Be Ready For Service!

Mise en place redux

Monthly Archives: November 2010

In The Bag!

“Man that’s the biggest lunch bag I ever saw.”

The voice came from a disheveled looking guy. He was leaning against the wall as
an effort to keep it from falling down. 

“It’s not all lunch. The rest is some things that we might need — so today’s event is a success!” I replied with a smile.

“You probably were an Eagle Scout too.” He says after taking a long drag on a cigarette.

I replied, “Matter of fact — I still am. Like a Marine, you always are. Being prepared — doesn’t get old — it doesn’t fall out of fashion. Sometimes I never touch what’s in the bag of tricks. Other days, I’m in the bag a lot. It depends — I just like being prepared.” 

A minute later the wedding coordinator (The bride’s sorority sister from college) arrives and says distressed “The bride’s maid dress seam split. Do you know where I can get a needle and thread?” 

Reaching into my bag and handing her my sewing kit. “Here you go. Please return this when you are finished.”

“In business or in football, it takes a lot of unspectacular
preparation to produce spectacular results.”
                                                                                            — Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame Football Player

Things happen at events. The MOB (Mother of the Bride) wants to know if someone has aspirin, bobby and safety pins. Power out on a wall. Swinging door needs a stopper to hold it open. The client’s Vice President of Sales wants to hang a banner from the T-Bar Ceiling and has no idea how to. Photographer needs a “sun blind.” Equipment breaks. The “DJ” (a family friend) has no tape to safely secure cords or wires. You’ve heard all the stories before.

Often little things evolve into a big nuisances — the bar tender stung by a bee and is about to pass out. A can of Sterno gets knocked over and sets the table linen on fire.

I would not expect most servers or bartenders to take the time and assemble a magic bag. In Los Angeles, in most cases, servers can hand you their latest script faster than a band-aid.

Event leads and captains ought to make up their own bag. Then there are those few dedicated Special Forces type staff that will do it on their own. I either case building a bag is a very good investment!

Will it cost some money? Yes, not much.

Some off-premise catering companies may make this bag up for the staff. .. a smart move. Otherwise think of the bag as an investment — not just some expense. If you are the most reliable, problem solver staff member, chances are you will have more work. Oh yeah, check with your tax advisor about how you “might” be able to deduct the cost off taxes.

So the next questions are: What sort of tools need to be assembled?

Leatherman Multi Tool
Leatherman Super Tool 300

I always wear a Leatherman® tool on my belt when working events. It’s “function over fashion” statement. The Leatherman® tool is indispensable Swiss Army knife on steriods — a real work horse for off-premise catering. I reach for this trusty companion during events to cut, hold, fix, tighten loose screw, saw off branches in the way. Etch your name on the handle; otherwise it can grow legs when borrowed.

Bag of Tricks

Magic Bag of Tricks


“To be prepared is half the victory.”
                                                                                                              -Miguel de Cervantes

So what’s in the magic bag?

The large carrier is a Marshalltown (Mason) tools bag. It has pockets inside and outside, which makes for practicing “Mise en place;” Door stopper, work gloves, polishing cloth, etc, all have their own pocket. 

Some colleagues have opted for a “box dolly” a box on wheels. Use what ever functional container you like.

Inside the larger bag is smaller bags. I like the multipurpose document holder bags found at Home Depot. Smaller items go in the documents bags labeled; First Aid, Service, Tools, Staff, Misc. This makes it easier to sort and find things in a hurry. 

Depending on where you are — you may want or need modify the contents to deal with seasonal and local weather or environmental issues. The contents are not cast in stone. I usually find myself adding a new item or replacing something every so often.

Here’s the list of what’s in my magic bag.

