For college basketball’s Final Four in New Orleans last year, I needed to recommend a restaurant for my client’s VIP event. Obviously, NOLA is an eating town, so there were several from which to choose. I wanted this VIP group to have a different experience and found a couple of restaurants that fit the criteria.
One of my first choices was an independent restaurant with a chef. I called and left a detailed message for the “catering representative” — and I use the term loosely — to call me back. Then I called again and again and again. I finally spoke with her and explained our needs. She promised she’d talk to the chef/owner and call me back. I am still waiting.
Next I called a well-known chef’s restaurant and talked to his general manager. Again I explained what this luncheon was and asked for a price quote. This restaurant is closed for lunch, so no business would get displaced, which is good, right? Not so great. The general manager rudely told me that under no circumstances would they open for a lunch and that he wouldn’t even bother the chef/owner with such a request. He did this despite knowing the major corporation involved, that this chef is aligned with this corporation and probably would very much open for this group.
As buyers, this is challenging because it seems that untrained catering managers don’t understand what they’re turning away. This is especially true with smaller restaurant groups or independent owners. Often I deal with an assistant who’s incapable of handling catering sales or the dynamics surrounding group business. As a result, the sales are lost. This is ironic because food costs are a lot lower for a chef doing a group rather than small clusters of tables.
My last example is in San Antonio. Last month I was doing a customer event for 600 people. The party went well but getting there was painful. San Antonio is a very strong second-tier convention city that knows how to party. So why was planning an event there so painful? Because larger bars that are not on the River Walk (a public park lined with restaurants, hotels and attractions) are not prepared to do group business.
The person who took our call at every single bar we contacted didn’t have a clue on how to handle a party that size. Most calls were handled by assistants who had to talk to their bosses because “they don’t normally do this kind of thing.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the positive of this negative is that we got better deals because of the facilities’ ignorance. But, to be honest, it wasn’t worth it.
The bottom line: Restaurants, if you sell group business have a staff trained to handle the requests, have pricing sheets available based on a few scenarios and have areas of your facility ready for corporate branding. Most importantly, have a catering manager who will get back to the customer on a timely basis.
This is my story for now, and I am sticking to it.