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Handling Last-Minute Bookings

We all know how it goes—a client calls, asking if maybe, just maybe, you could help them out with a drop-off tomorrow, an event at the end of the week or a wedding in a month. While not ideal, last-minute bookings are a reality of working in the catering industry, as 45% of caterers said the majority of their events were booked 0–3 months in advance. We spoke with ICA members about how they handle these pesky bookings and how they avoid them altogether.

Preventative Incentives
Not all last-minute bookings can be prevented, but it would be incredibly helpful to decrease the amount that you have to handle. Melissa Tibben, the co-owner and director of operations at Attitude on Food in Omaha, said that they encourage early booking by offering a complimentary station, like the “Late Night Nacho Bar. It’s just chips, cheese sauce and jalapenos, which allows us to upsell the add-ons—proteins, salsa, sour cream, etc.”

Systems for Success
The best way to handle spontaneous business is to have a process already in place. It streamlines the planning and allows for fewer errors and frustrations. “To keep us organized, one of the systems we instituted was a weekly production meeting,” said Dave Jones, co-owner of Purple Onion Catering Co. in Washington, D.C. Getting everyone involved in that week’s events allowed for advance coordination, which eliminated much of the scheduling confusion.

Additionally, technology has majorly improved how caterers can adapt to last-minute bookings. “To make these processes work, sales, culinary and operations have smartphones to access our software: Total Party Planner, Google Docs and Gmail,” said Jones. Using websites and planning software, as well as face-to-face communication, takes away much of the stress these bookings can cause.

Attitude on Food and Purple Onion Catering Co. are proud members of the ICA. To learn more about the ICA, visit

Director of Operations Melissa Tibben (left) and Owner/General Manager Nathan Newhouse (right) conduct a role playing session at Attitude on Food

Operations Director Monica Dean (left), Executive Chef Kyle Gragasin (center), and Event Designer Margaret Zagrodniczek are shown in a production meeting at Purple Onion

International Caterers Association

For motivated caterers, International Caterers Association is a resource that provides Education, encourages peer to peer Relationships and Inspires creativity while embracing all segments of the catering industry. For more information, visit