HOLIDAY SUCCESS …fill dates promptly and manage sharply!

October 16th, 2017 | hereschicago
JON Wool Chicago Hospitality

Jon Wool

The holiday season is quickly approaching. For most, this will be a joyful time for shopping, festivity, and warm cozy drinks. For caterers, though, this will be prime time, when a robust event calendar and delighted clients are essential. Moreover, it will be a time to maximize profits at every turn. December can be the make or break month that powers a company into the black and provides a means to survive the quiet winter months ahead. Indeed, the stakes are high but a strong show of ambition, conscientiousness, and team spirit will help wrap your 2017 success into a grand package with the brightest paper and the biggest bow.

Consider that clients spend on average 15-20% more per guest over the holidays than during other times of year. Corporate clients, when pleased with their caterer in December, are likely to place 2 to 3 more orders throughout the following season. Plus, happy December clientele and guests readily become a caterer’s biggest advocates, essentially serving as extensions of your sales teams. There’s even more to celebrate because the jingle of sleigh bells will fast give way to those of wedding bells; nearly 25% of all engagements take place in between Christmas and New Years. Therefore, December occasions happily become caterers’ auditions before the happy couples. 

Most of us are savvy to these realities and are well on the way to strong end of year numbers.  If that’s not the case, though, don’t fret. There’s still plenty of time and plenty of opportunity. It’s up to you, though, to revisit your step by step sales strategies, to dig deeper and increase your hustle.

In my early days as a salesperson, I managed to work harder than ever in December but had little to show for it. A completely reactive rather than proactive mindset left me spending an inordinate amount of time after Thanksgiving desperately responding to last moment pop up orders of the most difficult types. Observing my struggles, an older and more experienced salesperson coached me to fill key December dates early in the year rather than wait until the season was a upon me. Further, he cautioned against booking just any event, but to focus on those most valuable to my company: those promising the highest revenues, the largest margins, and whose clients would likely use my services repeatedly. By following this advice, I was able to book bigger better parties, to work easier, and to improve client satisfaction. 

Next, I learned to do as the airlines and hotels do and charge a premium for popular dates. Further, to stop dolling out random discounts or competing penny for penny with other companies.  I also caught on that the most successful caterers would factor a luxury charge for last moment client changes the likes of dates or guest arrival times. This may seem a pretty rigid approach, especially during the season of giving, but it’s not; it’s just smart business!  

If you have doubts, tally your losses when having to reschedule an entire crew at the ninth hour, or when having to skip daily sales calls to revise rental orders, or when the chefs must prep menus a second time to accommodate last moment increases to guest counts. Should there still be doubts, compute the difference that even a five percent gain or loss means to your company over the course of the busy season. A luxury charge passes such expenses along to the client and becomes one way of managing sales, providing solutions and results.  

Once December events are contracted, it’s time to focus on operational excellence and to anticipate the challenges that we know all too well. The following helpful hints will take time up front, but sure will pay dividends down the line.

  • Huddle with the entire team to align on protocols to best facilitate work flow. 
  • Create simple menu items that can be cross utilized, prepared cost effectively but still with great flavor and that visual ‘wow’ effect.
  • Reserve ‘A’ list hourly staff as early as possible to prevent having to fill your roster with poor or untested talent.
  • Cushion delivery times to hedge against holiday traffic and poor weather. 
  • Arm drivers with accurate directions, estimated travel times, emergency contact information, convenient parking locations and even the addresses of supermarkets close to event sites.
  • Place rental orders upon contract to ease the scramble for that one special serving piece or linen pattern promised to your client.
  • Have two sets of eyes review paperwork to protect against errors.
  • Lastly, maintain the highest level of energy and enthusiasm. While this maybe our most trying of times, we must remember that, for our clients, this is the most happy of times.

Congratulations in advance on what will prove a fantastic season! May your calendar be flush with great parties, clients become yours for life, and may profits abound!  Then, relax and savor the joys of your own celebrations; family, friends, the warmth of the fire, and that first refreshing sip or two of frothy eggnog. You will have earned it. Happy holidays!

Jon Wool is the president and owner of JHW Business and Hospitality Consulting He can be reached at

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