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Jul 5, 2008 08:47 AM

catering client expectation too high!!

I have been contacted by a wedding party to be. Initially they requested a salmon dinner, around $10 - 15 a head - including tables and chairs, possibly a tent in an offsite location. I wrote back that Salmon has been quite high, and its closer to 35.00- 40 a head for a simple salmon bake type menu. I get back an email that says maybe I can do pork, or chicken, pasta, salads and bread on site again including tables chairs etc. THis time I send a link to the local rental place and try and show, without tent - just tables and chairs not setup fees that they have already used up $ 4.00, which would leave me 11.00 for food. I then pointed out local buffet prices in a restaurant. I always feel bad for the young couple though, so I suggested they pick up the hot sides from me, throw a freind or 2 on the gril and I told them I would let them borrow my chafing dishes and stuff with a refundable deposit.
No, they would like a full catered affair.....what can I do..I want to scream " nothing are you crazy - I've already spent too much time on this"!!! However, I can't and they are quite seroius. I get this client a few times a year in one form or another...
without insulting them, I would love some ideas on how to let them know - its just way too far from reality. They are not hearing polite, rational - I don't want mean - but boy its bubbling up.
I tried to pawn them off on someone else....they want me. Suggestions???

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  1. It sounds like you have likely already spent too much time on this, but if you feel you must respond further - create an actual proposal. People planning weddings have a hard time understanding the problem scale creates sometimes.

    Send them a final proposal, maybe with a variety of menus, that show realistic prices. Do not try to soften the edges, and enclose with it a letter that explains that this is your final proposal, and that if they are unable to create a contract at those prices you apologize but they will have to seek another catering service.

    Good luck. They sound like they have no idea how much catering costs!

    1 Reply
    1. re: jnstarla

      As a longtime realtor I face a similar problem and I finally learned sometimes you just have to walk away. I just say I am so sorry but I am not going to be able to help you.

    2. Coastie, you write, "........ I told them I would let them borrow my chafing dishes and stuff with a refundable deposit ......"
      Whaaaat? Is catering a hobby for you? You offer to give a prospective client some of your goods for nothing then wonder why they balk at paying your fees?

      What am I missing?

      You also write that you feel sorry for them, that they want a full catered affair, etc......... Think Unrealistic Expectations.

      Imagine what these people would be like as actual clients? OMG - they are poster children (!) for The Client(s) From Hell.

      Walk Away. Nothing you do will make them happy.
      Edit: RUN, do not walk away. Everything else stands. My grandfather used to tell us "The people in Hell want ice water too" r-u-n, far and fast.

      1. mrs jfood has had clients like this. Send them a contract with your prices and insist on payment in full before the event. Or just walk-away and thank them for thinking of you. These are not a couple you wish to work for

        3 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          That is correct - just respond with a real estimate based on their requests - say thank you and let them make a decision. It's taken me a while not to take offense when a potential client expects me to give them food for free! And one of the most important lessons in business - learn when to say No!

          1. re: harryharry

            I wouldn't even invest too much time in a preparing a proposal. Just give them a number, maybe a range, that is higher than they want. Tell them that this doesn't include everything, and that they need to anticipate that the actualy cost will be up to 50% higher. THEY will run away.

          2. re: jfood

            ditto. It should not be your responsibitily to explain why the price will be more than $15 per person, nor to suggest ways for them to meet their budget. Just give them your prices and let them decide.

            Also, asking them to prepay the full amount does seem like an excellent move with this couple.

          3. Sometimes you have to be blunt, if diplomatic.

            "I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm going to be able to satisfy you on your important day. I wish I could have helped, but I really can't deliver what you want. Thank you for considering me, and best wishes on your joyous occasion."

            2 Replies
            1. re: wayne keyser

              jfood likes this approach very much. Better than his

              1. re: wayne keyser

                >>I don't think I'm going to be able to satisfy you ...
                >jfood likes this approach very much. Better than his
                never underestimate the POWER of "it's not you, it's me" :-)

                i feel it is reasonable for the client to ask "what is price for A and what is price
                for B" and your offer to provide various things "a la carte" rather than bundled
                is generous, but to ask for a breakdown of your costs, returns to capital vs labor,
                cost of inputs etc is pretty ridiculous.

                1. the "bid-ask spread" is large, not within a couple of points at the margin
                2. there doesnt seem to be any complicated entanglements ["client is
                my spouse's boss's daughter", friend of the family, relative in-law etc]

                this seems easy enough to deal with.

                given the "spread", i suppose it is academically interesting whether they
                are deluded or this is some kind of negotiating technique ... although
                again given the size of the spread, it seem like a case of delusion, rather
                than under pricing what "quality" costs [i.e. it doesnt seem like even a
                "low quality caterer" would be in their budget].

