Monday, March 26, 2012

The Jeopardy! Conquest

Answer: For $800 – This young caterer served up something pretty incredible on television’s most successful game show of all time.

Question: Who is Melanie Spratford on Jeopardy!?

Melanie Spratford and co-star, Alex Trebek

Last week, my friend and colleague, Melanie Spratford, won on Jeopardy! She exchanged quips with legendary host, Alex Trebek, and rattled off correct responses in categories such as: Bestsellers, Historical Facts and Figures, and Musical Terms. As her winnings increased, Melanie’s strategy became evident. She later explained it is important to be very well prepared, to understand the show’s format and rhythm, and to learn the basics about the subjects the producers consider most important. While it isn’t necessary to know the capital of the Solomon Islands*, it is important to know all of the US state capitals.

I get dizzy merely recalling the subjects she says are most important, let alone their related facts and figures. However, as Jeopardy! progressed, I began to correlate Melanie’s strategy as a contestant to that of an effective catering salesperson. If, as catering sales experts, we follow Melanie’s cue, we’ll always be prepared when opportunity presents, be well versed in all major areas of our industry, and be able to guide clients through a series of subjects with pointed questions and answers. This approach, coupled with a bit of humor and high energy, will position us to become stars in our own right. While we don’t need to use phrases such as “chèvre fermier de vosges,” we should be ready to talk about goat cheese and even recommend a suitable wine pairing. The key is to apply our event expertise toward anticipating our clients’ main concerns which will help us win their confidence and business.

*The Solomon Islands are in the Pacific and their capital is Honiara.  Of course, Melanie knew that all the way.  If we follow her lead, stay prepared, and anticipate client's questions, we too can be returning champions!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Catering Way

As a member of The Catersource Consulting Unit, I was part of a team that offered free half-hour client consultations during last month’s 2012 Conference and Trade Show. A dozen owners or managers of both large and small companies sat before me and, one after another, asked my advice about a run of familiar subjects: kitchen management, operations, and sales people shying away from selling.  One concern in particular seemed consistent among nearly all of these companies.  As one caterer explained, their employees had commandeered the ship and were steering off course.  I was reminded of the great line from the Herman Wouk classic, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial:
"...There are four ways of doing things on board my ship: The right way, the wrong way, the Navy way, and my way.  Do it my way and we'll all get along..."  -Captain Phillip Francis Queeg
Queeg has the right idea and years of hard fought experience to back him up. Trouble begins, though, when he compromises the safety of his own ship and loses the respect of his men. (Note that the first sign of Queeg’s demise comes when learning of a quart of missing strawberries.  At least he's on top of his food inventory!).  Eventually, those under Queeg's command wrestle away crontol of the ship and subsequently stand trial for insubordination.

Switch this scenario to hospitality and substitute the word ‘Catering’ for ‘Navy’ and we suddenly empathize with Queeg, even if, as caterers, we are immune to any such neurosis or dysfunction. What advice then, did I give to those sitting before me in the Catersource consulting rooms?

Of course, we’ve all experienced discord at some point and largely because of the highly passionate, creative and often competitive personalities that our industry attracts. Our staff may be well meaning, and some may be selfish but most simply have different measures or methods for success.

My advice: first, the business owner must reevaluate and restate the company mission and its pillars of success.  He or she may consider involving key personnel in this process to promote unity and a shared vernacular. Next, adapt the approach celebrated by Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth; create clear job descriptions with measurable goals. Also design replicable systems that may be served by the individual rather than systems that serve the individual. Finally, host bi-weekly or monthly manager meetings to evaluate ways that systems, performance, and creativity are serving the mission and pillars.  With leader at the helm and crew onboard to help steer, the ship should find its course.  Or, as the great motivational coach, Napoleon Hill, once said:  
"It is the set of sails, not the direction of the winds that determines which way we will go...."