Archive for the ‘ Catering & Meetings ’ Category

A-V: the Underappreciated Profit Center, Part II

Are you losing huge profit opportunities in meetings audio-visual and technology sales? Last week we looked at two of these four questions:

1. How is your audio-visual offering described on your web site?

2. Do you have a marketing plan for selling audio-visual equipment?

This week we’ll look at 3 & 4, and I’ll point you toward some best practices.

3. How do these offerings set you apart from your competitors?

4. How important is audio-visual to your F&B profit picture?

THREE.  About your offerings being competitive: I probably wouldn’t have to ask this question if we were talking about bar, restaurant, catering or room service menus.

Is your product essentially generic? Same things “everyone” has? Your third party vendor probably has access to a lot of equipment, especially high-tech, that you don’t list. Why don’t you list it? Because no one orders it? Because you only list what your competitors list? Because you don’t participate in creating the list (please see #2)?

For example, I rarely see “digital white boards” listed. There are many types, the latest allow meeting participants to literally email (or save to a thumb drive) whatever is on the board at a specific time.  I’ll bet your vendor has access to them. Or, how about audience polling systems. Same thing. Of the last 20 hotels and conference centers I’ve looked at, I’ve seen digital white boards twice, and audience polling systems just once. What’s your profit on a digital white board compared to a flip chart?

And what’s the impression you make on a meeting planner when you list high-tech items, and when you list services such as “web-casting your keynote speaker’s address”?

FOUR. What is audio-visual’s contribution to your departmental profit? For this information I looked at a handful of brands and checked the operators’ P&L’s.  I took the net commission a hotel makes from selling A-V and divided by total departmental F&B profit. The average was 10%. In other words, 10% of all hotel F&B profit comes from audio-visual. This is an average and your numbers may be much lower or much higher. But at some hotels, 10% could be thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Let’s summarize Parts I & II.

  1. Create a serious presence for audio-visual and other technology products and services on your web site – I recommend a Technology Menu.
  2. Develop a marketing plan for audio-visual and other technology – use your F&B marketing skills as your guide, you’ll do well
  3. Use A-V and other technology to enhance your competitive advantage in the meetings marketplace.
  4. Set a goal for increasing your commission/profit dollars, and work with your A-V company to get there. Next year, work with them to create some win-win packages.

Finally, here are a few Best Practices noted while conducting research for this column.

  • The Hyatt Shanghai, Ritz-Carlton Santiago and Westin Montreal don’t claim to have an audio-visual expert. Rather, they each have a “Technology Concierge”. If you don’t like that title, how about “IT Consultant” or “Director of Technology”?
  • Marriott Banquet menus have a section dedicated to Technology.
  • The Marriott San Diego Gaslamp’s Technology section bundles several of their technology features into Presentation Packages, with everything a presenter could need for a certain type of presentation. Smart.
  • The Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza has an excellent technology menu. So does the Radisson Plaza-Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia. Pictures, graphics, professional layout, packages and a long list of equipment. Attractive layouts,  just like they were selling food and beverage.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.


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A-V: the Underappreciated Profit Center, Part I

Are you losing huge profit opportunities in meetings audio-visual and technology sales? Here are four questions for your consideration. We’ll look at two of these this week, and two others next week. 

  1. How is your audio-visual offering described on your web site?
  2. Do you have a marketing plan for selling audio-visual equipment?
  3. How do these offerings set you apart from your competitors?
  4. How important is audio-visual to your F&B profit picture?

I’m thinking that audio-visual equipment rental is something that gets little attention from most F&B Directors, at least until the projector light bulb burns out in the middle of a meeting and the A-V tech can’t be found.

So, let’s drill down a little on these four questions.

ONE. Look at your web site – does A-V get its “fair share”? Most of the hotel web sites I’ve looked at have descriptions that fall into one of three categories:

  1. A generic description of offerings and services, sometimes with a couple of examples. This is akin to having a restaurant’s web presence limited to a statement about how wonderful your food is, you’re sure to enjoy it, etc.
  2. A list of items. Often these lists are outdated – I’ve seen lists with 35mm slide projectors and laser disc players. Thinking about your restaurant again, would you put a simple list on your web site in lieu of a menu? “We have: hamburgers, steaks, salads, chicken, breakfast, soft drinks, desserts, wine, beer & cocktails”.
  3. A link to a third party. Many of the third party A-V (and other technology) companies have a very impressive array of equipment and offerings. Sharing this information with meeting planners is certainly appropriate. But wouldn’t you like share the information in the context of your hotel’s services? When I go to a site and (eventually) find the audio-visual information, if I just see a link, what I really get is the feeling that “hey, we’re busy, go bother the A-V company, but don’t worry we’ll talk again when it’s time to give you the bill”.

