…. continued from lobster for 500 (forth installment)
Owning a barbeque catering business in winter presents it’s own unique challenges. First and foremost is paying the bills when business falls off in the winter months.. ok lets make that no bookings in winter…hmmm. How to survive becomes really important during those down times.
When the temps are in the minus range like -20 the barbeque rotisserie will freeze up, well actually the motor won’t turn it. Another dilemma is the big propane tanks.. they will also freeze and won’t push the propane into the lines. Oh.. and if it was really cold outside our walk-in cooler tended to freeze everything in it.. so we needed to keep the door open just a bit.
In those days that humongous barbeque was all we had to ‘cook’ in. The ovens came later, and commercial ovens were a few years away as well. Our commercial kitchen was a 60 ft Atco camp kitchen with a walk-in cooler.. and an eight burner, two oven, garland propane stove.
I can still remember the excitement when we bought our first two commercial stainless steel stacked convection ovens! We were feeding big groups of people with just those two garland ovens, in the stove and our big barbeque.
Learning everything the hard way is maybe not the way to go.. but we always pulled it off! My ex-husband was mechanically inclined and a certified welder, he could build anything and fix anything, or figure out what needed to be done.
Believe me when I say he literally put a fire under those big propane tanks to get that gas moving into the lines. I swear I almost had a heart attack every time he did that (this was at our kitchen in the country). You can actually see the frost line on those big tanks when it is really cold.
Which brings me to another subject ‘family based businesses’.. sometimes working together and working together even more, takes a toll. We did manage 30 years and we didn’t kill anyone (see above) or each other! Although there were moments.. the catering business is thriving under the second generations leadership, the marriage fell apart, but we still all work together.
Thank goodness we had child labour (our kids) and friends and relatives.. until they stopped answering their phones (well that was to come, when call display became popular). Money was always tight but we were learning the ropes and managing.
Catersource became like a lifeline of sorts. Each conference we attended started off with us worn out and wondering what the heck we were doing in this business anyway? We would chose our classes carefully and attend everything faithfully, always.. always , soaking up as much as possible.
The magic gradually happened as speakers related their own experiences on how they generated more sales that year. We would meet up with some of our peers and they would relate experiences they went through similar to ours and give us encouragement or ideas that worked for them.
The trade show continued to grow and offer more exciting products that we couldn’t get in Canada. My sales rep for Sysco would get so annoyed with me in later years because I always wanted something I had seen at the show.. not available for us.
We started buying things there and taking them back with us. We also got some really good deals at the end of the tradeshow from vendors not wanting to pack things up to ship back.
Returning back home this time, I gave the buffet tables riser’s and décor and fancy serving bowls .. we had the best paper plates and the best plastic cutlery (you may laugh but I hated the cheap plastic cutlery and cheaper yet some of those paper plates, I would never use.. ever!).We also did rental china and cutlery, our clients had a choice.
The internet had not yet come into play.. but now we learned that the answering machine was out. We should always have a real person answering the phone.. remember to smile! So we had to put in ‘call forwarding’ because I was the phone person and needed to be on all the catering jobs as well (I took to carrying paper and pen with me).
To kick it up a notch we looked at uniform rentals. We also upgraded our food offerings along the way, so we could inch up the menu pricing. We learned how to add value by maybe giving away something extra and putting no charge.. when they wanted the same thing again we were able to charge for it.
It seemed as the Catersource conferences grew, so did we.. this was not accidental, we were putting into practice what we learned and we continued to expand.
We were like this little spark and each conference attended, fanned the flames so our barbeque business grew bigger each year.
…to be continued