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Mise en place redux

Category Archives: Hospitality

Food Foreplay… The Nose Knows!

You are doing a house party.

A real nice big house — great clients.

The doorbell rings…

Guests enter and say, “OMG…. It smells like you have been cooking all day — I can’t wait to eat…. what are we having?”

The host replies “Well actually, I hired this wonderful caterer and they have been doing all the work this time!”

Often we hear that, “We eat with our eyes first, then the nose.”  Sometimes it is the nose first!

Cooking aromas welcome, excite the guests, and pique their interest in the food to be served!

My favorite aroma is is rustic, earthy warmth of roasted Rosemary.

Filling a house with aromatics of Rosemary can do wonders to help set the mood, therefore preparing guests for what’s coming. The host feels confident, the guests marvel — the caterer looks spot on!

Behind The Magic Table — Kicking It Up Another Notch!

Often in off-premise catering, food is prepped and cooked at the kitchen and hauled to the event site in various special transport boxes “aka” the Cambro, reheated or placed in the oven and or chafing dishes for heat up. Which is fine. It’s only at the last minute — the guests smell the great food. Food foreplay ought to be longer than five minutes!

Sometimes there is tray passing of hot Hors d’oeuvre

Which also alerts the guests of what is to come.

Hot Air That Smells Good!

Before you leave for the event — Gather a generous handful of fresh Rosemary (6-8  12″ branch lengths) from the kitchen, a ½ sheet pan, a sheet of baking (parchment) paper.

About 30-45 minutes prior to the guest arrival — place the paper on the sheet pan, strip the Rosemary leaves off the stems, crushing and  scattering the Rosemary stems and leaves around the pan.

Cover the leaves with water — soaking for a few minutes. Place the sheet pan in the oven at 375°.

Every so often open the oven door and let the aromatic pleasantries of the steaming-roasting Rosemary escape, filling the kitchen and house.

Roasted Fresh Rosemary

When all the water has evaporated — the Rosemary starts to brown and offers us a woody forest aroma. Pull the pan from the oven, let it cool down and then discard the paper and Rosemary.

When entertaining in the back yard and there is a BBQ grill to use — toss wet Rosemary on the warm grill and open the hood every so often to let the wondrous aroma fill the yard. It’s always a big hit and gets the guest talking about the food.

Just as I was finishing this post I came across a youtube video from Chef Grant Achatz at Alinea dealing with idea creation with sense.

Hold on to your aprons,

Roy Porter


Review of the Catersource 2011 Trade Show

If you are involved in on/off-premise catering you must attend the annual Catersource conference and trade show in Las Vegas, NV.

I started to write this post the day after attending — however I have been consumed with several large and demanding projects. So here we go!

With very limited time this year – March 1st I headed out early Tuesday morning driving East across the barren Mohave desert towards the new city of lights — during the transition from a dark night to an Electra dawn.

With the windows rolled down, breathing in brisk desert air and listening loud to; The Ramon’s, Pink Floyd, Puccini, Sinatra, Country and some new electronica dance music while channel surfing thru an extensive menu on Satellite radio. This made the long drive pass quickly!

Industry trade shows and gatherings such as Catersource, are a rich depository of industry related information, education, relationships fostering experiences, and a library of trivia.

Later at some opportune moment – what was collected is called upon and used in some purpose, often not for the intended purpose. Basically you get to see a lot of new and very cool ideas, concepts and interesting people. I constantly found the long time pros helping newer players to excel!

What did I see that was new and or interesting to an information and idea junkie like me and perhaps you?

I started at one end of the trade show floor going aisle to aisle and booth to booth finishing as the doors were closing and people where preparing for the spectacular Tuesday night party.

After so many sales reps are asking the usual monotonous, “How are you?” I cut to the chase by asking, “What’s new? What’s unique?” Usually followed with “What are people attending the show finding interesting in your booth or with your company or products and services?” and the inquisitive “How does you product, compare to brand X.”

That’s the point where we get down to business and have an information exchange and usually learn something useful.

Setting aside the wonderful suppliers for a moment, it was really great to meet the people attending. Some I have been exchanging emails with – as readers of this blog, some new — we just met for the first time while scoping out a booth or demonstration — all united with a common cause to get better at catering!

Here is some of what I saw and found interesting at the trade show. You may already know about these ideas, perhaps you will find some new here!

Art of Flame "Fire on Water"

Art of Flame 

Fire on Water!

As you may know, I’m big on “function over fashion” any day of the week – however the flame floating on water in a glass container, takes the prize this time.

Medrith Nolan, the inventor is a chemist. She figured how to make a unique safe, visually stunning multipurpose decorative flame. Her creation is simple, intriguing and so safe — it often passes the open flame limitation with ease.

I had a great chat with her and applaud her for turning her idea into a success! Yes she has some new design coming out – so don’t wait. Now you can make use all those glass vases collecting dust in the warehouse.

I expect to see her floating flame creation gracing tables at events and talked about widely.

 Vikki Smyth 

Vikki is my favorite designer for working with acrylics in all shapes, colors, sizes. Jackie has managed blend the gray area of function over fashion, always with stunning results. She is simply the best for “floating food in the air concept.”

You will find she is full of energy, passionate with her infectious enthusiasm — morphing science, craftsmanship, and art into some really amazing wow attention-getting designs. Everyone I’ve sent to her for solutions and products over the years is always satisfied!

Black or white Honeycomb is her newest design — which can create a “vertical bento box” display. There are lotsa’ combinations that make this a crowd pleaser for displaying Hors d’oeuvre, Tapas (Small Plates), Dim Sum and Desserts.