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Catering Menu Formats – Best Practice?

What’s happening in the world of hotel catering menu formats?

I’ve written about catering menus before. I’ve suggested that a catering menu is really not a menu, it’s a marketing tool. By that I mean that a catering menu’s most important function is to persuade a prospective client to book with the hotel. Describing food and beverage offerings is important, but secondary.Effandbee Grill Ventures Consulting

Not so at a restaurant, where the menu is first about the offerings themselves, and secondly about potential customers (e.g. posting a menu outside the restaurant or online).

Recently I examined online menus for five upscale hotels, each a different brand. I looked at several features.


This was possible 100% of the time, but it was easy only 60% of the time. It seems that the more features a hotel has for their online offerings, the more difficult it is to download a clean version of the menu. It may well be that the decision has been made that downloading a menu is no longer required as other means of sharing electronically are ubiquitous. I don’t know. Another approach would be a separately-configured matching PDF version for the online menu. A B&W optional version for the print-happy would be a nice touch, by the way.Effandbee Grill Ventures Consulting


100% are doing this. And why not. Thanks. To and many others, affordable professional-quality food photography is available to all.


80% of the menus offered this. I can click “Receptions” and I’m taken there instantly. I think this is now an expectation. Especially since it doesn’t require much technical expertise – you can us hyperlink to add the feature to in a Word version of your menu, save it to PDF and it will carry over.


60% are listing their plated entrees in bundled formats, an entrée is accompanied by side dishes, sometimes a dessert and appetizer, and there is a price attached to it. I recommend an À la carte format which gives the client more choices and gives you more options for upsell.Effandbee Grill Ventures Consulting


60% of the menus have prices with dollar signs, in spite of evidence that eliminating dollars signs increases sales. 60% of the menus show cents as in $0.00, although there is a school of thought that dropping cents gives a menu a more-upscale impression.


Beverage is generally more profitable than food and offers the catering director more opportunity to create excitement in the menu. The opportunity seems to be underutilized. One of the sample hotels uses 20% of its pages for beverage offerings – not bad. The others range from 9% to 15%. Total beverage pages ranged from 3 to 8.


0% Take advantage of this, the easiest way to create a great first impression of your menu – give the file name an interesting marketing-based name that identifies you and sets you apart. I wrote about this in the aforementioned January 2010 post. “Banquet Menu.PDF” is not a good file name (“Banquet Menu 2010.PDF” is worse). Identify your hotel and add a phrase that distinguishes you, the Chef’s name or an adjective or two or a reference to your specialty.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Are Food Trucks a Threat to Hotel Catering Business? Part II

Food Trucks may pose a threat to hotel catering business. Last week in the first part of this blog I suggested that:

  1. Food truck foodservice is not a fad, in fact it is here to stay, so get used to it
  2. Food trucks offer some very real – and in 2011 very relevant – advantages compared to hotel catering

In fact, I went so far as to say that were I doing a SWOT analysis for a hotel catering department in a major market, I would list “Food Truck Catering” as a threat.

Then I foolishly promised suggestions in Part II- how to turn this into a competitive advantage for your hotel.

OK so now what?

Go buy a $100,000 food truck? That would be OK, but not, I think practical. Anyway, don’t ask me to do the ROI on that one.

So, no, don’t buy a truck.

Instead, leverage what you do best, what the food trucks cannot do. Then turn it into a competitive advantage. I’ll explain.

It’s simple really, and everybody wins. Partner with a number of high quality food trucks. The way you already partner with outside caterers for certain special needs required by your customers from time to time (I’m thinking kosher events at hotels without a kosher kitchen and ethnic weddings, for example).

Next, create a new section for your catering menu, “Food Truck Events”. Think about it. How many years have you had “Mexican Station” on your menu? And when was the last time you saw a competitor without a comparable offering? Let’s get the potential customer excited. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, please see Part I.

What’s a “Food Truck Event”? It could be a tent with 5 food trucks in your parking lot. It could be your “normal” in-house reception, even wedding reception, but now two of your stations are catered by two popular (brides’ choice?) food trucks.

Catering Directors: this is a win-win-win-win (Hotel-Customer-Food Truck Operator-Employee). You add excitement to your offerings, your menu. You get new business that might not have otherwise booked with you. You’ve negotiated a margin with the food truck owner(s) plus (more important!) some exclusivity for your hotel. You don’t want every hotel offering “your” food truck offerings. The food truck owner has a source of new business. More work for your banquet team.

