Erle’s Catering Sales Tip#345 – ABC



My team at the Catering Institute is working hard in the field today, as they do every day.  We spend all our time in restaurants helping them to grow sales and increase profits by educating them to be experts at feeding their customers where they Live, Work & Play.

One of the key elements that we get asked about every single day is how to sell more products and services in the business to business (B2B) channel.

Well, I have learned that in order to sell more off premise products and services into companies, we have to really focus on active selling.  We have to become professional selling organizations, every single day.  This is not for the light hearted.  It takes organizational resilience to really be selling at all levels of a restaurant company.

One idea that I like to focus on with all of our clients is on the “ABC’s” of selling.

Always Be Closing!

It is amazing to see how many of us experience an uptick in sales when we just start focusing on the basics of asking for business.

Here are 5 ideas that you can implement tomorrow to help you grow more sales.

1.  Ask for the order 3 times

2. Be persistent every single day.  If a prospect says no to you, it’s not that they are really saying no.  They are not buying for another reason and it is your job to find out.

3.  Know when to Cut Your Losses and Move on To Another Prospect.  This is part of the qualification process.  Are they qualified to purchase your products and services.

4.  Learn to Isolate Objections.  Make sure you ask your prospect “Besides {put objection here}, is there any other reason you won’t buy from me today?”

5.  Once Isolated, ask the Prospect, “If {put objection here} was not an issue, would you buy then?  Then solve for their objection.

Let’s sell more catering together!


A Successful Catering Event is Music to the Ears

When something goes as planned, it is pleasing and so we often say that’s “music to my ears”.  Thing is, to make great music, like great catering, it takes practice.  It takes perseverance.  It takes an ongoing commitment to doing the right things.  Every day.  All day.  Any great musician knows that they have to practice and train on their instrument.

To be successful at catering, like in life, you have to work at it.  Day in and day out.  Only after planning, training, playing and doing it, over and over, can you then be really good at something.  You can’t just put a sign in the window saying you do catering well.  You can’t just send out an email saying you are good at it.  You actually have to work at it over and over.  You actually have to feel it;  to live it; to mean it.

I have heard that you become an expert at something after doing it for 10,000 hours…. I wonder if that’s true.  If so, you’d better get back to work because we have a lot of work to do!  Catering out of restaurants is serious business.

Listen to this girl sing.  Listen to the notes.  The melody.  The perfect pitch.  When something sounds this good, it’s music to your ears.  And music to your ears, feels good.  Just like restaurant catering.  When done well, it will be music to your ears.

Enjoy a little music from 11 year old Maya Rae.  It’s music to my ears.  I hope it is to yours too.

Let’s talk catering!

Menu development in a multi-unit restaurant catering operation


Product Development

As restaurateurs, we have done an excellent job at menu development for both our dine-in and takeout revenue channels. We have invested billions of dollars in product design, packaging, training and the proper kitchen equipment to ensure that our customers get the consumption experience that our culinary teams intended. We have mastered the art of driving more restaurant sales with limited-time offers and created crave-able items worthy of our customers’ return.

Yet for many restaurant operators, menu development for the catering sales channel remains a daunting task. Operators get stuck in the paradigm that their catering program is an extension of their brand’s current retail menu. The assumption that menus are the same between dine-in, takeout and catering can be deadly to our brand and catering customer experience.

Our kitchens are designed for maximum efficiency in our restaurants because speed of service is critical in an industry where turning tables is an important metric. As operators, we have to move customers through our restaurants as quickly as possible. Each and every day, we battle meal rushes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

These busy times are important for our restaurants because food is an important part of everyone’s day. As restaurateurs, we touch people with our products and services. What’s even more important to understand, is that our brand has a very personal and intimate relationship with each one of our customers. They eat OUR food and are committed to the impact that our food handling practices and nutritional values have on their bodies.

As a community we have really focused our energy on providing the safest, tastiest and simplest consumption experience that we can create in our establishments. So, when it comes to catering, why have we not been as thoughtful? Why haven’t we designed our menus for maximum efficiency and quality?

As we venture further into the off-premise catering channel, we really have to stop and review every single menu item to make sure it is “catering worthy.” We must realize that the catering experience begins with menu development, including R&D in production, packaging and distribution methodologies.

I learned this lesson over several years while developing the catering program at Tony’s Deli. You see, at Tony’s we were loved for our grilled panini sandwiches. As a “paninoteca” we knew that our products had to be on the grill for exactly 6 minutes at a high temperature. We also understood that our products were at their best if our customers ate them as they came off the grill. The experience was designed that way.