ISI North America

Carol Kentis was showing off new “carbonator” aka as the “twist & spakle.”

Thru some incredible end of show discounting — I picked up a new “Twist and Sparkle” unit and a Thermo Whip Plus.

Already I have put the “Twist & Sparkle” to good use pumping CO2 into wide variety of beverages — all were great over-the-top experiences.

This has been a great hit at several parties carbonating a variety of juices; cranberry, orange, apple, pineapple rum, coconut milk, mango, guava, grape juice. I have been giving this puppy a work out. Jack Daniels, a few dashes of Reagan’s #6 orange bitters chilled and carbonated became very popular at one party for toasting shots — fizzy cosmopolitans at another. Lemon infused sparkling water at another. Adding air makes a difference.

Thermo Whip Plus

The thermo whip Plus is more than a whip cream on demand maker. Fresh whipped cream is always enjoyed for a high end coffee or dessert bar.

Warm Bailey’s Irish Cream foam was hit at St. Patrick’s Day parties.

However the optimal applications for the Thermo Whip Plus are far more exciting — especially when you blend in lessons learned from macro-gastronomy.

I have been fooling around separately with warm beet, carrot, sweet potato, and green pea foam to dress plates – an airy tempura bather with great success and I even experienced a few food fatalities. The Thermo Whip Plus – as the name implies is insulated — so dressing up warm plated food on a fast-moving plating line with a hot sauce-foam is a breeze and will keep you outta’ the weeds!

I’m on mission to create some tasty soy-based foam for those lactose intolerant and hard-core vegans. If you have ideas — let me know. I promised my newest “BFF’s” at ISI, that I would share and post my research so that others can benefit!

BTW I’ll being writing more extensive posts on these wondrous culinary tools here at the blog soon.

Sunkist Bar Buddy

Sunkist Bar Buddy

Sunkist Bar Buddy has been around some time, an indispensable tool for high volume consistent cutting (sectional) of wedges and slices of apples, oranges, lemons, limes and tomatoes.

What’s new? Additional blades such as the 10 piece wedge. The new 10 wedge blade saves you money on bar garnishes and is absolutely perfect for cutting lime wedges for small tacos. Besides the 10 wedge sized lime wedge fits better in the top of a bottle of Corona beer.

Cutting limes for bar service often is often delegated to on-site bartenders. Really the preparation ought to be preformed by the kitchen or select staff — so that lemons and limes and other drink garnishes are prepared properly saving time, keeping on-site labor in check and maintain consistency and quality of cutting.

Bamboo Imports 

Extreme customer driven picks and skewers created from bamboo. Losta’ colors, styles, shapes, great service.

While talking with Ryan Young, he showed me several examples of customer wish created products. Ryan explained, “Caterers are in the food serving and entertaining business. We’re in the sourcing and production business to support caterers. Most of our products were created by requests from caterers. We’re always on the look out for new requests.”

Fresh White Endive

California Vegetable Specialties

Belgian endive has been used number of times as an edible transport vessel-carrier for a large variety of toppings.

When I asked what’s new “Humus bars” was the reply. With so many variations on flavored humus there certainly is potential. Great ideas on how to use endive at the site above.

Belgioioso Cheese 

Famous for their authentic Italian style cheeses — especially the mozzarella sheets — was another visit after the endive booth. So with the new concept of humus bars, so I asked, “Why not soft cheeses?”

Belgioioso creates 12 different flavors of soft cheese that when formed as cannels or piped would sit nicely in the endive. So another food presentation idea worth considering.  

Big Ass Fans New Pivot 180


I have been an advocate for several years. The fans do the trick of moving large volumes of enough air at low speed to lower temperature.

Showing off a new Pivot 180º Fan, that will be great for cooling event and kitchen-cooking-preping tents during warmer periods.


Blaze Products  

New clear container, looks cool behind glass blocks supporting a warming griddle because you don’t see the container. Another nice plus is that you can actually see how much fuel is left.

So instead of tossing ½ used fuel cans at the end of an event, cap’em and use the remaining fuel next time, you’ll same money and help the environment.


The new chork: a blend of chop sticks and a fork The Chork The Chorkä is quite an idea blending a fork and chopsticks together. How many events do you take tons of forks and chopsticks for Asian food? The Chork solves the problem with one utensil that will certainly be a popular topic of conversation.I have another idea for the Chork -- which I’ll reveal in another blog post!Electric Buffet Burners

Buffet Burners

Bob Feaglery enlightened me about the applications, ease and smart use of this electric chafing dish heaters for adopting existing chafing dishes. Using existing chafing dishes is the key point here.

As you know many,  historical sites, office buildings, and venues prohibit any open flames – so instead of buying new electric only chafer dishes — adopt these heaters to your existing rectangular and round chafers.

The heaters meet the no open flame requirement and from further discussion if you are at a venue on a regular basis — I suspect the operating cost and safety consideration beats using the canned fuel.



Caviar Specification Tool Kit

Chef Rubber

Chef rubber is a great resource for macro gastronomy, tools, specialty pastry ideas. It was a lot of fun to see some many items — get your hands on them and ask questions about use. The staff was such a treat to answer questions and offer ideas!

If you have been thinking about adding Caviar spheres or perls to dishes or cocktails and weren’t quite sure where to start, this is the place. Order the Caviar Specification Tool Kit and start making tasty luscious pearls right away.

I have been looking at using round silicone molds to use to make ice spheres for drinks for specialty bars such as Scotch bars. The round sphere melts slower — so the cocktail is cooled and not watered down.

I found a 2” dia. silicon sphere mold here that’s perfect for a whisky bar.

