SUSAN WERNER PHOTOGRAPH Y
A passion for grilling led
David Biber (left) and Michael
Todd to begin catering under
the name Two Guys Grilling.
Tricks of the trade
Still, mastering food and human nature is no
guarantee of success for a caterer. A strong dose of
business sense is also required. Many fail because they
don’t develop good business practices, says Hansen.
“It’s easy to let your heart lead in this business,
but you have to have a good head for business too,”
says Hansen, who credits his education at Cornell
and his business savvy for his company’s success. He
says survival in the industry requires detailed
knowledge of local codes and food sanitation
requirements, marketing savvy, and business
accounting and financing prowess.
“If you don’t know your margins, your break-even point, it’s easy to go broke,” he explains. “Some
people go into business with a fixed payroll. You
can’t make it that way. I have a very small full-time
staff, but I have an extensive network of part-time
staff. My payroll expands with demand and, in the
less busy months, shrinks accordingly.”
One key to success is making sure there’s a good
fit between the caterer and the client. Biber says he
invites potential clients to taste samples of his cuisine.
“The interview process works both ways: While
a potential client sizes me up, I have the opportunity
to gather info about them as well,” Biber says. He
takes only clients whom he is sure will really enjoy
the kind of experience his company offers. This
means not only offering samples of food, but visiting where an event will be held.
When it comes to publicity and promotions,
some caterers rely on guerilla marketing, such as
donating meals at fund-raisers and community
events. And others say cooking classes are a great
way to generate cash and gain a presence in the
communities they serve. When Lux was trying to
establish her restaurant and catering business in San
Clemente, she began supplying some local businesses with meals. “I introduced myself to them and
left lunches, just because. I could live with failure,
but I couldn’t sit around and wait for the phone to
ring before I gave it my best shot,” she says.
It takes a complex combination of skills and
character traits to run a successful catering business.
“Because of all the curve balls in catering, every day
is little like the first,” says Lux. “Yet it’s science.”
TOM SALYER PHOTOGRAPHY
Evan Williams agrees. Despite the tornado
alarms, that evening four years ago at the University
of Kansas came off well. “The meal wasn’t perfect,”
she says. “The meat could have been juicier, but I
think everyone was really happy to have a meal in
front of them by the time we finally served it.” C
“THERE’S A SMART balance between
hiring a caterer and handling portions of your wedding plans yourself,” explains Sharon Naylor
( www.sharonnaylor.net), author of
Renewing Your Wedding Vows: A
Complete Planning Guide to Saying
“IStill Do” (Broadway, 2006).“You
can save yourself thousands of dollars, and it can be done well.”
Here are some of Naylor’s tips
on ways Costco can save you money
at your wedding. Just remember to
ask a volunteer or two to help you
with the preparation.
◗ Platters of sandwiches and
frozen appetizers can save you
hundreds of dollars in catering
for rehearsal dinners, showers
or as part of the wedding itself.
◗ Costco’s seafood items, such
as shrimp and king crab legs,
are great for parties.
◗ A tray of sushi from Costco can be
a crowd pleaser at any party.
◗ A Costco Bakery can save you
money in several ways: For
wedding-morning breakfasts or
showers, you’ll find a variety of
breads, bagels, muffins and
other baked goods. Costco’s sheet
cakes can be decorated for the
wedding, and there’s a great
selection of desserts.
◗ Flowers are central to any wedding event. Costco.com offers several wedding flower collections
with flowers for the bride, groom,
attendants, centerpieces and
more, at a great value.
◗ For at-home parties, buy paper
products at Costco for less than
Hiring and training competent employees
enables caterers, such as Bill Hansen of
Miami, to interact with guests at parties.