Renting tables

Joined Jan 4, 2011
Hello everybody,

Before posting my "help cry" I have to apologize that I have not told you what happened at my last event with keeping the plates warm.  Long story, and I would write about it if anyone is interested.  

My "excuse" for not writing in such a long time is that on top of catering, and a failing deli that I am trying to keep it from closing down, I am proudly in charge of a one year and a three year old babies.  

In a very short phrase, the event with "keeping the plates warm" would have been a success, if the food would have been good!  I managed to serve and put everything on the table for 100 people with only 2 servers, and 2 in the kitchen including myself.  But the food was terrible ... and that was a big lesson for me.  Since then I am cooking myself and fired the cook.  I brought the catering's ratings from 3 stars to 5 in less then 4 month.  A lot of work, and a lot of reading from your site!  So I own you a big THANK YOU! for being here.

Anyhow I will share my stories of juggling between catering, deli and the kids if you will like to hear it, particularly that I can use some advices how to keep the deli.

But my question for now is this:  Is a caterer responsible for renting equipment if he/she is an exclusive caterer for a club, which provides the venue?  In other words, I have a party coming soon, the place that the client chose is the venue for which I am an exclusive caterer, and I am already given them %15 of my food revenue.  Now, the reception room needs one more table.  The manager of the place tells me that I have to rent the table as it is my event.  I already let the place use my table cloth and my plates without charging them.  Is this guy taking advantage of me?  How these things work?  Can you please give me any insights, any advices?

I have learnt a lot from your site for the past few months and I still haven't learn as much as I want!  I would appreciate any help you can give me!
Joined Aug 11, 2000
Whatever you agree upon, if it's not in the contract.

If you are the only one catering at the venue then they are your tablecoths & plates etc.

Rental or partial purchase cost can be apart of the customer's charge.

I'd love to read about how Chef Talk advice has helped you.

Serving 100 plated guests with 4 staff is unreal! Wow.
Joined Jan 4, 2011
Thank you Shroomgirl,

I was waiting like a hawk for your reply!!!

The problem is that we never signed a contract.  He kept postponed our meeting, and lately I have been crazy busy.  He has somebody else coming in, whom he pretends that we end the contract on October.  

Yes, I know!  I have now idea how I pulled it off, but I know that at the end of the evening I was exhausted!  I plated the chicken with the sauce, and the salad, and served coffee and tea!

What helped me is that I had two stationary displays.  So, while the guests where sampling from those, I started plating, and sending 2 of my staff to put them on the table.  The plates where hot, the food was hot, but as I said previously the taste was terrible!  Never thought to taste the food since I hired a professional cook!  Well that was the last time he worked for me!  

Needless to say that I lost that contract ... big contract!  I am thinking of getting them back by offering a free tasting.  Problem is at this point the situation is very complicated ... I am supporting a deli with the money from the catering, and struggling not to close the place down.

Thank you for your advise!  I am kind of frustrated as I am working so hard, I get good reviews, I change the old reputation of the catering, but I can't do the same for the deli, and don't have enough money to set up a testing for the old accounts that were under the former owner!
Joined Jan 4, 2011
Sorry Shroomgirl I just realized I did not quite answer your request regarding how ChefTalk has helped me.

In short: in all ways and areas regarding catering, contracts, HACCAP, portioning, serving, plating, recipes, transporting, etc.

8 months ago, when I took over the catering at my husband request, I was just a very good home cook, with a lot of imagination!  

I have never worked in restaurant business, and my background is totally and completely in the opposite direction.  But, in a way it did help me, as I always been served, and I know what people want, and what they expect: honesty, good food, good presentation, and good service.

The deli restaurant that my husband bought to help one of his family member was closed down because did not have a HACCP.

Since, then, and particularly after the event in February I started reading, reading, and reading from your site.  I put up a HACCP based on the deli menu, and I designed a menu for catering, that was approved 3 weeks later.

I set up a webpage for catering.

I got my food manager certification.  I fired all the old staff, hired some recent graduates from the Art Culinary Institute, instilled health regulations in the kitchen, and started cooking everything myself, especially for the catering.  