Creations in Lucite

Edgy display and in clear, opaque, black plastic and a willingness to  customize.


Food grade fiberglass and silicone molds-shapes for well; butter, sorbet, chocolate, ice cream, bread, mac & cheese bites and more. This is one of those thrust your imagination into overdrive for possibilities companies.

I’m not a big pastry maker. However I often marvel at the creations, and am always borrowing techniques and ideas for other and cocktail creations and enhancements.


“Flame on!”

New Sterno Jet Burner

Sterno was showing off their new Jet burner. This innovation will be outstanding for certain stations where portable fast heat is needed to finish off dishes that also has stylish form.

New Sterno Torch

The new torch was also on display. Seems the days of carmelizing desserts and such with my plumbing torch are coming to a close. The canisters use the same fuel source as the butane stoves.

Xroads Philippine Sea Salts    

An informative chat with Lennie who founded the company. Her sources follow traditional sea salt farming practises long time in the making. The taste of her salts were fresh and clean!

I have been considering using finishing and or premium sea salts as lead generation offers or gifts to select clients packaged in special vessels. The different textures, flavors and colors is certainly appealing especially when finishing seafood dishes. Xroads has some truly unique bamboo packaging.

I learned that all sea salts are to be labeled with a notice about possible allergic relations to shell fish. Often sea salts contain some trace amounts of what causes a reaction. There’s nothing like a guest experiencing anaphylactic shock to dampen the enthusiasm for a party.

Mini Push Up

J.B. Prince

Another kid in candy store moment with lotsa’ things — hard to find, unique culinary tools, and I didn’t have to travel to Manhattan. The booth staff was as always very helpful answering questions, and explaining new and different applications. What a joy!  

JB Price has the new push ups cups in two sizes that have become so popular for breakfast, snacks and desserts!

Vanillaness at it's best!

Nelson-Massey Vanilla

Beth was a real treat to talk with. I received an in depth education on vanilla —  a spirited debate concerning vanilla from Tahiti and New Guinea or Mexico, plus a review of some other new flavorings and extracts – which I will be experimenting with shortly.

Sensational vanilla flavoring that fills your mouth with wholesome “vanillaness” Ummmm so good!

Pick On Us

There was the book: “Stick It, Spoon It, Put It In a Glass” signing with chef Eric B LeVine, certainly a masterpiece to add to your culinary library.

There was large display of so many different ways to secure and transport food; picks, skewers, stirrers, etc. of all types of color and shape and design.


New “Scratchless” stainless steel scouring pads — that doesn’t leave marks on stainless steel. Essential for cleaning stainless steel display items that have accumulated crud – you know the kind where the only grime removal tools left are harsh chemicals or elbow grease.

New Safe Tray

Safe Tray        

There was two nice lassies from Scotland. One was Alison Grieve, the inventor who was was pitching in a very charming way her new Safe Tray.

The Safe Tray I believe, has great promise.  The collapsible handle on the bottom is perfect for learning balance, stacking and a few new magic tricks and navigating thru crowds that have been happily drinking. see the video at YouTube:

Safe tray is “spot on” for training new inexperienced staff to hold, balance, serve and clear tables with a tray. We had good a good chat about establishing distribution and learning to drive on the “right” side of the road. I plan on using he trays for training new staff soon. I wish them well!

Must Have Sklips


I have seen the ads for the sklips™. This was the first time I could actually get my hands on them. A simple, functional design for turning sheet pans into stacking racks.

I bought a box and have been using them extensively on events since the show where counter and shelf space was limited.

Another great application is to use them give some height to buffet tables which are usually flat. Stack a few sheet pans add some draping to cover the pans and suddenly you are escaping flat land, safely.

Suggest you order a box or two of each size and add them to your culinary tools arsenal.

Cocktail Rimmers

Rimmed cocktail glasses especially for specialty welcome or signature cocktails at events present an incredible visual, tactile-tasty garnish which instantly increases the perceived value to guest.

With over 30 prepared varieties of colored, flavored sugars and salts makes this the one stop shop for cocktail rimming. Every color and flavor I had been challenged to create and experimenting with over the past few years was here. Great, now I can move on to something else. 

 I love the Wrap-N-guard for at least two ideas; a built in nice stainless steel stylish wind screen — which comes in handy on windy days for outdoor events, plus the space saving design that require less space for transporting chafing dishes.

Space saving at first, doesn’t seem like such a big idea…until you try packing 26 chafing dishes for a large event. The space taken up is huge. Or if you are trying use one van to deliver several hot lunches to be served from chafing dishes. The space saving and bulk reduction helps a lot. 



New Misty Stix



Having been challenged at some events like large outdoor weddings on hot summer afternoons in Southern California with getting 200 cold Moijtos or Margaritas served quickly to thirsty guests as the ceremony concluded.

Faced with no freezer or cooler and limited resources; time and staff – I often inserted small pieces of dry ice into the drinks, to cool and not water down the cocktails. The icy smoke cascading off the glasses always looks so inviting. However my dilemma was always guests grabbing a cocktail too soon and burning their lips on the pieces —  I was often fishing out the larger pieces as the trays left for passing.

MistyStix solves the problem. The capsule stirrer holds the dry ice and preventing burns from the dry ice. The unit can we washed and reused.

BTW the way I also learned of this terrific site for locating dry ice anywhere in the world something to add to your computer and cell phone favorites.

Truffly Made

What I liked best was the simple clean mold designs and a willingness to help and even create custom molds. I told the rep in the booth of my quest for round ice spheres. He promptly showed me a sphere mold that was just over and 1” in Diameter.