# Qnt Bag Item Notes
1 1 First Aid Kit, First Aid (See List) Things happen
2 2 Misc Apron, Short W/ Big Pockets Repetitive tasks tool pouch
3 8 Misc Bobby Pins Pull hair back
4 100′ Misc Cord, Clothesline 1/4″ Tying, hanging or lashing
5 1 Misc Finger Nail Clipper W/File Fix finger nails
6 50′ Misc Fishing Line, 30 Lb. Test Tying, hanging or lashing
7 10 Misc Gloves, Latex Clean up or handling food
8 4 Misc Lighter, Long Stem Lighting candles and canned heat
9 25 Misc Ties, Wire – Plastic Repair and secure 
10 100 Misc Rubber Bands Securing what ever
11 10 Misc Safety Pins – Various Sizes Just in case
12 1 Misc Scissors Cutting
13 1 Misc Scouring Pad, Cleaning 3M brand
14 1 Misc Sewing Kit, Small Repairs
15 1 Misc Soap, Dishwashing Small Washing dishes & hands
16 1 Misc Spray-Spitzer Bottle, Small Refreshing flowers
17 100′ Misc String – Mason Line Aligning, tying, hanging or lashing
18 20 Misc Table Linen (Cloth) Clips Securing table linens in the wind
19 1 Misc Library Wax Tub Secure things
20 50 Misc Pins, Long Stick Pinning decorations
21 12 Misc Clips, T Bar Hanging from T-Bar Ceiling
22 1 Prep Flashlight Seeing in the dark
23 1 Prep Headlight, Seeing in the dark
24 2 Prep Batteries, Flashlight Back up
25 2 Prep Batteries, headlight Back up
26 1 Prep Knife, Pocket Opening boxes, cutting things
27 1 Prep Note Pad 3 X 5 Writing notes and labeling
28 1 Prep Pen, Sharpie Black Labeling
29 1 Prep Pen, Sharpie Red Labeling
30 3 Prep Pens, Blue Writing
31 2 Prep Post It Notes – Pads, Large For temporary labeling
32 1 Prep Writing Pad Lined Write things down
33 8 Oz Prep Salt, Kosher Kitchen back up
34 2 Serving Opener, Paint Can Prying pans in chafing dishes
35 1 Serving Bottle Opener, Speed Style As needed
36 4 Serving Candles Emergency
37 4 Serving Cloths, Polishing Flour Bags Polish stem and flatware
38 2 Serving Cork Screw Open wine bottles
39 1 Serving Crummer Clear crumbs from tables
40 1 Serving Spatula, Heat Resistant Back up for cooking-serving
41 1 Serving Spoon, Serving – Slotted Back up for cooking-serving
42 1 Serving Spoon, Serving – Solid Back up for cooking-serving
43 1 Serving Tongs Back up for cooking-serving
44 1 Staff Mints, Breath Breath freshener
45 20 Staff Cough Drops Coughing staff
46 1 Staff Brush, Shoe Shine Last Minute Polish
47 2 Staff Razors, Disposable For staff not shaved
48 1 Staff Shaving Cream For staff not shaved
49 1 Staff Deodorant, Spray Freshening up
50 1 Staff Sun Screen, Spray Skin Protection
51 1 Staff Bug Spray Keeps the bugs off
52 1 Staff Lint Remover Roller Serving staff looks neat
53 1 Staff Pain Reliever, Advil Minor pain management
54 2 Staff Power Bars Back up energy supply
55 1 Tools Count Down Timer Reminder-special timing
56 1 Tools Crazy Glue, Tube Fix things and first aid – cuts
57 4 Tools Door Stop Hold open swinging doors
58 1 Tools Magnifying Glass Assist in removing slivers
59 1 Tools Pliers, Offset Fix or repair some things
60 1 Tools Screw Driver, Phillips Head Fixing-repairing
61 1 Tools Screw Driver, Flat Head Fixing-repairing
62 1 Tools Shims – Wooden – Pack Leveling
63 ! Tools Tape, Duck 2″ Roll Securing – hanging “bombproof”
64 1 Tools Tape, Masking 2″ Roll Securing hanging – closing boxes
65 1 Tools Tape, Clear 2″ Roll Securing runners -closing boxes
66 1 Tools Tape, Painters 1″ Roll Securing on delicate surfaces
67 1 Tools Wrench, Crescent 6″ Fixing things
68 1 Tools Crazy Glue, Tube Fixing things & finger cuts
69 2 Tools Gloves, Work – Pair Protect your hands
70 1 Tools Voltage Circuit Tester Check for working circuits
“I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”
                                                                                                                      — Abraham Lincoln

Hopefully you will build your own survival-success magic bag of tricks. The first time you show up with it many will laugh – just wait for them to come and ask you for your help.

BTW… Got a suggest about something that ought to be in the bag? Send me an email. 

First aid kit contents will be covered by another blog post. 

There’s another tote I take along and usually leave in the car, it contains 100’ and 25’ extensions cords, a 300 Watt “clampable” work light, more table clips, trash bags, 100’ of 3/8” rope, 2” wide tape and extra hand tools and jumper cables. 

Remember: Being prepared starts with a state of mind — a resourceful  “MacGyver” and “can do”  attitude. Having the right tools to help you survive and succeed will certainly help!

