What did I learn? What Didn’t I learn? My first Catersource conference I learned EVERYTHING .. I came away with so much knowledge! I also won a free tuition in the following years conference.. I sure didn’t think I was going to learn anything more (I already learned everything) but it was worth a lot of money so I took in another one.
And will you look at me now.. the business is going into 30 years, carrying on with my kids at the helm. I am retired and still a Catersource Junkie.. I honestly can’t remember the year of my first one but I have a canvas tote bag from 2001 that says ‘The Greatest Gathering of Caterers in the World’ at the Rio.
I remember Pauline Perry .. she did some wonderful buffet presentations. She let her staff help .. there were too many for her to do personally but then she went around and changed them all (I do that too, at functions.. drove my staff crazy). You give them the encouragement and freedom .. but sometimes it just needs a wee bit of tweaking .
I learned all about making every table of food we ‘presented’ appealing and have a wow factor! I also learned at the first conference about .. customer service.. yes.. I am embarrassed to say that we were so discouraged in our fledgling catering business (eking out every cent) that it was almost us against them.
Mike Roman personally told us how to treat our customers and what to say and what to give and .. and.. I went back to work our business with a whole new attitude and we doubled our business that year. This also changed our outlook as well.. it wasn’t ‘us against them’ anymore and it became a little easier.
The next conference taught us about pricing and once again we put into practice what we learned and made more money the following year. Sometimes it was a matter of adding 25 cents to the price of a burger and hot dog at a big sale (with our concession) that made the difference in our profit margins or even operating on a profit!
I am sure we were probably the first BBQ Caterers to ALWAYS use linen tablecloths way back when! Also the first to use centerpieces on those tables even in the middle of a construction site or a cow field.
We rotated beef at Agribition (a prestigious agricultural show for all North America) all night long (in minus degree weather) beside the cattlethat were being groomed for this huge event. Working day and night for seven days .. grueling work ..we called it Aggravation.. but when building a business you do what you have to.
We then learned at another conference to take into account these PIA factors and work them into the pricing. AND.. it was not always easy making it to this conference.. we are 1600 miles away..it is always scheduled during our down time, but money was always scarce then as well. I won’t even get into the money exchange on our dollar.
Another chef caterer taught me that people always eat with their eyes first and I never forgot that! I ran into her at a conference years later and told her what an impact that had on me and stays with me to this day. I thanked her and I would love to share her name but it is eluding me (over sixty here).
We grew along with Catersource and picked up what we needed to know when we were ready. I remember us (myself and my son and daughter in law) poring over the schedules and classes and circling which ones to go to and we would split up and each take in different classes and then compare notes.
We learned so much from every conference we attended.. we ALWAYS went back with an idea or a plan or a value added incentive to make our business more profitable. NOTE here.. I said more profitable.. work smarter not harder! Lord knows we work hard enough and it is the hardest job I have ever had.. bar none!
Being a family run business has its own special set of problems and differences and feelings and emotions. We need to find our own niche and some of these classes even addressed these issues.
But first and foremost what I learned from that first conference is that ..wow.. look at all these people.. they were all here for the same reason I was there for! I thought I was alone in this struggle and here were hundreds just like me in various stages of this business!
They were willing to share and help and exchange ideas.. same as today.. and now we are in the thousands still doing what Mike Roman started all those years ago. I wonder how many of us has a similar story to tell?