He provided me with samples for testing. Now I’ll be ordering a few molds to make smaller ice spheres for some special cocktail and drink events.    


Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar

Gourmet Blends 

There’s a lot of good Balsamic vinegar floating around these days. Some OK, some good and what I found here had an exceptional clean, wholesome, satisfying taste — I dreamt for a moment I was standing in an aging room somewhere in Modena, Italy and that we were lucky to sneak a sample of something that had been waiting 12 years just for this moment!

The quality is high and the blends such as vanilla fig are sensational for dressing up some strawberries, persimmons and ice cream!

Best part two parts the boys can ship on large volume packaging – so you don’ have to fool around with all the smaller bottles and they work with you to create and work out the details  for special unique gift packages to give to clients!


As mentioned in the start of this post — I listed just some of the more interesting booths I saw at the trade show. Can’t wait to put to use many of the new and different ideas I found.

Mark your planner now for next year: February  26 – 29 th 2012 in Las Vegas, NV. 

Hope to see ya’ there!

P.S. Want more information on Catersource 2012?  Here’s where to go:      



“Pass The Salt and Pepper Please”

If you are “On the Floor” as I am often, at catering events you hear this request a lot.

Despite the best quality ingredients and the magic of a talented chef — some guests still want salt and pepper on their food. Yes, some have been known to sprinkle salt and pepper before  tasting the food. I refer to that as “Asalting the food.”

Reasons for adding salt and pepper to food include; being food snobs, old bad habits, damaged taste buds due to smoking, or a guest claims to add salt to prevent dehydration on a hot day. Some guests like the aid to digestion that back pepper provides and some simply enjoy black pepper’s savory warmth.

Even though black pepper is the world’s most traded spice, black pepper usually is overlooked in the shaker — as some basic mediocre commodity on the table until something happens or a decision is made to kick it a notch or two.

Disaster In The Making

We’ve all seen it…

A guest removes the black pepper shaker top and tries to lightly sprinkle black pepper on their food and ends up dumping most of the shaker out – for any number of unintended reasons. Sometimes these guests want their course replaced because of the pepper dumping.

Good quality table salt and ground black pepper does not belong in plastic, shiny metal bullets, aluminum mini canisters or paper packets mixed in with packets of sweeteners for coffee or tea.

Coronita Mini Salt & Peper Shakers

If you’re serving BBQ or Baja style fish tacos — OK then I’ll opt for the smaller Coronita beer bottles as shakers because that fits with food theme and decor.

However in more formal service, salt and pepper shakers need to be glass or crystal, clean and polished; meaning the holes are not clogged, no water spots, food particle or smeared fingerprints from the last week’s event.

Good etiquette suggests that two salt and pepper shakers be on one 60” round table — one of each shaker per four – five guests. The shakers need to in the same location on each table — say at 3 and 9 o’clock.

There needs to be enough fresh salt and pepper in the shakers, so the guests don’t have to ask for more.

Why Are Guests Removing The Tops Of Black Pepper Shakers?

The reasons include; the shaker was overloaded, the contents are compacted from over filling or expanded grains from absorbing moisture, the shaker holes are clogged (dirty), or the ground black pepper is larger than the holes in the shaker top.

The last point escaped me till a member of the staff, pointed it out one day after replacing two elegant plated entrée’s. Tim said, “Look here, the ground pepper in the shaker is larger than the holes in the shaker top. How are the guests supposed to shake the pepper out?”

I replied, “Good Point. I never saw that. We must work on a solution and make it better!”

We did. Here’s what we discovered and the course of action taken.

I talked with the Executive Chef. We spoke at length to several suppliers and became more knowledgeable on table salt and ground black pepper.

After considering options we made some decisions. Then we established some written standards and procedures to provide an above average experience for the guests, regardless of location, menu and serving staff. We wanted quality ingredients, an over-the-top guest experience and consistency at all events. 

What’s Inside Counts!

As for table salt in most cases, pure anodized shaker salt is the choice.

If you are going high-end or looking to truly enhance the guests dining experience consider finer (smaller) ground Kosher or mediterranean sea salt.

The taste of either is cleaner and there are no additives as in iodized table shaker salt. Make sure that the salt in the shaker will pass thru the holes in the shaker top.

Some Back Ground On Black Pepper:

The word “pepper” is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit pippali.

The English word for pepper is derived from the Old English pipor.

Black peppercorn


Black pepper comes from the dried ripen berries of the pepper plant (Piper nigrum), a climbing vine in the family Piperaceae. The plants are native to India’s Malabar Coast, where the Malabar pepper and Tellicherry pepper hail from.

Tellicherry is a higher-grade pepper, made from the largest, ripest 10% of fruits from Malabar plants grown on Mount Tellicherry, hence the name. Tellicherry has just a bit more warmth, zing and earthy aroma.

Currently Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing roughly 34% of the world’s black pepper crop. Black pepper is also grown in Indonesia, Brazil and a few other tropical regions.

So depending on where the black pepper was grown will have influence on how it tastes. Check your sources and origins carefully. The French have a term for this called “Terroir” The literal translation is how the earth, water and air — the growing environment affects the taste of fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, seafood, etc.

The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately 5 millimeters (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red when fully mature. Although we are focusing here on ground black pepper — I’ll mention briefly about the other peppercorns. We’ll talk about using freshly ground black pepper in grinders in another blog post.



Black and White Peppercorns

Black peppercorns: Are picked when green and dried in the sun until they turn black.

White peppercorns: Ripen on the vine, the berry is fermented and its red-brown skin is removed. Be careful as some unscrupulous suppliers have been known to bleach the peppers to avoid the peeling step.

