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Survey says!

Did you know that caterers have similar triumphs and tribulations from all around the country, regardless of their shape and size?

Well, it’s true!

I have the wonderful opportunity to work with caterers from north to south, east to west—and everywhere in between. Large and small, newbies and veterans. A company can’t rely solely on word of mouth. The sales department with a team of one—or 100—has a substantial influence on the profitability of a business.

I was curious to know more about sales departments around the country, so I sent a survey to 474 companies and asked them 10 questions. Here is what the consensus was:

1. Do you have formal sales meetings?

“Yes” was the overwhelming response, and weekly seemed to be the frequency.

Sales meetings are important to keep a team healthy. This is not an ops meeting or a meeting to hash over last weekend’s events or go over future events. This should be strictly a sales meeting monitoring sales tracking, opportunities within the team, and education. It’s best to keep this on the same day and time.

2. Is there a contract/agreement with the company and salesperson?

It looks like about 55% of the companies said. “no.”

It is a bit surprising how many companies do not have a contract in place. A contract/agreement between a salesperson and company is prudent and protects both parties. It spells out job description, goals, compensation, and benefits.

3. Do you have policies and procedures in place for the sales department?

“Yes” for the win at about 63%.

Policies and procedures for the sales department expedite the training process and almost eliminates the, “Oh, I didn’t know that” response. However, if they do not read them, it negates the entire process. Sales people need to read, sign off, and be accountable for all policies and procedures.

4. What is your sales pay structure?

Overwhelmingly, the answer was “salary with commission.”

Salary with commission works best for the salesperson and company. It makes the salesperson a little hungry and releases the pressure of making ends meet in the slower months. One of the most common ways to compute compensation is to add the salary and commission together. That total should be between 5–9% of their total sales, pre tax. This percentage varies around the country.

5. Are your sales people competitive with one another?

While the “yes” and “no” responses were close enough, healthy competition between salespeople was way ahead of unhealthy.

Healthy competition is a great motivator. Display individual sales goals and watch how your salespeople elebrate each other. A fun sales contest is always win-win.

6. Do you know your salespeople’s closing ratio?

“Yes” about 37%, “no” about 63%.

Tracking closing ratio is important for both salesperson and management. If it is too low, retraining may be needed. If it is too high, then prices may need to be raised. Most companies track using this formula:

# Meeting/Proposal  ÷ # Booked.

7. Overall, are you satisfied with your current sales team’s efforts?

Most companies were “moderately satisfied.”

It was refreshing to see that 10% of the companies polled are extremely satisfied with the performance of their sales teams. Another 50% fell into the moderately satisfiedarea. The remaining 40%? They need to look at retraining.

8. When you ask the salesperson why the event did not book, do they respond…

It was price.

Clients may very well tell the salesperson that they didn’t get the booking due to price. But the real reason is because your salesperson didn’t show the client the differences between the two companies. Think about it: if one caterer is $100 pp and the other caterer was $110 pp and the client doesn’t see the difference, then they will always go with price. Unfortunately, clients still may view caterers as a commodity. It is our job as salespeople to show the clients WHY your company is different. Remember features tell—benefits sell.

9. Do you survey lost business to find out why they didn’t close the sale?

This was fairly close in yes and no, with no being about 20 percentage points ahead.

Tracking lost business is a great indicator for myriad reasons. If you continually hear the same reason it gives you a chance to fix the issue. It could be as simple as that you didn’t offer their favorite dessert or as serious as the client didn’t like your food. If you don’t ask they won’t tell. 

10. What are the skills you feel your sales team is lacking? Choose all that apply.

The number one skill was being able to close the sale. Next was follow up/follow through. In third place was not having a powerful enough proposal.

I’m not surprised to see that closing the sale is number one. 65% of our salespeople are truly not “salespeople.” They enter this industry because they have a passion for events. They are indeed salespeople, however (no matter if they have the right personality type), and can be taught the sales process and to ask for the sale.

Meryl Snow will be teaching a variety of classes at Catersource in March 2017. Click here for a list!




Meryl Snow

Owner, Feastivities Events, Philadelphia, PA and Senior Consultant, Certified Catering Consultants

With nearly 30 years in the special event and catering industry, Meryl Snow is the co-founder of Feastivities Events and the creator of The Triangle Method.  As a Senior Consultant for Certified Catering Consultants, Meryl travels throughout North America training clients in the areas of sales, marketing, design and branding to help businesses get on their own path to success.She is the author of Booked It! and Cha-CHING!

Meryl Snow

Catersource Advisory Council Member

Founder of