Tell your story

Discussion in 'Professional Catering' started by chefteldanielle, Jan 9, 2002.

  1. chefteldanielle

    chefteldanielle

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    Since I am trying to get my little sideline Catering/ personal chef business going it would be interesting to know how all you experienced caterers got started, how did you get your first job. Did you advertise or did you just rely on word of mouth.
    What were some of the mistakes that you made.
    Tell us about some horror stories that you encountered.
    The people you had the opportunity to deal with..
    Tell me more.
    Shroomgirl Iam sure has lots of great stories to tell.
    Thank you
    Danielle:bounce:
     
  2. momoreg

    momoreg

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    Catering was not my first gig in the culinary world. I started in hotels, then restaurants, then catering. I didn't realize what a different world it is until I was in it.

    The challenges for me, as an experienced pastry chef, were issues like:
    What does and doesn't freeze well?
    How can I put together a plated dessert for 500 pp that will look and taste terrific, even if I'm not the one plating it?
    How will the weather affect my dessert or cake (especially for outdoor events)?
    What is the best way to pack items so that they arrive at the party in perfect condition?

    My worst horror story... The big benefits are usually the ones that want something custom, with a certain theme. It's a lot of pressure, because I'm doing something on a large scale, that I've sometimes never done before, except in a small batch. The client had requested a cold papaya souffle. After I made 700 of them, I realized--duh-- that the papain is going to break down the gelatin!!!! It was too late, and all I could do was keep them frozen for as long as possible, and serve them ice cold. Luckilly, there was no disaster, but it was pretty scary.
     
  3. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    I've been booted off line by AOL twice tonight after typing exstensively....I'll try another time soon...ARGGGGGGGGGG
     
  4. cape chef

    cape chef

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    I got into catering as an accident.

    I was a chef at was one of the first "West coast" cuisine restuarants to come to the east. I had just finished working at a great,but crazy French place called Le Chambord, I was having the time of my life letting out my wings for the first time.

    I think at the time this was the only place that had an open kitchen, So I would always be able to talk to the guest. One night a gentleman came to say how he and his party enjoyed there meal. he asked if I would be interested in catering a small event in his home, We talked and I agreed. This is when the fear of god hit me!!! This was a totally new expereance for me. Food, bevarage,linins,flowers,service staff,pricing,cleaning,travel ETC!!
    Well this party that turned out to be for the dean of law at bridgeport university (now sacred heart) was the most excilirating thing I had ever done before, You know why? because my "Stamp" was on everything. I eventually went on to be the Chef for a Caterer in Ct that was and still is highly regarded (Right Michelle ;)) and I learned a very valuable lesson about our industry as so far as ,Planning,travel,staffing and much more.

    BTW.......always bring more ice then you think you need
    cc
     
  5. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Ok I'll try again>>>> I divorced an atty, moved 800 miles with my three sons (youngest with autism) and had to financially sustain us. I hadn't worked in a restaurant for 15 years, but I remembered the late nights. So to creatively cook, work on a semiflexible schedule (days), and make enough to take care of us.....well.
    My first gig I found from the newspaper working in an extremely wealthy client's home from 4-7 (3 nights a week).....did not like that time away from my sons. So I placed ads in selective places and am still
     
  6. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Happened again....I hate Aol!!!!
    Working for that first personal chef family 7 years later. I get cost plus and play with fun shtuff.
    I became active in St. Louis Culinary Society and was elected program chair....from that came teaching and event planning.
    I also started cooking at all the mycological forays and was jamming in the woods for 200.....what a hoot.
    So....for 5 years I worked with 4-8 families a week, many were short term when they realized how
     
  7. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    they would need to start eating at home to make the service fiscally viable. There are many different versions of what I do out there I have honed my down to what works best for my skills.
    So....3 years ago I started my farmer connection....with that came much more activist time rather than cooking time. I let spaces open in my schedule to start forming the farmers market....So weekends were spent setting up weekly events, writing recipes and a newsletter, organizing speakers....etc.....
    So now I'm on activist mode and doing more teaching and catering than personal cheffing....I still have my Wed. cooking that actually is one of my favorite days.....
     
  8. matias

    matias

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    Well, i hope this is not too late for you...If it is, i hope somebody that needs advise like this reads it.

    I have started my company and promoted it strictly by word of mouth. One advantage that we have is that our product is very good, actually, among the best in the world, so it is easy to rely on word of mouth.

    Make sure you do high visibility events, even if you do not make that much money. Money is not what you need at the beginning (i can not believe i just said that), what you need is promotion. Make sure that your rates go up with every quote and do not let anybody comment on your rates. Make them believe that they are the only ones getting that good rate and ask them to promise not to tell anyone.