Sure we offered takeout, but we searched high and low for the right foil bag that would keep our panini at the right temperature without “sweating.” We knew that if our customers did not consume their panini while it was piping hot, the cheese would congeal, the focaccia would become soggy and the product would lose its structure. It was designed for immediate consumption. It’s simple chemistry. There was nothing we could do to alter the chemistry of that product.

Tony’s was no different than any restaurant operation that wanted to create a proprietary consumption experience. An occurrence so unique and special, that in fact, our loyal customers would drive across Vancouver for that predictable flavor. They knew what they wanted long before they walked through the front door of the deli. In some cases, they craved the experience when they woke up in the morning!

Certainly, as restaurateurs, we are masters at the art of creating menus that have signature items to attract customers, but I have come to understand that our catering menus must be different than our dine-in and takeout menus.

As a matter of fact, to create differentiation in our services, our menus for catering need to be different than our restaurant menus. This means that our customers’ catering experiences, from a menu and packaging perspective, should have a clear differentiation from our retail service channels and that as operators we must make the paradigm shift in regard to the menu development process.

I’m not saying the menu needs to step away from our brand identity, but it must be presented in a way that resonates well with the off-premise channel to enhance the brand outside of its four walls. The products and services offered for the catering channel can be a subset of our in-store products or new products all together. There is a strategy to consider here.

Imagine rolling out a catering program with branded packaging and the right story attached to the products, with the commitment to provide for a memorable off-site consumption experience.

Driving incremental sales is the only reason to launch a catering channel. Often, this sales lift in the catering space can be achieved by developing a simple menu of existing in-store products and then packaging and selling them differently than we currently sell them in-store.

Allow for differentiation in pricing, packaging and presentation so you can deliver a unique and thoughtful experience. One by design.

Let’s talk catering!


Sitting in a Quiet Catering Space – An Invitation to Chat

Well, it’s Friday today.  It’s been another busy week and I feel like I am just coming up for air.  So, this got me thinking.  If it’s too noisy, I just can’t hear anything at all.  I can’t focus.  So, I took some quiet time for myself to think about my own business at MonkeyMedia Software.  So, as I did that, it gave me an idea.  Here it is.

I invite you to sit with me quietly in your brand’s ‘catering space. It begins in our imaginations.  No office noise, no interruptions.

Imagine what the catering channel can do for your business, both in the immediate sense and in the long term. Focus on how we get your brand to achieve up to $1,000 per day in incremental catering sales, for each one of your stores that does catering, in locations where catering makes sense. So, if you have 100 restaurants, I’d like to chat with you about an opportunity that is worth $100,000 per day, Monday to Friday.  Don’t ask me, just ask Willy and Brenda!

Don’t get stuck on the ‘why nots’ at this point and time. There is time later to address that.

In this quiet space, I want to discuss the subtleties and potential pitfalls of what you might expect to come across as you scale these ideas throughout your existing infrastructure.

Once you feel that you can imagine the big-picture opportunity for your brand, ignoring the details of how for the moment, we can discuss the subtleties and considerations, and make the strategic decision of whether or not your brand should service the catering revenue channel.

Once you begin to get comfortable with the potential of the concept, you will be in a position to make the right decision for your brand as well as understand the commitment required for you to succeed in this market.

Ok… back to all the noise now… phones ringing, problems with orders, customers complaining, marketing campaigns.

If you’d like to take some time with me to discuss your brand’s catering strategy, just reach out and call.  But, let’s make some quiet space to really focus in on the opportunity.

My cell is 604-831-7422.  Call anytime!  Enjoy your weekend!

The Ghosts In the Wall

I originally wrote this entry about 8 months ago. It was inspired through a visit that I made to a very large public company in the restaurant community. I left the name of the organization off the post, so as not to make anyone feel bad. But truth be told, I left their facilities feeling very sad. I hope you enjoy the post below:

Journal Entry – August, 2011

I am so fortunate to have been provided the opportunity to serve as CEO at MonkeyMedia Software.

It’s my job to provide direction for the company, to help steer it to a hopeful but uncertain victory.

I get to meet great leaders and the people they serve. In each case, in companies both large and small, there are fantastic people trying so hard to please their customers, their managers and their owners. Everyone is working hard.

As I travel to boardrooms, I am amazed at the cultural differences that differ from company to company.

