Be Ready For Service!

Mise en place redux

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”


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