Hold on to your aprons,


Let There Be Light!

A lit flashlight

Image via Wikipedia

“Oh no, one of my earrings is missing.”

“Excuse me; I just lost a contact lens.”

These two situations are familiar comments heard by banquet and catering staffs often. They always include, “Can you help me find it?”

In another instance, staff was finishing clearing the salad course just served to 250 guests. With out warning — the lights went out. There was only lighting from a few candles on the tables, and that eerie green glow of the emergency exit lights. 

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my flashlight (Known as a “Torch” in the UK) and turned it on. Across the room several other serving staff did the same. We continued service and provided special assistance to the guests till the power was restored in about five minutes. It seemed longer though.

The host asked to see the event Captain. The host said to the Captain, “Thank you and your staff for saving my party” They shook hands and the host handed over an extra $20.00 cash tip to each server who had a flash light.

A week later, a guest from this party called and booked another event and remarked to the sales person, “I was at the party last week when the lights went out for a few minutes. I don’t want to take chances – I know your staff is prepared.” 

Always carry a small AA sized flash light when working on events in any capacity. Not a penlight or a “D” cell. When I am responsible for staff — I always tell the staff to bring to bring a flash light — it’s a condition of future employment. I also tell them to bring a good attitude and few other tools — which will be cover in another blog.

Staff has walked guests to their cars across dark parking lots. Assisted guests up and down stairs, and directed traffic. Often there’s a nice tip, some times not. This random act of thoughtfulness and kindness is always remembered! Think of it as making a deposit in the “good deeds” bank account.

Often off-premise catering is code for “anything can happen.” Being prepared will make a big difference especially if there is an emergency.

How much does a good flash light cost? Less than $20.00. Get the Maglite® LED. The light is brighter and the unit is very durable. Bring two extra batteries for back up.

If you are loading trucks the headband accessory is also nice to have because you don’t have to work and carry the flashlight in your mouth. If you are loading and unloading trucks often, get a LED headlight. Better yet get the trucks and vans outfitten with work lights.

Remember: Turn one battery around — so the light doesn’t turn on by accident and burn out the battery.

Broken Glass trick: Some guest thinks it’s real cool to go out on a crowded dance floor bare foot and then drop their drink.

When you are sweeping up the glass, position your flash light parallel to the floor. The flashlight beam will reflect the chards of glass, making it easier to see the broken glass pieces scattered around during clean up!

Having a flashlight doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Having a flashlight is a point of difference. The flashlight is a way to distinguish or differentiate your self, your staff and company from others. Having a flashlight will may a huge difference, especially when the lights go out.

Hold on to your aprons,

How To Book More Events with Business Cards!

New QR Code Business Card

Image by pixage via Flickr

“Do you have a business card?”

Great caterers hear this request at events often.

Every caterer is constantly looking for new business.

Unfortunately many caterers miss countless opportunities everyday at events to easily convert guests into clients.

Here we’ll review together the simplicity and effectiveness (when handled correctly) of handling requests for business cards. There are three aspects to be aware of:

1. The request for business cards is confirmation that the events’ presentation, food and service are being noticed and appreciated by the guests. Outstanding — Go ahead and pat your self on the back!

2. This card request is a grand opportunity to start the sales process of converting an interested and uniquely positioned guest into a client.

3. Guests view the card request as a permission based inquiry, meaning the prospect (guest) has asked you (given permission) to engage them. Don’t blow it. Just image good-looking girls asking out nerdy guys on dates — it does happen.

In most cases, sales people, managers and owners carry business cards. They are bound to be passing out a card here and there. Too often though, business cards are left at the office, in a van, in their car parked far away or maybe stuffed in the event folder — if you are lucky.

That’s about the change with this simple and effective “closed loop” program that helps turn “hand raisers” into clients.

With this proven approach to capturing the hand raisers, you will find your event staff (servers, bartenders, and valet) enthusiastically helping the sales staff in their quest for more new business. The technique explained here beats the pangs of rejection associated with cold calling any day.


Order at least 2,000 business cards for each member of the sales staff. In practice, when requested by a guest, the event staff will be giving them a business card of the person who sold the event they are working at.

You’re saying, “That’s a lot of business cards and a lot of money.” Business cards are an inexpensive medium for engaging new business when handled properly. Several cards will never be handed out — it happens… look how many cocktail napkins get wasted on events. Now is not the time to go cost crazy.