Green peppercorns: Are picked while green and not yet ripe. They are then freeze-dried, dehydrated or packed in brine or vinegar.

Pink peppercorns: Are the dried berries of the Baies rose plant, mostly grown on Reunion and Madagascar. The Baies plant is native to South America not India, and really isn’t a pepper plant.

Black pepper like coffee is being cultivated in small batches around the world. Recently an organic black pepper crop from Ecuador arrived. Great earthy taste, however the heat intensity is just not suitable for table service. Watch for new developments as it seems closer to the equator is better for growing and more heat!

Many things have been used to extend pepper, including juniper berries, pea flour, mustard husks, and papaya seeds. Check the quality carefully.


Getting Your Salt & Pepper Shakers Outta’ The Weeds!

Gather all the salt and pepper shakers used for guest table service.

Line them all up like attentive soldiers. If you have different styles and heights, separate them and then decide on only one style. Get rid of the mismatches, obsolete units and replace with matching shakers – so all your shakers are the same.

As the shakers degrade over time this allows for scavenging tops and bases as you replace providing you stick with the same design and supplier.

Order some extras (back ups), as shakers have a tendency to wander off. Be sides good stylist salt and pepper shakers are not very expensive unless you go for crystal.

Samll Pepper Shaker

I like smaller shakers. Smaller shakers contents are fresher and they are less obvious on the table.

TableCraft makes several nice shakers. (

If you decide to get rid of all your current salt and pepper shakers spend some time looking around for a size, style, design that you like and price that makes sense and assurance that the manufacturer will be around. Once I found some great styling shakers at Ikea. A large quantity was purchased only to find out nine months later the line was discontinued.

Some manufacturers make the holes in the pepper shaker top just a little larger than the salt shaker tops – check and sort accordingly.

Some others add more holes for the pepper or for the salt. The jury is out on which goes in what shaker based on the number of holes. Just go with what you like.

Dump out all the salt and pepper. Inspect threads on the shaker and top for spice accumulation and plugged holes. A wooden tooth pick, a stiff tooth-brush, and a small container of warm water are good for cleaning the messy threads and holes out. 

Inspect the glass shaker and tops. If a shaker is chipped, scratched, the top dented, rusty, or corroded replace it.

Pepper and salt more so, absorbs moisture which causes the contents to cake up and not shake out – so the salt and pepper needs to be replaced at least once a quarter. In locations more humid and closer to the ocean — you need to refresh the contents more often.

Soak all the shakers to loosen all the accumulations and then pass the shakers and the tops thru the dishwasher for a good cleaning.

Make sure the shakers and tops are completely dry, before refilling.

Now is a good time to make sure the holes are clear, as sometimes pepper grains become lodged in the shaker top holes.

Polish the tops of the shakers. A soft polishing cloth composed of a cotton flour sack works really well.

Bed, Bath and Beyond is a good source if you don’t have some. There are several other good uses for the cotton polishing cloths which I will cover in another blog post.

Fill Up

Start with clean hands.

Place two grains of dry uncooked rice to the salt shakers to absorb moisture.

A large wide mouth squeeze bottle or small mouth funnel with a teaspoon will make filling the shakers faster. Avoid over filling and leave some room at the top for the contents to shift when the shaker is turned over and shaken. Having a ½ sheet or hotel pan to collect the overflows and helps keep the work area clean.

Size Does Matter

What ever ground black pepper you decide on must fit thru the holes on the shaker top.

Get some samples from your suppliers to taste and test to see that the ground black pepper passes thru the shaker top holes.

A good supplier will ask what type and size grind you are looking for. Usually pepper grinds are classified or based on passing thru a shifting mesh.

Mesh is a term that refers to the number of openings per linear inch in a sifting screen. A fine grind, such as a 30/60 mesh, would sift through a screen with 30 openings per inch, but would stay atop a smaller screen of 60 openings per inch.

Coarse dustless grind: 20/30 mesh, many people prefer this grind of pepper to the shaker grind; the slightly larger-sized grind seems to have a little stronger flavor, yet it will still fit through a standard pepper shaker hole. Be sure and check though.

Dustless grind: 30/60 mesh; is a very popular ground black pepper.

Here’s a great example from Penzeys Spices.

Transporting Salt And Pepper Shakers To And From Off Premise Events

Depending upon the number of guests in attendance determines the amount of shakers needed – remember budget two each for each table. Look back at your event guest counts and sort the events into size groups say 20-60, 50-120, 200, 250, 300, etc.

Standardize on the shaker packing sizes. If you send an extra here and there, it’s OK. This will allow you to pack the shakers in advance, therefore not having to count them each time you go to an event. You just grab a box(s) based on the guest count and go!

Get rid of the cardboard boxes. They get wet, soggy, trashed and if the shaker inside turns sideways or over — you have salt and pepper all over.

Salt & Pepper Transport Containers

Get some airtight food storage containers like those found at ( These are great for transporting the shakers to and from events.

Label the containers “Table Salt and Pepper Shakers” and the name of your catering company. Why “Table?” Because special interactive station-buffets set ups will be using a different types of finishing or flavored salts and peppers and you really don’t want table salt and pepper — so the “Table” designation avoids the confusion and embarrassment later.


The salt and pepper shakers need to be inspected after each event and made ready for the next usage. This falls under side work and is a great way to fill time for staff waiting around for the next assignment or in between pickups and deliveries.

A few minutes of inspection, top off and cleaning and polishing gets you already for the next event.


Seems like a lot of attention to salt and pepper shakers.

Yes, however we were surprised first by the response from the serving staff and then from guests who noticed the attention to details and for making this small aspect of service better, than before.