Why will this work? Because of the innate competitive advantages that hotels have over food trucks:

  • You can serve beverage alcohol, they can’t
  • You can provide a large variety of items, they cannot
  • You have a roof, they don’t
  • You have tables and chairs, a dance floor and lighting – they don’t
  • You are a one-stop-shop, they are not – who wants to book every last thing, including tables and chairs separately?
  • If the event is outdoors, you can offer a backup plan for inclement weather – they cannot

Finally, don’t forget one more thing that they have and you can leverage: a following in social media. Maybe this partner thing could really go somewhere?

So, reach out now. Find the best food trucks in your area, trucks that support your hotel’s quality level and image, and form alliances. And don’t forget to update and market that menu.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Are Food Trucks a Threat to Hotel Catering Business? Part I

Food trucks competing with a well-equipped catering department at a midscale or even upscale hotel? Forget it, I’m kidding.

[FYI: the second highest Zagat food quality rating for any restaurant in San Francisco, 28, is a food cart that’s available 2 days a week. I’ve been. Zagat’s right.]

I don’t know a single catering director who has expressed concern about this. I’m not sure it’s on anyone’s radar. Yet. In fact I know some pretty smart hoteliers who have hosted food truck events. I wrote about it last year.

[Oops. I just Googled “Weddings & Food Trucks” got 23 million hits.]

[Oops again. The Knot just published its 11 top weddings trends for 2011, and guess what?]

We all know that, really, food trucks are a fad, and anyway health departments will be shutting them all down soon and we can get back to the way things were. For example the city council of Richmond CA just put the kibosh on new licenses for 45 days while they figure out which regulations should apply, and how. Closer to home, Atlanta has very strict enforcement policies.

[On the other hand cities such as L.A. – 10,000 food trucks – and Santa Monica and Chicago are passing strict but reasonable laws to govern the trucks. In fact, food truck owners welcome this, they understand that ultimately it will bring them more and new customers who are now reassured about the safety aspect. The New York Times said this “may be the ultimate sign that this faddiest of food fads is going mainstream”.]

Why is this happening, and why is it a trend – not a fad? Some will cite technology and others the recession and they would not be wrong, but there is more. There is a permanent shift in what we value, and this shift began before the recession. The best explanation I’ve seen for this is found in Spend Shift by John Gerzema & Michael. The subtitle says it all: “How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live”. Call it “new normal” or whatever you wish: consumers are rejecting “overconsumption”. The authors of Spend Shift cited 5 emerging values – emerging prior to the recession by the way. Among them are these two:

  • We are “adopting a more nimble, adaptable and thrifty approach to life”
  • Old status symbols appeal less, and “purpose, character, authenticity and creativity” are pathways to the “new good life”

Let’s apply this to food truck catering. What do they have that a top notch hotel doesn’t? Affordability. Variety in venue (pick a venue, any venue the trucks can access). Specialization – oftenFood Trucks are great at just one thing, that’s all they do. And Authenticity. For examples check out the Top 20 Food Trucks in the USA. Fun, Buzz, Creativity – and it’s all wrapped in social media marketing.

And now it’s time to get back to hotel catering. Is this really a “threat” to your business? If you asked me to do a SWOT analysis for your business, and if you are located in a major market, I would have to answer “yes”.

OK so now what?

I’ll suggest a response in Part II next week.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Catering: When is a Menu not a Menu?

Riddle me this, Batman: when is a menu not a menu? I know, it’s not likely that the Riddler ever said that. Nonetheless, it’s a legitimate question. Merriam-Webster Online says that a menu is “a list of the dishes that may be ordered (as in a restaurant) or that are to be served (as at a banquet)”.

Other sources also define menu along the same lines, “list of dishes”, “list of options for the diner”, etc.

It seems to me that the authors of many banquet-catering menus (Chefs? Catering Directors? F&B Directors?) are doing a great job of keeping up with Merriam and friends, because that’s what their catering menus are: a list of dishes that can be ordered.

So, let’s riddle again, using the definition: when is a menu not a “list of dishes”? The answer: when it’s a marketing tool.

We often “get” this in our restaurants, though not always. Then when it comes to catering, everything we learned about menu merchandising is forgotten. Someone smarter than I pointed out that advertising/marketing people in general would “kill” to get their marketing message in front of a customer immediately before they make the “buy” decision. Yet in food and beverage, we are able to do that, and often do not.

