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Challenging “That’s the Way We Do It”

A quick word on letting go of the systems that no longer serve us

There are many stories in the catering world where someone who has a talent and passion for serving friends ends up establishing a 30-plus year career and a reputation of excellence. These paths are filled with long hours of just trying to get by and figure it out. From this reality, the unique systems and processes we create become the “that’s the way we do it” standard operating procedure.

Reactive systems are for short-term solutions

Most of these processes weren’t complicated or driven by any sense of long-term impact on the future of our business. They were a reaction to a breakdown or something that went wrong. This translated to multiple copies of documents of forgotten rentals, short staffing and wrong dates on the calendar. The joke that "caterers love paper" is pretty humbling, especially if you take a look around the average catering office. We like our files, spreadsheets, photocopies, and the beloved bcc email, just so you have a copy for your records. We spend a lot of time pushing paper.

In travelling the country and working with clients, I’ve seen a lot of the same things. Companies are so busy sometimes that they don’t stop and really look at their processes from a completely different perspective. If do you have the opportunity to stop, step back and ask the following questions:

• Why do we do it this way?

• Who made the decision and when?

• How much time do we spend on these processes verses actually catering?

If at any point you don’t have the answer you then have to ask: “why don’t we do something different?” For many people, this is the point where you really start looking at your business differently and begin questioning the “that’s the way we do it” systems.

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Integrated software for businesses of the future

As we close out this decade and roll into a new one, we realize we are very fortunate to have access to new technology to propel catering into the future. Our service counterparts, restaurants, are leading the way it seems. They are well-entrenched in POS, online ordering, staffing apps, and a whole host of modern systems.

Catering has the same options. There are growing numbers of software options and huge leaps in open API and interfaces that allow event management systems to connect to staffing programs, accounting, online ordering, recipe management, email marketing, task management and others.

So, if you are ready to make the leap and let software help you, then you need to evaluate the following:

• What type of caterer are we, and what do we want to be known for?

• What internal processes are consuming our time?

• How much money do we really spend in time and labor compared to our average event?

• How many of our processes share the same information?

• Is our staff ready to embrace technology? If not, why?       

Any one of these questions if answered correctly can lead you to the integrated system that’s right for you. The solution that’s right is not going to be off-the-shelf; it’s managed by a team of people who share the same information in real-time. They have the same goal of exceeding customers’ expectations. Let’s free ourselves from the redundancy of past mistakes and paperwork.

John Reed

Owner, Custom Culinary Solutions, Chicago, IL

John Reed is a professional chef with over 30 years’ experience. He is the owner of Customized Culinary Solutions, a culinary consulting firm located in the Chicago Northshore area. He works with restaurant, catering, and foodservice companies to provide the highest quality food possible. His contributions include menu and recipe development, emerging concept development, and transition management for companies introducing culinary and production software programs. His company specializes as an on-demand culinary department supporting out-sourced culinary project management.

An active member of the ACF, he has earned certifications as a Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator, and American Academy of...