Hold on to your aprons,

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”

Vas Das Über Goal? (What Is The Primary Goal?)

You are standing at the pre shift-event meeting and the event Captains closing remark is,
“OK everyone, let’s have a good event today.”

Sounds like the usual lack luster pep talk approach to inspiring staff to do their best during an event. Come on, what kind of lazy direction is that? I have heard more inspiration and direction from little league coaches.

Of course you could resort to traditional verbal trashing and threats of dismissal. These dark ages’ management techniques are losing their effectiveness on today’s better educated serving and bar tending staffs.

If you carefully read online event reviews for caterers or venues, the comments gravitate towards the quality of service provided.

That’s where the complaints and praise about service are usually listed for the entire world to see. Go look online at the reviews for the company where you work at and competitors. Staff taking a slightly different approach would have eliminated most of the “poor” review postings.

Seldom are comments posted about lousy food. Sure there are some. I have actually worked events where food served was not up to the usual 5 star expectations. However, because the service was so friendly and attentive — no one cared too much that the food was off.

The goal for the serving and bartending staff needs to be different from just racking up hours and tips. Often event staffs are charged with several goals or priorities such as keep the guests from getting to drunk or to keep the overtime down.

Event staff needs an “Über Goal” a guiding principle or super or primary goal to aspire towards. This above all other goals helps to prioritize and focus the service on the guest’s first, and other goals as secondary.

Any number of directions can be given to help guide the staff. My favorite and most effective “Über Goal” is, “Every interaction with each guest, needs to be positive from the guest’s point of view.” That’s what counts at the end of the event.

The Japanese term “Ichi-go ichi-e” (literally “one time, one meeting”) describes a cultural concept associated with the tea ceremony. The term is often translated as “for this time only,” or “one chance in a lifetime.”

Remember: Pay attention to the moment, don’t blow it — make the best of it! An event last a few hours, memories (Bad and good) last a life time.

Focus on the Über goal. This focus guides staff to make the right decisions, so the overall event is a success. This practice leads to less corrective action conversations and more lavish praise and positive enforcement comments! Everyone is a winner here.

The staff will surprise the guests, themselves and their managers, because the staff will take it upon themselves to look for opportunities to provide elevated levels of service and random acts of kindness. The guests will rave.

Here’s few pointers…

 “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”Wayne Gretzky

Anticipate Guests Needs

Where are the guest rest rooms, coat check and bars located? Is there a stand to hold wet umbrellas? Are extra flatware and napkins readily accessible during service? Is Ranch dressing around for the children’s meals?

I worked with a planner who provided bushel baskets stuffed with rolled up inexpensive throws from IKEA. These cool weather throws were always a big hit at parties close to the ocean and during late summer or early fall gatherings everywhere.

Give some serious thought to anticipating the guest’s needs in advance of the event. Once you start it becomes easy, fun and rewarding and your brain will offer up some more ideas, providing you act on them!

Next time you attend someone else’s event as a guest take notes — you might see some good service practices to include in your bag of tricks or perhaps some actions to avoid.

Reacting to Guests Needs

Stop; what ever you are doing, or finish up if you must, whenever a guest make a request or ask a question.

Look; at them. Make eye contact. Give them your undivided attention as if nothing else in the world mattered at that moment, because nothing else does. Now is a good time to stop the twitter update and put the cell phone away.

Listen; to what they are asking and or telling you. Repeat the request back to them to confirm and make sure you got it. Some times they change their mind. “You would like a Martini. Do you prefer Gin or Vodka?” is an example.

Respond; 99% of the time the answer ought to be along the lines of, “Of course. No problem. Happy to accommodate you. It will be my pleasure.” Some very few times it will be, “I need to see what I can do for you. I will be back shortly.”

Confirm; once the request has been fulfilled, confirm completion with the guest and ask, “Is there any thing else?” This is the important because the guests sometimes have a second request; they change their mind or want to talk with you for a minute offering a compliment or maybe even a nice tip!

Perhaps I’ll create an acronym for this procedure. I’m open to ideas.

Golden Rule Application

Treat each guest as you would like to be treated — and kick it a notch when you can!

The valet for example: Open doors; greet and welcome guests with a smile, and provide direction to the event if it is not obvious. The same goes for when the event is over. First and last impressions make a big difference.

Don’t forget to have fun. If the event staff is having fun, the guests will have more fun and everyone on staff will feel good about their actions at the end of the event!

Hold on to your aprons!

How To Use A Digital Camera To Improve Event Planning

A photo from the back of the Kodak EasyShare C...

Image via Wikipedia

 “That’s not where the band goes…”

“You guys got the stations reversed. The pasta station goes over there     
   and the carving station goes here.”

“Are you sure there’s no plugs on the wall, I could swear I saw one during the walk thru.”

“So how did you expect us to hang this banner from the ceiling?”

“Where are the staff, vendors, and guests supposed to park?”

“OK, so where do we set up the kitchen?”

Off premises catering staff hear these and other questions often.

 “There are always two people in every picture: 
A photographer and the viewer
.”  ~ Ansel Adams

When ever a sales person, planner-designer or coordinator meet with a client for a site survey or walk through of where an event is going to take place, they must always take a long a digital camera to help tell the story of what is expected.

What You Need For Your Visual Thinking Tool Kit

A digital camera; doesn’t need to be expensive — $200.00 will get you a great compact functional camera that will take good pictures. Don’t rely on your cell phone camera. Spend some bucks — do it right, you won’t regret it.

