We sat down with the All Occasions team for a little Q&A and a crash course in Catering Sales 101. Spoiler: these folks have seen it all, and planned it all! From the nitty gritty of party organization to a peak behind the curtain of creativity, the salespeople at All Occasions Catering were ready to dish.
Q: What should hosts know about their event before sitting down to plan with you
A: “Generally it’s really helpful to get an estimated guest count, a top end budget for food, beverage, and rentals. And having a venue secured ahead of time really makes the process much easier.”
Q: How far in advance should a client be engaging you?
A: “A year out is ideal. Anything more than that is even better.”
Q: How do you determine which menu items and pairings to suggest for the host?
What is the creative process?
A: “Fortunately the client usually has a general idea one way or another regarding their tastes, as well as those of their guests. That’s a good jumping-off point, and we can build a menu from there. Sometimes events have themes and food selection is inspired by that. A frank discussion, usually during a tasting, is always good for helping us reach the client’s goals.”
Q: How should hosts budget for catering? In what categories should they focus their
A: “The usual standard is that anywhere between 60-70% of the total event budget should go to food and beverage, taking into account all of the additional associated costs, for instance dinnerware, linens, labor. Some clients are more inclined to raise their budget for those items if they have a higher end look or feel in mind. Many are ‘foodies,’ and will be more apt to increase spending on their dining and wine selections.”
Q: Tell us about the tasting process- how far in advance should this be squared
away? Is there an opportunity to make changes based on the client’s preferences?
A: “We prefer tastings to occur shortly after securing a quote. If the client finds that what they envision fits into their budget, it is then time for them to try the product, to decide if they can commit and put down a deposit. We allow our clients to amend their menu in any way they wish up to two weeks before their event date, so there is plenty of time between the initial tasting and the day of to adjust wherever needed.”
Q: Suppose the client’s grandmother is nut-free, dairy-free, gluten intolerant, and
diabetic? What can you do to accommodate her
A: “We can take care of Grandma, no problem! We simply list those allergies or preferences when consulting with the chef, who will then work on an appropriate individual meal to keep her safe and happy.”
Q: Can you tell us about an event in which you stepped “out of the box” to customize to the client’s needs?
A: “I could tell you a million of those stories! One big one that comes to mind is when we did an ‘Open Kitchens’ concept with a nine course tapas menu. We set up raised seating with stools around individual cooking stations, and each chef created the dishes right in front of the guests. The clients loved it, and for us it was fun to give them all the sights, smells, and sounds of great food.
Most recently, we’ve had to be pretty creative in the COVID era we’re living in. We’ve created “Take out Tastings” for couples seeking a wedding caterer. We bring the meal out to the car and take all of the proper precautions. This way couples can still have a custom wedding tasting and turn it into a fun take out, stay in date night. We’ve also started delivering boxed lunches to companies looking for a catered, no contact option.”
Q: Will you be involved or on-site the day of the event? Who does the host work
with when it’s “go time?”
A: “Our Sales team typically does not work the events on-site. Once the day is detailed and set, it is passed off to our Operations staff. Our HR Manager and Banquet Manager work together to piece together a great crew, and during the party an Event Lead will work with the client to make sure all details are met to their expectations.”
Q: What are some mistakes people make when creating an event? You don’t have to
name any names, but do you have a story for us?
A: “I think a great example of what I will call ‘bad decision making’ usually takes place during tailgate parties at Miller Park. Frequently clients do not want to spend extra on rentals, for instance a tent, tables and chairs. On occasion the event approaches and the weather doesn’t cooperate, and well, you can just imagine. In regard to tenting in particular, they don’t just provide rain shelter, they are just as important for providing shade on hot, summery days. They also serve to create a designated space for your guests, and make for a much more inviting environment. Tents are a key element that often go overlooked.”
Q: How should a host plan around an uncertain or fluctuating guest count, as can be expected in the current climate?
A: “We have a lot of experience with this, and it is most commonly an issue with open-house style events. Many times our clients are looking to serve their valued customers or colleagues, but the guests will appear without having RSVP’d in advance. Inversely they will just as frequently accept the invitation and then not show up. With open-houses it is simply impossible to get an accurate guest count. It’s a good idea to assume no more than 80% of your invitees will attend, and plan for that. We understand what a gamble it is, and tricky for us as planners, too.”
Q: What advice do you have for hosts who want to plan a COVID-responsible event?
A: “My best tip is to secure a venue that is much larger than you need for your guest list. The more you can spread people out, the safer the situation. Food stations with servers assigned to each are great for creating space, and any large voids in the room can be filled in with lighting and decorations to create more intimacy. A cozy or elegant event that manages to be COVID-responsible is absolutely achievable with the right planning.”
Q: Speaking of “these uncertain times,” what is your deposit, postponement, and
A: “Our deposit required is 25% of the estimated total, and your date is not considered ‘booked’ until this is done. The maximum number of events we can accommodate per day is six, to avoid being short of resources at any one of them. Once that six-event threshold is met, that calendar date is considered closed to any new inquiries. Given the current unusual circumstances, we are allowing for flexibility so that a client can migrate to any other open date on the calendar without penalty, should they need to. And historically our deposits have been nonrefundable, however we are finding it more reasonable to return 50% in the event of a cancellation, given the unpredictability of today’s world.”
Q: What is the most challenging event you’ve ever pulled off?
A: “I planned and arranged for two weddings on Pewaukee Lake’s Wilson Island several years back. That was an extremely stressful situation but we made it happen. Procuring barges, coordinating all of the vendors and their logistics, timing everything down to the minute, arranging pontoons for transport for guests, staff, and vendors- what a feat! Imagine the difficulty of being sure you have everything you need because after all, you’re on an island. There’s no easy way to run back and grab one last thing.”
Q: Do you remember a particularly fun or memorable event?
A: “A corporate client wanted an open-house event, and we were able to create something super cool. They had a great budget and really wanted to impress, which is fun for us to dream up. We built a giant four-sided bar with a premium liquor selection, complete with crystal stemware. Everything was cooked fresh for guests at open-kitchen style stations using stainless steel prep tables and chrome equipment. Very chic. Guests grabbed small china plates and could mingle around to other stations. Sadly this was late winter in Wisconsin, and wouldn’t you know a blizzard came through that day, and at best we saw maybe 50% of the projected guests show up. That was a bummer because we really put on a show that day.”
Q: You can choose three of your favorite menu items to eat every day for the rest of
your life. Which ones are you going with?
A: “This one is easy! The Brisket, the Beef Tenderloin Kabobs, and the Brownsville Gulf Shrimp. Hey, if you’ve got to eat the same thing forever, better make it good.”