Catersource is part of the Informa Connect Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Just say no

Despite what you’ve learned, saying “no” can be even more vital to your bottom line than saying “yes.”

Success means learning to say “no.” This was the topic of a presentation by a noted business leader at a conference I recently attended. Nevertheless, it seems saying “no” is inconceivable to any caterer who is wired to please — myself included. In fact, I was trained to say “yes” to just about anything that wouldn’t cause flood or fire.

Adapting to this new philosophy can be a challenge, but learning to say “no” frees you to cater to the clients who are the best fit for your company.

Since the recession, most companies have learned to economize while doing everything possible to increase revenue. To support this effort, we have challenged ourselves to say “no” when asked to operate in a manner contrary to our standards or price points.

Here’s why: between the austerity measures in the marketplace since 2008 and the advent of giant international catering conglomerates, caterers tend to try being all things to all people at all prices. It can be argued that this approach keeps cash flowing and employees working. But it’s more likely that your company’s vision, integrity and profitability will be compromised.

Not long ago, a friend launched an off-premise catering arm of a fine dining restaurant. While his company was quick to embrace certain fundamentals of off-premise operations, they soon lost sight of why their restaurant’s style of food and service is so popular. They were saying “yes” to anything that came their way and were floundering as a result. Moreover, they were working way too hard for too many hours. 

What finally resonated was a quote by iconic jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie: “It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.”

This trumpet sounded loud and clear to my friend. He and his team refocused on their initial mission and began to accommodate better-fit events. And what a difference it began to make. Happier clients, stronger production, growing revenues and profitability.

While the customer may always be right, he may not always be the right customer for your business. When you have to bend and twist to accommodate the requests of a client who is not a good fit, you risk losing focus on the clients who are your right fit.

Considered this way, it becomes clear that saying “no” is the smart thing to do. Saying “no” to one thing gives you an opportunity to say “yes” to something far more valuable.


Jon Wool
Catersource Consultant
[email protected]

Jon Wool

President and Owner, JHW Hospitality Consulting

Jon Wool is the president and owner of JHW Hospitality Consulting and is part of the Catersource Consulting Unit (CCU). He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also part of the Catersource Consulting Unit (CCU).