Many of these companies have been hit hard during these recessionary times. Yes, the food business has suffered in recent times.

I find it so interesting, that when a business is in decline, and cost cutting continues to be one of the main initiatives, the fear that is cultivated for the surviving members of the team is overbearing. Devastating, scary and quite frightening really. Emotions run high, work is piled on, and projects are under-resourced. Hiring freezes paralyze them; is anything getting done?

You can walk down the hallowed halls of these buildings, that were once filled with entrepreneurial spirit, the culture of growth and a true belief system. As the years have passed, Wall Street has stepped in. Although we should also feel grateful to Wall Street for providing us with financial vehicles for growth, I feel that at the same time, it is appropriate for us to be angry with them for killing the entrepreneurial spirit while focused on shareholder value.

After all, during these last 6 or 7 decades of growth our ancestors had to believe, right? Otherwise, how did they get up in the morning and go to work? Their passion was alive! Where else do you get the fuel from if not from believing? Wasn’t it hard times for them too? Hasn’t it always been hard?

For me, it is sad to see the “ghosts in the walls.” The words and images of a growing culture. One that had direction, hope and prospects for the “sky is the limit”.

As I walk down some of these halls, the once vibrant philosophical management style, has now turned over 3 times in recent years. You can sense that the mission statement so proudly displayed on the walls during the building years, are now just empty words in this time of decline. Nobody even reads the words. They are just invisible and part of the background noise. The words are not relevant, not being lived. The management teams in their ivory towers have stopped walking the talk. They have simply focused on share price, with no sense of any real higher purpose. It’s not their fault really because they too are just trying to feed their families. They are people too. Victims of Wall Street as well. They are forced to abandon suffering markets and focus on new growth opportunities overseas. Shouldn’t they fix their challenges at home first? Don’t they have a responsibility to their adoring brand fans? Their employees and franchisees? The people who have mortgaged their homes and depend on the success of these businesses? Where is their moral compass?

I feel as if the words I am reading on the walls, were written by past leaders who are now just “Ghosts in the Walls.” Just ghosts. Not the haunted kind; just the forgotten kind.

Well, I can tell you, there are companies that are trying hard to fix themselves. Leadership with new blood. Even so the battle is uphill as the future remains so uncertain. But hasn’t it always been uncertain? Isn’t that just the way it is? After all, nothing good can last just as nothing bad can last. It is forever changing.

One thing that worries me. We are forgetting all the good people who came before us in these workplaces. The people who experienced the early years. The entrepreneurial years. The exciting years.

And so, now that times are tougher, we sometimes remain disrespectful to our ancestors. The ghosts in the wall, as I see it. These people of the past made great contributions. They were relevant in their time. They worked hard, just like you and I. Their stories were bought by Wall Street who used their brand equity to grow bigger. But at what expense?

So why is it that instead of setting market trends, we don’t have the guts? We accept that the economy is bad and that there is nothing we can do about it. So, we show up to work, hoping it will change on its own, or even worse, we think new leadership will know what to do. We watch as they run for the hills and open new stores in emerging markets because Wall Street demands it. We follow them because we believe they know what to do.

Well guess what? They don’t know what to do! When a business is sick, it is sick. To bring it back to health, you have to change it; and quickly.

Well, it’s tough for anyone to fix broken companies, with broken promises. Distrust runs high.

I urge you to listen to the voices of the ghosts in the walls. That’s where the answers are. The ones that were there before you.

Our company ancestors have seen it all. They too rode the wild roller coaster of business. So, honor them. Tomorrow when you go to work, try and connect to your company ancestors. Ask THEM the hard questions.

I promise you they will tell you the answers. Just look on your walls. Read the old signs, the aging clippings and the wins and milestones that were celebrated over the years. Also, make sure you refer to the failures, there is alot to learn there. Reconnect with the culture, the passion, the spirit. The early days. Go back to the basics. It always works.

Now is the time for change. To get smarter, more committed, retrenched. How else do we manoever through the mired complexities?

As my friend Tom Feltenstein often says, change is good, you go first!

Only the entrepreneurial companies will survive. Just look at our great brands that are succeeding today. Behind each of them, is a great entrepreneurial leader. For them, there never was a “recession”. For them, it’s just a time of change, just like any other day at work. They don’t focus on share price. Just on their passion and beliefs.

