Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to Use Social Media Correctly

“Social media is essential when building brand awareness!”  This message has been emphasized endlessly by marketing experts, business leaders, celebrities, and even President Obama.  Although a relative latecomer to this phenomenon, I now have been convinced of its value. But only to a degree.  

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I helped launch several companies and then opened my own, Finesse Cuisine.  In those days, outreach and brand-building still happened primarily through old-fashioned, face-to-face networking, prospect meetings, and endless phone calls. When the power of social media became evident, I was concerned because my sales staff and many of my consulting clients came to rely on their laptops and smartphones as their sole means of communication. I instructed that live interaction between people should never be replaced by technology and I still believe this whole heartedly. A client or colleague never develops a trusting relationship only through tweets or status updates.  These connections are a good start, but they must be supported by the building of a real world bond.  Over time, I have learned to embrace social media with many fewer reservations but only when complemented by those tried-and-true methods of live and personal communication.

If you have thoughts on how we use social media to enhance sales relationships, please share in the Comments.  Or, even better, call us!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Requirements for a Successful Event (Plus...Llamas!)

How far would you travel for good barbecue?

I never thought I’d hop a plane for grilled meat, but Bovinova 2012 changed my mind.  Held annually in Greenville, South Carolina, this unique event raises funds for the Wounded Warrior Project and celebrates the thrill-of-the-grill in grand style. This year’s menu included lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, whole pigs, 1 whole cow (approx. 1,200 lbs), and 1 whole llama. There was also great paella and numerous side dishes for those actually seeking a balanced menu.  Add the generous contributions of home-brewers passing pitchers of their latest creation and you have a food festival well worth the airfare.

This event was miles away from Villeroy & Boch china and tuxedoed waiters, but I observed many parallels to the more traditional catering model of our consulting clients.  Event planning, at its most cohesive, isn’t unique to any specific style of entertaining. Although Bovinova took place in the great outdoors and was as casual an event as you can imagine, the same principles for exceptional event orchestration were in play.  I witnessed creative menu design, careful quantity control, and safe food handling. There was the coordination of essential equipment, tents, lighting, and the installation of specially designed racks and rotisseries for those whole roasts. A team of proactive and well-instructed staff managed the location, music, and other entertainment. A strong outreach effort had attracted sponsorship and TV crews from The Cooking Channel, and a concentrated social media campaign ensured healthy ticket sales to an eclectic and fun-seeking group of patrons.  All of these elements added up to a fun event benefiting an important cause.

Whether you are serving BBQ or truffled foie gras, the success of any event is dependent on attention-to-detail, enthusiastic service, and a menu that exceeds the highest expectations.  Kudos to my friend, Jeff Bannister, and the entire Bovinova team for hosting a wildly successful event. Lastly, if you  are interested in tasting the llama for yourself, check out and put the 2013 date onto your calendar.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's All About the Client

Salespeople, by nature, must be aggressively competitive.  Once we secure a client, we hate sharing them with anyone else.  Although it goes against our instincts, sometimes the right thing to do is to genuinely help the competition. Last season, I fielded a call from a long-time retail client who was having trouble communicating with caterers in markets outside of Chicago. She was frustrated they weren’t catering for her customers the way Finesse Cuisine does in Chicago.  She asked if I would help.

This can be very sensitive territory.  Creative people can be wildly defensive and no one likes to be told they aren’t satisfying their client.  But it’s important to me that my client is happy – even when she’s not entertaining in my market.  I agreed to help and she introduced me to the other caterers.  I found them all to be exceptional catering companies who graciously welcomed our suggestions. They showed great flexibility and willingness to make minor adjustments to their menus, and to review with us the quantities, sizes, and presentation. They were even willing to bring in key staff before the event to be coached on the client’s preferred style of service. Please note that I was working with excellent caterers who hardly needed my input. Their only weakness was the breakdown in communication with the client.  Once I translated from Client into Caterer, everything fell into place. 

My involvement gave my client peace of mind and the successful events made her a hero in her boss’s eyes. Best of all, she made each of those caterers her official vendor in their market and she now relies on them with confidence.  Helping the competition felt counter-intuitive to my sales instincts but it was a reminder about the true nature of our business: Ultimately, catering is not about serving delicious food and drinks with grace and charm.  It’s about tending to our client’s needs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In the Media: The Independent Restaurateur

Many thanks to The Independent Restaurateur for sharing my recent interview with  These hiring and management tips apply to every segment of the hospitality industry!

Monday, May 14, 2012

On the Air

I was recently interviewed by Bob Ryals, the host of "Business of Foodservice" on, for my thoughts on hiring and managing staff.  We talk about the best ways to hire the right people and how to develop a staffing program renowned for "Ninja Service."