Get a carrying case, be sure to attach the wrist strap to help protect the camera and buy a camera battery charger for your car. Make sure the camera batteries are charged when you leave for the site. Cameras get used a lot, left turned on by mistake, not charged up, and used by others. Then when you arrive at the venue, say a park or an open field, there’s no power to charge up — you can’t take pictures.

Also carry a 25-30’ tape measure with you. The tape measure is useful for figuring out distance, width and heights of doorways, etc. For more details on what else to take to perform a complete walk through, see my blog posts on “Site Survey Tools” and “WAGES.”

The camera can photograph thought.”  ~ Dirk Bogarde

Preparing For Story Telling

Carry the camera with you as you walk around and shoot pictures of everything — to help tell the story of what the sales person-planner-coordinator-designer and client have in mind during the event. Don’t worry about taking too many pictures. It’s easy to edit later.

Include shots of where to park, unload, where to set up the kitchen, canopy, stations, tables, buffets, bars, gift tables, cigar roller, photo booth, the DJ, the band, face painter, portable restrooms, coat rack, umbrella stand, valet, generator, lighting and the list goes on.

Make a panorama of any large open areas or room(s) including shots of the walls, door ways, hallways, ceiling and floors. Include close shots of details such as doors, where lights and power are located, and parking for the guests, staff and vendors.

If cooking is to be done on site, take pictures of the ranges, ovens and prep area so the Chef and kitchen staff know they have to work with.

Don’t worry about the quality and framing—you will improve with practice.

Consider this: If you weren’t around during the event set up, could anyone looking at the photos have pretty good ideas of what needs to be done to pull off the event?

Think in terms of making a story board. The pictures (photos) will help tell the story. Storyboards are graphic pictorial organizers usually made up of a series of drawings, illustrations, images and photos that lay out the sequence of scenes in a film or animation, for planning or visualizing what is to be accomplished.

If you’re working on an event at a client’s home or office, ask for permission to take pictures first and explain how you will use the photos.

Often back at the office and as the event takes form — situations change; the menu switches from buffet to station or plated service — themes, colors, weather, time of day, what ever. Instead of revisiting the site again, look at the pictures. One of my bosses used to say, “An event like good food needs to cook a little.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

If you have exclusive venues or locations where you work on a regular basis, take a few hours and go photograph the venues and set the pictures up in catalog on your computer. It will save you time in the future. BTW take pictures of the same spots a few times during the year as lighting, foliage and colors change with the seasons. Be sure to label the photos indicating the time day and month of year.

Building And Tweaking Your Library

Once you have taken the pictures download the pictures on to your computer and perhaps pass them thru the latest version Adobe Photoshop elements. This inexpensive program ($49.95) will help clean up the dark spots, sharpness focus, remove red eye, and adjust contrast and colors.

Label and catalog the pictures in a folder for each venue for easy reference by everyone in the office. Does this take time? Yes and it beats driving back to the venue for another walk thru.

The photos can be saved at PDF’s or JPEG’s and sent to anyone involved with the event planning.

Kick it up a step — by copying, pasting or importing the photos into any of several software programs. There are some sophisticated drawing programs and you can do some incredible detailing in them. However basic favorites are with a short learning curve are:

Excel spreadsheets using the drawing tool function, you can add call outs with details and dimension lines.

SmartDraw If you need to make a sophisticated lateral time line. SmartDraw allows you draw and paste in photos together.

PowerPoint like Excel has some call features. I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint because of the limitations and few have it loaded as software.

Googledoc’s The program is free and assessable by anyone with an internet connection and there are no cross platform issues either.

“A great film is made on paper first.” -Alfred Hitchcock

Getting Everyone On The Same Page

You can print the photos out in various sizes. There’s no need for expensive color printing on gloss stock especially during the concept layout stages.

Printing the photos out on a 600 or 1200 DPI Black & White laser printer is sufficient for layout and most detailing. You can always upgrade to color.

I like using 8.5 X 11 size paper sheets for initial drafts and concepts. There’s plenty of room to make detail notes for reference or for passing on others involved in the planning.

As situations take form, I like printing out a final version on 11” X 17” paper. This size folds in half and fits nicely into folders, three ring binders and provides extra room to hand write last minute changes, details.

This 11 X 17 size is also good for posting on the walls in your command center. Use the blue painters tape so no residue is left on the wall.

Pull and check lists and can be taped to the side of the drawing for all to see and comment on as needed.

Copy and store the digital updated versions into a folder marked specific for the event. After the event you can place copies back in the library for future reference.

Size Does Matter

Sometimes I go to Kinko’s and print out 24” x 36” or even a 36” X 48” sheet especially when there’s a lot going on. The larger sheets work well for overviews. Then use the smaller sheets for specific station activity details.

Use a sharpie and draw and mark them up with details or dimensions. The marked up photo “print outs” then can be copied, or scanned and saved as PDF’s and emailed for planning, review and comment and placed in the event folder for reference.

You don’t have to be a Frank Gehry or Leonardo to draw up the roughs. A good reference to help you out would to get your hands on a copy of the “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam his book, website site and blog are enlightening on communicating and problem solving with simple drawings. I have been drawing stick figures of chefs and servers for years. It’s amazing how an elaborate table setting can be draw and detailed in Excel.

In some instances we marked up a photo and then created a rough mock up the station or buffet to get a feel for things and therefore created a new or revised pull list. Take a picture of the finished mock up for reference.

With photos it’s easy to check back and review when things change.

A photograph is like the recipe – a memory of
the finished dish.”
  ~Carrie Late

After the actual station or activity is set up completely at the event, take a few pictures while the guests are interacting. Sometimes you will want to discuss lay out changes or traffic flow after the event for the next time. Don’t depend on the event photographers — some times they will give you the pictures — other times not.