All of the event staff must be carrying at least two business cards each when working on events. When they run out of cards they can always get more. I have seen a few large stellar over-the-top “A Game” events where the entire event staff ran out of cards several times; so always carry back ups.

The Plan

Encourage the behavior of giving business cards to guests when requested with two reward components:

1. Give the staff, a gift certificate, movie tickets some sort of tangible reward to acknowledge that they handed out a card, that with some good follow-up by the sales staff, an event was booked, because they handled out a business card correctly.

There are some online services that let you buy debit cards, gift certificates, and gas cards in small volumes at a discount. So look around and be creative and mix it up. Remember perceived value makes a big difference.

 2. Schedule the staff member who handed out the card to work this new upcoming event.2

 Word will travel fast among the staff about this double-header reward program.

 The Launch Talk

Say this to event staff at the pre event meeting.

Start by asking, “Let’s see with a show of hands, who wants more work?”

 You’ll always see hands raised.

Continue with, “Great, here’s how you get yourself more work. I’m passing around business cards. I want you each to take two cards and write “Thank you” and neatly print, your name on the back of the card now.

“Every one working has a fair shot to get (mention the type of incentive bonus here) and have them selves scheduled for more work. Here’s how:” 

Talking Points

“When a guest at this event today asks you for a business card, reach into your pocket and hand them a card and say, ”Thank you for requesting a business card. My name is (Fill in the blank).”

 “When you call the office please ask for the sales person, whose name appears on the front of this card. They are familiar with the planning of this event today and will answer all your questions about presentation, themes, food, staffing, and pricing — so that like this event, you also will have a great event.”

“BTW… When the office staff asks, “Where did you get this card?” Please mention my name which appears on the back side of the card. I earn bonus points and may have the opportunity to work on your event. I would love the opportunity to serve you again. Can I get you anything else?”

Explain to the staff, ”Any questions about this new potential event are to be directed to the sales person.”

“Remember: The guest must ask for a business card. And they will based on you always doing your best.”

Continue with, “When the guest (prospect) calls the office, the sales person will ask the caller where they got the business card from and ask for the name (yours) on the back. When it’s you, here is what happens because you gave a card to some one who asked for it.”

“When the event is booked, which means an agreement is signed and deposit received, you will receive a $20.00 (Visa debt card or cash, or gift certificate a tangible reward). Plus, you will get to work the event.”

Now you see the full circle and therefore closing the loop.

You must track the lead inquiry sourcing carefully, this is important, for several reasons.

You will find that an incremental lift in booking more than offsets the small investment in additional business cards and some recognition trophies.

This program does not mean the event staff goes “Gonzo” handing out cards madly left and right.

Like all permission based engagements this process and relationship starts when the prospects; a guest in this case, ask for a business card.

Some times a guest will hand a card to the event staff and say, “Here’s my card. Please have one of your people call me — I want to discuss a party that is coming up.”

The reply ought to be, “Great. I will make sure they get your card. Here’s the business card of the person who will be calling you… (Follow the script)”

In either case, the odds are improving that the company will likely get another event because it has already started the sales process of converting prospects into a client.

Don’t forget: The request was based on the superior performance. So, continue to focus on the overall performance and the request for cards will come.

Follow Up

Instruct the sales staff to get the event staff’s name on the back of the card when they are talking and qualifying the caller.

This is important. Because it tells you:

1. Which member of the staff handed out the card? Now you know who to reward. There ought to be a space right on your lead-prospect qualification form to write the name in.

2. Where the business is coming from. Now the sales person knows how to interact with the caller. If the caller has already seen a presentation, tasted the food and experienced the service —  the sales process will be smoother. All of the sales staff needs to do this and they will reap huge rewards, as will the event staff and the company.

 In the beginning, the time span from handling out cards to booking an event may be lengthy – so you might need to “prime the pump” by providing some recognition initially to those handing out cards that  calls to be made to the office.


At the very next pre event meeting acknowledge and reward publicly the event staff members who have been handing out cards that caused calls. This reinforces the good activity.

Later you can just acknowledge only the booked events. Sending an email to all the event staff acknowledges the process is working and reinforce the behavior.

Later on every one will know what to do. However be sure to inform new staff and keep rewarding the positive behavior. The reward is away to reenergize the staff.

Remember: Business card requests generate calls. Calls create proposals. Proposals turn into events!

This improved process will take a little while to get going and the quicker bookings will follow. The event staff wins, the sales person wins and the company really wins, by being prepared to hand out business cards when requested.

