating. Sometimes you just have to state your case to the client and let it go, their are clients you can never please who want rediculous things from you. They can't have it both endless supply of food and no one there to control it.;)
Joined Mar 30, 2002
Well repeat business is the biggest way all Caters survive and grow. Keeping this segment of business satisfied and growing is a real change. Repeat customers will be come more confident in their ability to be more vocal and some times they are positive and other times they are not. Keeping them happy should be yours and every ones goal here.

I find when doing these light meal offerings that combing the Meat this case the Fajita Chicken Strips with the Vegetables is a UN safe or perhaps an unpredictable means of ensuring enough product volume. Offering them in separate dishes allows you more control of portions. This also allows the guest to eat more of what they like. The way around having to over extend your profit margin by issuing too much food is to control the amount of filling they use in the Fajitas by using a smaller flour tortilla.

I normally figure for a buffet lunch that people will eat 2.5 fajitas using about 2 ounces of chicken strips and 1.5 ounces of veggies.

Running out of food for any caterer is a deathblow but losing your repeat guest business is even a bigger deathblow.

How would I handle this? Just as you have said you have done. Offering a savings on the next event is perfect. You now know that they love your Fahitas!!

Chef Rick
Joined Apr 19, 2001
Ahhhh, smaller tortillas for portion control -now THERE'S a sneaky little trick!!! Love it!

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