They listen to and consult the ghosts in their walls.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Blown away by the quality of leadership in our multi-unit restaurant community

Last week in Scottsdale, Arizona I had the good fortune of attending the Restaurant Leadership Conference for 2012. I had so much fun, especially with sharing my dream about Ray Kroc in this Video!  For those of you that missed it, just before the Bill Strickland presentation, I’ll share it here just for fun.  I’ll come back to Bill Strickland in a bit.

So, I have to say, that I am blown away by our community!  Really blown away! I think many of the attendees were.  And so, as I returned to Vancouver, It really got me thinking.  I mean, REALLY got me thinking.

Here’s the thing.  Of the 30% of attendees that I was lucky enough to meet, to greet and to make some acquaintance,  I felt that the quality of the our conversations were insightful, optimistic, kind and generous.   Those conversations were a gift for me on a personal level.  These gatherings are so important for all of us, because the food business is about people.  Making connections.  Intellectual, spiritual and emotional.  It’s just about the people.

So I started thinking more about that.  I really started to zero in on the quality of the  Keynote Speakers this year. Not that previous years have been anything to sneeze at; but this year, it was different.

Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo 

Joshua Olshansky Managing Director and Head of Consumer Retail Practice, Golden Gate Capital

Herman Cain Former President/CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Former Chairman, NRA

Howard Stoeckel CEO, Wawa Inc.

Ronald M. Shaich Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board Panera Bread

Edward H. Rensi Former President & CEO, McDonald’s USA; Co-operator, Tom & Eddie’s.  

Seeing that this was a Leadership conference, I studied these leaders.  I observed, I listened and I learned.  I saw how each of them really connects with their audience when they are speaking.  They spoke with high energy, intense belief and a passion towards a higher purpose in their work.  It was fascinating for me to watch.  I was mesmerized.  Impressed.  And most of all, I was learning.  

“That’s it!”, I thought to myself.  “It’s the learning!  The intellectual connections!  The idea of advancement!  Of making our industry better, so we, as people can be better!”.  Well, at least that was part of it for me.

So I started thinking more about that. 

Then I thought about the followers under these great leaders and within that following is yet even more leadership.  As a matter of fact, each facet of our business operations needs to have solid leadership.  And so, I started to wonder where exactly that begins and ends, from an organizational perspective.

Then I thought to myself that not all people can be or even want to be leaders.  Or do they?  I mean, if leadership remains a key theme throughout the entire culture of our organizations, then clearly if we can be leaders in our markets, then all of the people who work for us will feel like leaders.  So, it’s not necessarily about individuals as much as it is about whole organizations, industry’s and communities.

I want to call out two particular things I learned from the conference.

1.  Ron Shaich spoke on the topic of Conscious Capitalism.  Ron’s message struck me hard.  It’s brilliant and he has taken this perspective and applied it to the Panera Cares concept.  Here is a video that I found on Ron’s fantastic and creative effort towards making a difference in the communities he serves.

When I heard this perspective, I felt like I was watching a master, an artist.  I was watching a man that had so much trust in the human spirit, that he risked his neck on a new idea.  One that everyone called crazy.  And guess what?  It’s working.  The communities are embracing this new economic model and while that is happening, less privileged people are eating great food at Panera.  Getting respect and the end result is that these communities are healthier and those that are suffering from hunger, are getting food.  This approach to our community issues is not only brilliant, it serves shareholders as well.  This presentation really blew me away at the conference.

2.  The second most important presentation for me was from Bill Strickland.  Bill was so effective in his presentation, that he had most of the room shedding tears.  Why?  Because of his authenticity in his mission and his ability to connect with the human emotion.  For those of you that missed Bill’s presentation, I am including a clip that I found.  

I was so moved by Bill Strickland’s work, that I decided to learn more about his education perspectives.  He is building a facility in Vancouver and my plan is to get involved, from the beginning.  To bring purpose to others, to wake with intention and to be involved in impacting the human emotion in a positive and purposeful way.  

I took away a feeling of hope from these speakers.  That in fact, we can do more in our professional careers to make a difference.  To really make the world a better place instead of just living to increase shareholder value.  I love that idea.  Build it and they will come.  If you look after your customers, and you create the right environment, behaviour will change.  Profits?  Well, according to Ron and Bill, if you don’t focus on them, and you just focus on your “higher purpose” as an organization, the money will come.

I woke up very grateful to these two leaders today.  I want to thank them both for the gift they gave me in Scottsdale last week.  I encourage each of you to learn more from these great human beings.