If you want to kick it up a notch — you might consider updating your business card to the new QR (box Code) style cadr. QR codes are edgy and perhaps the newest tools for social media engagement.

Considering new business cards? 

Check out the new  40 interactive cards for inspiration and sensory overload at Any one of these new tactile and digital combinations will certainly make the bearer memorable.

Hold on to your aprons,

The Audition

“Excuse me, who is the caterer for this event?”

The words came from a woman who was dressed to the nines… accessorized with a pearl necklace and a Prada clutch.

The simple request is one of those “loaded” questions around catering.

This is the point where staff usually cringes and wonders what happened? Who or what is messed up? A spill perhaps? Was the wrong entree’ served? You know the drill, right?

Next this lady says,”The food is incredible and the service is some of the best — I have ever seen. Do you have a Business card.”

This is how guests are supposed to react!

Remember: There is always someone attending every event that is watching.

The “watchers” as I call them, look closely at the serving staff, bar tenders, the cooks and chef, valet staff, the band, the DJ, the florist, the set up and clean up crews —  everyone.

Watchers pay close attention to details; the what, and how you perform as a team — that’s part of a company. How the staff interacts among themselves? Does the staff give each other high fives, hugs and smiles or smirks and rolled eyes? Is there cohesive team work or orphans wandering around loose “texting,” talking on cell phones or chain-smoking and whining?

Watchers observe staff interacting with other guests. Can servers answer basic questions about the food being served?

Guests like to know what kind of spice is in the food and is it hot? Some times they want to know about nuts. Growing numbers of people are allergic to nuts. There’s nothing like a guest experiencing anaphylactic shock during cocktails to put a damper on an event.

Often guest will ask will ask, “What is that?” Pointing to the garnish. The serving staff needs to be be prepared and comfortable to answer the questions with poise and confidence. Once I was summoned to a table where the guest asked me to lean down and whisper, “Are the little black balls in the sauce mouse dropping?” I replied, “No Madam those little balls are imported capers from Sicily — packed in sea salt and sautéed in extra virgin oil and then added to the beurre blanc sauce. They are different from the usual capers we see.” She then replied ” Just checking — that’s what I thought.”

Guests want to know the origin (Domestic or Imported) of ingredients (Local, Organic, or Best Source). This is a good time to impress upon the guest the good quality and acknowledge the careful consideration given by the event planner and the Chef.

The more the staff informs guests of what the food and beverages are, makes the event experience more memorable and comfortable. After events guests like to brag to their friends they enjoyed unique cheese from France and one of a kind olive oil from Italy, grass-fed beef, or free range chicken or hand-made tortillas and Mojitos with fresh picked mint.

Does the staff say, “Excuse me, Please and Thank you?” when talking with the guests?

Then there’s reacting to situations; such as cleaning up dropped and spilled drinks and food. How are directions given to the restroom? Do bar tenders use a fresh glass for new drinks and pour beer into glasses? Did the Valet open and close doors. Don’t forget, “Little things make a big difference.”

Watchers sometimes ask about working with the staff. They’ll tell you that it looks like the staff is having fun. Give them a business card and direct them to call the office for an interview, and encourage them to enjoy the event.

Often watchers are people in the hospitality industry. They like to “talk shop” or tell you about when they worked in catering back in the day. These watchers can be very critical of the performance and often are the most supportive and appreciative of good service.

All these scenarios are excellent opportunities to make friends and potentially book some future business!

Some watchers are looking to see if they ought to recommend your catering operation to friends and colleagues or even hire your company for their own upcoming event. It might be in a few weeks, it might be in three months, or even a year from away. You never know.

One of Roy’s Rules; “Every event, is an audition for another event.”

If you handle the audition correctly, this will be your biggest source of new business. The sales process will be smooth because the potential client has already seen you in action. I have seen hundred’s of parties and events booked with a caterer just because of a strong endorsement with no tasting or bidding among competitors involved either.

How do you know when the audition is going well?

The guests and watchers tell the staff and managers that they are doing great work. Most guests really do enjoy outstanding service and random acts of kindness. Some will express their appreciation with words, others with tips, and some will put a good word in for you somewhere down the line.

Staff always needs to keep performing and looking for service opportunities. Management must praise and acknowledge publicly above average work. There’s no letting down at the end of the night either.

In another blog post, you’ll discover a “closed loop” trick that increases the odds for booking more new business. 

When you have an outstanding audition; the guests enjoy a great experience, the staffs feels good and usually makes better tips, plus management has another event booked. That’s a winning combination for everyone!

“Break a leg”