Add the event photos into your library and save your self some time next time you the same or a similar type of activity.

The small investment in a digital camera will pay large dividends in helping you plan and tell the story of events details. The stress level will subside and you have a vast library to reference from in the future.

Hold on to you aprons,




No More NETMA Badges

 She stood there with that “deer caught in the headlight” look on her face and said, “No one told me about the change…”

“Can’t have staff wandering around wearing NETMA badges” I remarked as I came thru the door.

“What’s a NETMA badge?” They chorused.

I replied, “There are these two really smart guys; Tom Peters  and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.  while working for McKinsey & Company, they wrote a book in the early 80’s titled, In Search of Excellence.”

The book was a big time New York Times best seller. In Search of Excellence became required reading at many companies. In the book, the authors wrote about companies all over the world aspiring towards achieving excellence in various forms, in a variety of industries.

In Search of Excellence is packed with examples of people doing the best possible. Well told stories about what was working to be the best possible in what ever industry they were in.

What was the secret to success at these companies? Not advances in technology. Remember this was before cell phones, email and the internet existed. The common denominator of success was the attitudes and contributions of the human assets at these companies.

People, make the real difference of choosing between mediocrity or quality and excellence. The pursuit of excellence is a lofty, admirable quality and character trait in any profession. 

“So, back in the day… a college friend told me about attending a cocktail party where Peters was the honored guest. With a cocktail in hand he listened as Peters held court and those gathering around asked for autographs and questions. One question asked was, ”Mr. Peters with all the projects as managers that we need to undertake, what needs be the top priority?

Peters paused for just a second and quickly replied, “No NETMA Badges.”

He continued with, “Make it a point to communicate often — so no one is walking in to your office wearing a NETMA badge. Talk informally over coffee, order pizza for lunch, post notes on a bulletin board — hang out near the water cooler, anytime and anywhere that you have a chance to keep the information flowing about what’s going on — policy changes, SOP’s,  victories, losses, stats, ideas for improvement, etc.”

Peter’s resumed with, “Your people need to know what’s going on, what’s expected; the changes. They need to feel a sense of belonging — that they are part of the evolution. In fact, your people will make the biggest and often best contributions if, they have involvement and feel like they are part of what’s going on, instead of as an outsider.”

Another from the crowd asked, “So what’s a NETMA badge?” There’s one of those long eerie pauses and a voice of some one who has been there and done that and says, “NETMA, is the acronym for Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything.”

Information hoarding needs to be outlawed. Lack of information sharing creates animosity, starts secret societies and this really makes staff mad, disappointment sets in, and ultimately the organization is set up for failures; sometimes small, sometime major.

What if the event leaders, planners; the information hoarders are sick, in an accident on the way to an event, what if they missed something? Yeah like forgetting to order table liens for a wedding, update the kitchen on menu adjustments or guest count increases, and schedule changes.

Pause for a moment and think back over the last few days or week about incidents at events where if, someone had information; more, better or clearer information —  what would have changed?

Here’s a few ways to reduce the NETMA badge wearing!

Managers and owners need to meet with the event captains-leads at least once every other month. Don’t be cheap. Pay them for their time. Buy or make them dinner, open a bottle of wine, pour some coffee and talk — you need to have an agenda, listen a lot and take notes.

Send email updates to the staff about the important details. Keep them brief and limit the email to one issue at a time. This builds an archive and a CYA (Cover Yo Ass) paper trail. Place a copyright and confidentiality notice in the email if you are sending along sensitive or property information. Any documents you want everyone to ready need to be saved and sent as PDF’s, because not every one has Word or Excel on their computer or cell or smart phone.

Print out the emails and provide copies to new staff as a way for them to catch up and be part of what happening.

Pass information on at the pre event or pre shift meeting. Reinforce communication and listen for feedback. Keep it short and brief so the focus is kept on the immediate event.

Create and post a company or department blog. If you are using word press and a few other blog programs, you can even limit who has access to the blog. Think of the blog as online newsletter. Posting pictures and video in the blog and email will certainly help out with information transfer. 

So you don’t like to write? Not feeling eloquent? No problem… Go for a Vlog (Video Blog). Get a digital handheld movie camera, shoot your message, post it online and away you go.

In Southern California it’s common to have FOH staff many up of several different ethic groups ( Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.)  that read write and speak english to various degrees. They often crave training — Pictures and Video they get. Still wondering about video? Check out the video link below by Chris Anderson on the power, influence and direction that video on the web is headed towards.

TED’s Chris Anderson says the rise of web video is driving a worldwide phenomenon he calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation — a self-fueling cycle of learning that could be as significant as the invention of print

Have an online meeting with staff via online programs such as,,,,,, & You can incorporate video, pictures, drawings, This is quickly becoming a killer communication platform. Be sure to archive the meeting so new hires can watch later.

Hang out and talk with the staff during breaks or meals. Work hard to create an information exchange, a sharing atmosphere and it will happen.

Listen to staff reactions and encourage them to speak up about changes. I have admitted on more than one occasion that some one actually improved upon a new idea or solution to a situation and made it better. “I reserve the right to change my mind and also tell you about it.” I have said a few times. Some times for what ever reason, you have hold a firm line.

There are a few more formal methods and strategies which I discuss in another blog on instructions, layout drawings, schedules, etc.

Remember: Information flow both ways — if you are feeding information and communicating with the staff — you will find they will give you information back as help to improve the process, because they feel they are participating and therefore keeping the NETMA badge wearing to a minimum!

Thanks for reading and hold on to your aprons,