Anyone who’s ever planned a wedding, hosted a big party or organized a corporate event knows how important it is to have a good caterer. Hot, delicious food brings a sense of genuine hospitality to your event that can help boost people’s mood, create a better impression of your company and build stronger relationships with your clients and colleagues. With so many details and deadlines to keep track of, it becomes even more important to be able to trust your caterer – can they deliver on their promises with food that exceeds expectations?
We talked with Laura Parente of Premier Catering and Events, a San Francisco catering company, about what it takes to build a lasting brand in the fast-paced world of corporate catering:
How did you develop a brand for your business? What do you want people to “believe in” with regard to your company and your brand’s promises?
We began our company in January 1994. We started our catering company out of our sister restaurant, Swiss Louis, because of the great demand for off-site catering from tour companies. Because we had an Italian cooking base, we named our company Molto Bene, which means “very good” in Italian. We kept that name for approximately a year until Steve Benne, with Molto Benne Catering, contacted us. When we originally researched the name, Steve’s company, Molto Benne, never popped up. After thousands of dollars spent on advertising, promotional packages, envelopes, business cards, checks, etc. we decided in the spirit of “fairness” we would change our name to Premier Catering. We wanted a name and logo that would stand out and needed no further explanation. We started as a partnership then changed the name again to Premier Catering & Events, Inc. when we incorporated. 21 years later we have built a strong, solid catering company that stands behind its name with excellent cuisine and impeccable service. We have a number of clients that have been with us either exclusively or continuously from the very beginning.
What is it like being a small business in the catering space?
We are housed in San Francisco, one of the most competitive cities in the country for catering. People hold very high standards and expect high quality each and every time. For this reason we try to change our menus twice a year and keep up with the latest culinary trends.
What are some of the challenges and advantages of being a small business owner in this field?
I think the advantages far outweigh the challenges in the catering field; however, at times that’s probably a slim margin. One challenge is seasonal pricing. When we are developing pricing for our menus, we sometimes will discover that the very next day certain vegetables and/or fruits have doubled in price. But once we offer a price to a client or company for our catering service, it’s set – we can’t go back to our customers and ask for a price increase, even when the cost of our food supplies has suddenly increased.
Another challenge is traffic congestion and parking. Especially downtown, this poses a significant challenge for our delivery team. The upside is that we have a bird’s eye view of the freeway going in the north and south direction so can easily take the back streets. We always allow ourselves plenty of time in case there’s a problem on the roads. In many cases for larger event style catering, we’ll send the food at a later time. Weather plays a huge factor in San Francisco, from outdoor events to rainy days. In San Francisco, it’s always important to have a “Plan B” in place, just in case something goes wrong.
We believe in San Francisco there’s enough business to go around for everyone. In the dotcom era there was a trickle-down effect from the larger companies. We gained many new catering clients just as a result of the larger catering companies not being able to take on more business.
What are some overall trends that you’re seeing right now in your market? Is this a good time to be caterer? Are more people seeking your kind of services, and what seems to be driving the demand?
Right now San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area are in a bit of a boom and probably will be for the next few years. Companies are willing to spend money on corporate catering while they pursue business from other companies. Wedding couples will always be getting married even though overall wedding catering has scaled back.
How do you decide which types of events and clients are “right” for your business? For example, do you do a mix of weddings and corporate events? More of one or the other? How do you balance fun/availability/profitability, and overall “fit” for what you do?
Premier Catering & Events does a combination of corporate and social event catering from breakfasts, box lunches, lunch deliveries to buffet style or seated lunch and dinner, wedding receptions large and small. A majority of our corporate catering is Monday-Friday and our social and wedding catering is on weekends, so there is rarely conflict between the two types of events, and we have the capacity for handling both since we are available 24/7. Because of the rising cost of Worker’s Compensation Insurance, Liability Insurance, etc. the only way to overcome and survive the increasing costs of just about everything is to increase revenue by offering a great product at a reasonable price.
What do you like best about running your own business?
I like the flexibility in being able to offer discounts and flexible pricing structure depending on budget to gain new clients that will spread the word about how wonderful our company is. We are very proud to be rock-solid in business through rough waters.
What is the aspect of your business that most people would be most surprised to hear?
Many clients have no idea what happens behind the scenes in producing an event of any size. I wear different hats in my business and there are days that I’ll make a delivery for a 10-person lunch or breakfast. Then there are days where I’m leading a 1,000-person event. It changes daily, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to ensure the event is successful, each and every time.
What is a “little known secret” of the catering business?
Have integrity, consistency and flawless service and food each time and it’s a win-win situation for everyone!
What are some of your favorite success stories from your business?
I’ve met a lot of people over the years and there’s nothing more gratifying than seeing clients so pleased with our company that they return over and over again, year after year. We have had employees with us since 1994 and many others have been with us for more than 15 years. Being able to provide employment to so many people has been all worth it.
What has been your biggest learning experience from running your business?
Never take on more than you’re capable of handling. The downside is never worth it. Take on only what you can handle and have ALL the clients walk away happy.
Some professional services providers struggle with wanting to serve as many customers as they can, but gradually they also want to figure out which niche is most profitable and most fun for them to focus on – how do you approach this challenge in your business?
Of course we would love to service as many customers as possible – but only if we can. We would prefer to cease taking on more business if we’re at our capacity, rather than try to please everyone while no one is happy with a lesser service. We give our regular and exclusive clients priority.
Looking for a caterer for your next client reception, wedding party or corporate event? Check out Premier Catering in San Francisco.
Kabbage Takeaway: Building a successful catering business – similar to many other professional service businesses – is all about having a strong brand based on trust and meeting your promises. Premier Catering has created a successful business in a competitive market based on repeat business, delivering exceptional service and keeping their menu fresh with the newest culinary trends.