One important distinction between restaurant menus and catering menus: the restaurant guest usually looks at the menu after they sit down – they have already decided to “buy”. For the banquet-catering customer this is not always the case. Sure, if there is already a group room block committed to the hotel then it is likely that the customer’s F&B business will be with you – as in a restaurant situation. But with a local event, whether business or social, it is likely the customer is shopping multiple venues. (This is why different occasion-based menus should be developed – see my earlier blog, “Catering Menus – What’s the Occasion?”)

If the customer is shopping multiple venues, which of these do you prefer they have in their hands:

a)     A “list of dishes”
b)    A compelling marketing piece

If you selected “b”, but you’re still offering “a”, here are some ideas for enhancing your current offering: 

  1. Tell the story. What is your story, what makes you special? Is it immediately apparent when I pick up (or download) your menu?
  2. Speaking of “immediately apparent”, I have actually seen menu PDF files whose first 1-3 pages is “rules” or “requirements”. What would happen if a car salesman told you “before I show you our remarkable, beautiful shiny new x-car, please read these required monthly maintenance instructions”.
  3. Speaking of PDF files: do you have any idea how many banquet-catering files are named “banquet menu”? Set yourself apart right at the start with a memorable name, even if its just the name of your hotel. Imagine a bride-to-be with seven files on her computer, all labeled “banquet menu”.
  4. Brag about your Chef and/or your catering team – inject personality and soul into the menu.
  5. Make it easy for the customer to get – or at least see – the menu. It’s 2010 and many properties have yet to post their menus on line. Often their competitors already do.  Why would you have an electronic marketing tool – and then hide it from the public?
  6. What is your culinary signature? Your specialty? The dish (or cooking style or cuisine) that sets you apart?
  7. Are your descriptions descriptive, or are they mini-lists? Does your menu read like a contract, or do the descriptions tickle my salivary glands, make me want to try the food? Now.
  8. In 2010 the customer wants ease and flexibility in ordering – are your lunch and dinner options listed in an à la carte format?

 Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Catering Menus – What’s the Occasion?

Hotel Banquet & Catering departments are experts and leaders when it comes to capitalizing on the benefits of occasion-based marketing. Well, maybe. If we’re talking about just one occasion: weddings.

Other occasions? It seems that “one size fits all” is pervasive. And by the way, that size is XXXL.

Let’s begin with the obvious. There are two primary banquet categories. Each is very broad. Group business driven by guestroom bookings, and social events driven by the event itself (wedding, fundraiser, recognition dinner, etc.).

So, is your banquet menu “one size fits all”? Do groups and social bookers (other than prospective brides) get the same menu? Makes sense – IF their needs are the same.

But are they?   

What does a group’s representative want in a menu? When it comes time for selection, the guestrooms and meetings have long since booked. Now it’s time to select the menu. Your meeting planner is looking for ease of ordering, selections within their budget, and confidence in your ability to deliver. Their job may depend on it. In short, this menu must first be functional and appeal to the intellect. Menu selection is a business decision.

Social bookers typically don’t represent the banquet client – they are the banquet client. Social clients vary widely but the events often involve the celebration of an event, an organization, specific person(s) or specific achievement. In short, the menu must satisfy the client’s emotional needs. It should help you develop a relationship with the client.

For example: Tell a story: about the Chef, about the ingredients, about the history of the hotel, about the staff, special local touches and support the story with photos. Personalize the menu if you can. Create for the client your 5-page menu, your packages, your pricing as opposed to “our generic 30-page menu with price sheet”. This may require changes in your current processes, asking and assessing different types of question than you do now.

How are hotels handling the multi-occasion markets? A cursory look at five major hotels (each a different brand) in the Atlanta market shows that only one clearly delineates between Group/Meetings and Social by offering separate menus for each. Another hotel is transitioning in this direction – they show the categories but the menus are “coming soon”. Two other hotels offer a single menu for all occasions (except weddings). And one hotel – I’m not making this up – asks you to call them if you would like to see their menus. Hmmnnn.

Once you have separate menus – and selling strategies – for the two main categories (three, including weddings), you may wish to “drill down”, identify occasions within the occasion, and create additional menus accordingly. Sub-occasion? What?

Well, suppose the occasion is “weddings”. Perhaps you are a resort. Would “second weddings” be a “sub-occasion”? Are there enough elements unique to “second weddings” that a targeted menu could – and should – differentiate its content?

Those are my thoughts, please share yours…

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