    Let me give you a reference of what i am saying. I got my product in one of the most famous hotels in my country and practically told everyone about it....(i think it is called "name dropping"). THEN, visited who i wanted to feature my product and who was competing with the hotel that i had. It worked.

    By the third month of sales, we were tripling our billings every month.

    Let me know how it goes with you.
     
  9. monkeymay

    monkeymay

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    I fell into cooking/catering by accident.

    I grew up in the film business and worked in many aspects of production - as a coordinator, script supervisor, and every area of the art department (did a lot of low budget films and 80's rock videos). I had always cooked and entertained on a large scale, and after having kids, I stopped working in film but continued to cook socially to stay connected to my friends. My catering gigs grew out of that. Someone would come to dinner and then ask me to cater a photo shoot they were doing. Word of mouth spread and I found it was a way to make money on a small scale but still be around for my kids. I found that I enjoyed cooking at this level and producing events that I had created (because of course I'd always wanted to direct!)
    But as a self taught cook, I realized that more education was needed if I was going to become a professional, which seemed to be the direction I wanted to go. I attended at lot of local community college classes for business and catering and eventually went to the first culinary school opened in Los Angeles. Unfortunately. the school was so poorly run that I left after a short while to work with a chef that I admired at a new restaurant he was opening. That was the real world! I didn't do much catering for a long time... Ironically, I was wooed away by an old friend with a high profile catering company ... we did everyone and everything, 7 days a week! Menus on a daily basis (for 4-5 different groups of people+ parties). Learned how to bill (my boss always charged for Everything- for his platters used for service, for delivery to site- all litle things it never occured to me to charge for when I was catering. He always padded to cover his *** plus 18-20% gratuity depending on job size. Real eye opener - LEARN TO CHARGE WHAT IT'S REALLY GOING TO COST YOU. Physically. Emotionally. Client a real pain but you know you need the gig? Try to make it worth your while somehow- either from the lesson you take away ( the old "I'll never do that again") to learning what you are really worth to someone. My first private chef job was to an actor whose average salary was $20 million dollars a film. He asked me how much money I wanted to cook for him- he was willing to pay whatever- it was up to me to decide my value - an important lesson. Another client in the same catagory was so needy that I wouldn't stay, despite salary incentives. My sanity was more important!

    After years of catering and private work I am now happily back in restaurants.We cater out of our places and I still occasionally cook for people privately when they're in town, but I have to confess I hate the shlepping and grunt work of catering. I hate having to pack up/load in and then bring all that crap back at the end of the nite, usually about 2 am. Setting up and cooking for 600 in a dimly lit cold back alley for some film premiere in a "cool location".
    But I do love creating events, designing the food, lighting, and decor. For me that's the best that catering has to offer - creating these transient images and tastes that much like film , beome only a memory the day after.
    Hopefully, if you do it well enough they call you back for the next one!

    Peace and Good Luck:)
     
  10. banqueteer

    banqueteer

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    I've tried different things but always end up back in the catering biz. I've finally come to the conclusion that is my first love. While my kids were growing up I messed with doing a few catering jobs here and there because of the interest I had in it. Then I bought a deli and ran it for 3 years. It was great till Mcdonalds, DQ, QT, Another Deli came next door. Then I felt as I was just working for the government. Sold it and went back to catering. Well my kids were always gone and I had too much time on my hands so I started working as a banquet chef for a hotel. In the mean time my catering business is growing and I give up the hotel. Now I'm right where I want to be. I love the creativity and the challenge each job poses. My family thinks it's too much stress. I compare it to there golf games. I go into each job for the perfect score.
    The only way I can say my business grew best was word of mouth. It takes a while. Especially if your in a rural area like myself. My prices are quite a bit higher, but I've gotten myself in a position where in certain areas people feel there is no other caterer like myself. I'm a stickler on quality, presentation, flavor, and service. I pay my staff well because they know what I want. So I have no problem keeping them. I also love being able to have the control on how busy I want to be at any certain time.
    I love where I'm at right now!!!!!!!!!!!

    The no shirt..no shoes.. no problem.. came from a sign I had in my deli window. The deli was in a area where 50% of my clientel were construction workers.... loved those hot ,hot days.
     
  11. chefteldanielle

    chefteldanielle

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    So banqueteer ..
    Where do you do the cooking?
    Do you have a kitchen or do you go to your cliet's homes.. or at your home?

    Danielle
     
  12. banqueteer

    banqueteer

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    Right now I use a church kitchen, but we're in the process of adding another kitchen to our home.