The problems that I am facing now are that my husband's relative is not a good manager, not to say about cooking.  Slowly all the people I hired quit.  I can't be at the store everyday because is an hour away from home, and I have the two little ones.  When I have a catering, I do everything, and I hire someone to work it with me.  But I realize I need a team, I need people that are determined to work for the passion of bringing this business to success and not only for a paycheck.  I did not see a dime from all the catering I have done, since everything goes to pay the bills of the store!  And now I am almost at the point where I see the closing coming, but I don't want to give it up. 

I have a small catering coming next week, and a quite substantial one at the end of August but these are not enough to pay all the bills.  I know I can make it work if I will be there everyday, but I can't.  I can hire a manager, but needs money, or I am thinking of getting another partner, but again hard to find a trustworthy person.

Ok, I bothered you enough!  This is pretty much my story!
Joined Sep 8, 2003
I am in a similar situation;  I cater and have a cafe, but my kids are 19 and 25!

Sometimes, the catering does keep the cafe bills paid, but that's not ideal.  I've tried many things to build business in the retail side, but I think the single most important thing I've done is to be there all the time. If you can't do that, you need to find someone who can be there who has the same philosophy about food and customer service that you do.  Otherwise, your customer's experience at  your place will be inconsistant.  That doesn't do anything to bring them back again.  Even after 5 years, I still find that if I'm not there most of the time, things just aren't being done the way I'd like.  For instance, a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, I was in my office and overheard a customer ask what the specials were.  We often run Friday's specials on Saturday if there's any left because Sat is normally our slowest day.  I heard the counter person say that we don't have any on Saturday.  I flew out of my office and told the customer that we certainly had specials and here they are!  I later told the staff that they may as well have told the person to move along to the next place.  Their problem was that they weren't prepped for lunch in time.  Their excuse was that they didn't think we'd be busy and won't make that assumption again.  (we don't have a crystal ball...)

As far as marketing goes, I've built a large email list that I use on a daily basis by sending out my specials. I use Twitter and Facebook as often as I can (which isn't as often as I'd like because I get busy and forget)    I've made friends with other businesses in town and we help eachother.  For instance, the comic book store posts my specials on his facebook page and I send. them over desserts once in awhile.  The art gallery and artisan craft store both have my menus on hand and they recommend my cafe to their customers.  I've bartered catering for radio ads, dropped of samples of our bakery items in pretty boxes with the receptionist in doctors' offices which has gotten us drug rep lunches.   It's taken 2 years, but I  feel that I've got a loyal following and see new people come in every day.  It's important to get new people all the time because although your customers are loyal, they want a change and can't be expected to come in every day.  That's why it's important to get your menus out everywhere!  The hospital, banks, law offices, schools, police, fire, and city offices are places where there are a lot of workers who have to eat.  Offer delivery if you can.  I suggest that the order be for 5 or more lunches, but will go out for less if I have time. 

My specials are different and interesting where my menu is pretty standard.  I've found the best bread available in my area and come up with some different fillings.  For instance, everyone is doing a chicken salad with cranberries and walnuts.  One of our special chicken salads has bleu cheese, pecans, apples, and cranberries.  Another has grapes and fresh herbs.  Still another is called buffalo chicken salad.  We alternate them regularly.

We make soups from scratch daily.  Most likely, one is vegetarian and the other has meat.  We're in a small city that isn't trendy at all, so I don't make a big deal about things being vegetarian or vegan, but those who care, know enough to ask  We have many vegetarian items on the menu, but  I didn't want to get the reputation of being a "vegetarian" place because the town couldn't support it.  Does that make sense? 

Along the same idea, we don't try to compete with nearby restaurants.  A burrito place came in right near us so we stopped offering quesadillas and burritos every day opting instead to put them on special once in awhile.  We now offer breakfast burritos because he isn't open for breakfast. We always had cupcakes in our bakery case, but a strictly cupcake shop opened up across the street, so we substituted the daily cupcakes for other desserts and have cupcakes less often.  It's done a lot for the relationship I have with those businesses, too.  (A breakfast and lunch place opened up nearby, and she would wait until she saw our specials on facebook and she'd offer the same thing either that day or the next.  She would also say on FB that she had "the BEST soup on Hanson Street" (I am the only other soup place on Hanson St, BTW).    It didn't increase her business, but instead made her look silly.

Get involved in the Chamber of Commerce if you can afford it, but if not, just get involved in local events.  Talk about your business every chance you get.  I think that without a large advertising budget, the only thing you can do is promote yourself.

I hope you can use some of this stream of consciousness blather.  Keep us posted.  Good luck!
Joined Jan 4, 2011
Hello Lentil,

Thank you so much for your reply and invaluable insights!

I so much understand everything that you wrote!

Well, I don't know where to start .... Let me start with the catering, first.  As I wrote previously, I managed to get the catering business up.  When I say "up", I mean is way better then it was with the previous owner, who for some reason, ruined it!  I was lucky enough to get all his past accounts, granted that some of the clients where unhappy the last year!  

I got over his business in January this year, but as I said before, as a novice!

I have a huge date base.  Problem is that some of his clients were unhappy and still are because of mediocre food/service.  Some of them, like you said never came back in years!  This company has been around since 1996, and just changed owners, until I took over.  In order to get them back I need either a tasting, or like Chefdeb suggested, go to a Farmer's Market.  At this time I do not have the money, and my mind is rolling on how to get the store at least to support itself; but I will get there!

When I took over, I had two events; both of them a disaster.  I was at one of the events, and my partner (my husband's cousin) at the other.  I did not coordinate the event, I did not cook the food for it, and I had no experience what so ever with catering.  Everything was coordinated by the former owner, who wanted me to give him all the money from the contract as a payment toward buying the catering business.

The event was at a private house.  When I got there, about 1 1/2 hours from my store, I was missing one of the meals (beef teriyaki) and the glassware.  I did not have a cook, and the lady in charge of serving, told me that she is a floor manager, and she does not serve, or cook!  BTW she was hired along with two other young boys by the former owner!  She actually was so surprised to learn that I am the new owner, that she called the former owner!  Long story!

As for the glasses, I found out that the former owner told the guy who loaded the truck to put plastic glasses, instead of real ones, although he was managing this client for at least 7 years!  Of course the client was flabbergasting!  The "floor manager" goes and complains to the client, that I am the new owner that she did not know about!  The client almost screams at me and tells me that he does not care what I am going to do, but he needs his glasses!  He was right!  I called my husband and told him, get the kids in the car, go to the store, and get the glasses!  

Well, I did everything I could to make the client happy ... I made the salad in the garage, and warmed up all the sauces, and everything needed for the buffet; and let the lady to be the floor manager!  

I served, talked to the guests, and invite them to taste from the trays.  I cleaned up and load the truck.  The funny thing is that the two boys that were serving approach me asking me if they can work with me on another catering!  LOL!  

At the end the client comes to me and says: "I have to admit that you did keep your posture!  Despite everything my guests where content!"  

At this moments, the "floor lady", who actually worked for the client for the last 7 years, wants to be friendly and wants to teach me that this catering business is not for everyone!  It is hard work!  I did not say anything, just listened, said good-bye, and went to the car where my husband was waiting!  I crushed in the chair and starting crying and told him: I am frustrated, I feel like I failed but I am not going to give up no matter what!  I am going to learn about it, and I will get better"!

Which I did, but then I made a second mistake!  I hired the same cook that the previous owner had for another big account.  For some reason, I did not trust myself cooking for large crowds.  Well, I learnt another lesson, and discovered that actually I can cook for large crowds quite well!  Practice and learning is what I missed!  And I still have so much to learn....

As for the store, that it is another long story.  Allow me Lentil to tell you about it tomorrow, as I just have few hours to sleep.  My daughter is waking up at 5:30 every morning!

Well, good night to you and everybody here!

I am glad that you are here for me, and maybe I can help someone at least with one thing:  Never give up, if you truly believe in what are you doing!

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