              2. they need to go to costco!

                btw, i like the diplo approach to saying a firm "no". if you tried to satisfy them with a lesser menu from their unrealistic expectations, they'd complain, screw you on the bill, etc. clients from hell are not worth it. (for any client, i'd require payment in full up front -- and in advance. "because i'm worth it," as the l'oreal commercial goes....)

                24 Replies
                1. re: alkapal

                  Thats the bottom line...its your job , not a hobby...I bet they don't ask this of the florist or the bridal dress store.

                  1. re: LaLa

                    I bet they do. People who make requests like this often have no clue what goes into the services a professional vendor provides.

                    coastie, have you heard from them again since your OP?

                    1. re: jnstarla

                      There are just some people out there who have the mind set that they shouldn't have to pay for anything. I know someone like this - and he would be a client from hell. His typical MO is to chisel the price as low as he can in the first place. Then after he has received the service/bought an item, etc. he manages to find a million ways to say that the business he was dealing with screwed him over. And he is very persistent and aggressive about it. It really is amazing (and sickening) how many times this works for him. I also know that he and his wife have been banned from a lot of establishments because of this sort of behavior...

                    2. re: LaLa

                      They do, I used to work at a high end florist, they always tried to beat down the price of the flowers because we grew our own orchids.

                      To the OP -- "I'm sorry but I just couldn't provide a dining experience up to my standards for that price, I'm sure you understand."

                      1. re: Scrapironchef

                        You know, I read a couple of bridal sites when I was getting married. It seemed that they advocated negotiating fees with caterers/florists, etc. as a way to save money.

                        Personally, I hate bargaining. Makes me ill. Some people treat it like a game and have a lot of fun with it. I only do it (reluctantly) when I have to -- i.e. buying something from a culture where bargaining is expected, and if you don't do it, it just means that you're a fool.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          I don't think negotiating is that uncommon. I have a friend who negotiated a lower rate for her catering, but she was realistic about what she could get for the price she was asking. I don't think it hurts to try, especially when weddings are averaging more than $25K these days. The key is that a person needs to be open about the options instead of demanding a $40 meal at $15. Some places do have a few set meal selections that can probably be negotiated.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            People do feel there is a "wedding mark-up" for some services. I only have respect for those who try to negotiate, as it's not a skill I have. However I agree this couple would be better to approach it as, "Here's our budget, can you work with it?" The OP already tried to work with them by making some suggestions and should just let this one go with one of the polite "no can do" responses suggested here. They'll eventually figure it out but it doesn't have to be on her time.

                            1. re: julesrules

                              I am sure any service provider with a "wedding mark-up" finds they earn every cent.

                              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                I think that's unfair stereotyping. And that brides & grooms have the same rights to negotiate as anyone else. I've only seen one episode of "Bridezilla" but they clearly baited a vendor to complain that the bride tried to negotiate a better price for something "even though she is having such a huge expensive wedding!". It's a business transaction with money changing hands and both sides have the right to negotiate the best deal. Of course vendors who feel bridal couples are too much work have the right to negotiate accordingly too (or just refuse to do weddings... which I don't hear of too often. It's lucrative business.)

                                1. re: julesrules

                                  Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Not always pc, but true. Especially in certain demographic groups and in certain communities brides (and sometimes groom) are statistically high maintenance. It is what it is. And as far as the "right" to negotiate...that is between the customer and business (regardless of trace). And it's not that weddings are "too much" is that they are higher maintenance, take more time, etc. than Acme Widgets Christmas Party, and therefore may be priced accordingly.

                                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                    If weddings truly do involve more time and work, then it seems absolutely appropriate for the vendor to charge more in accord with the extra work involved. Though it does then seem odd for a vendor to then go on to complain about that extra work (which presumably they are charging for).

                                    Moreover, it doesn't really seem that racial, class or any other sort of profiling is an appropriate way to gauge pricing. Indeed, it strikes me that it probably would be illegal.

                                    1. re: Cachetes

                                      I wasn't stating to make the price higher based on race or class, but that certain demographic groups (not necessarily race, but I would use urban vs. rural or big city and mid-sized town) are going to have different "expectations" of their day from menu to execution.

                                      And I think many of us (myself included) have complained about extra work or high maintenance customers (regardless of business) even if we're being compenstated accordingly.

                                      1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                        on the concept of "wedding markup"-- in most cases if you look around the wedding, you can see from whence the difference in price between wedding vs. other event with comparable menu comes-- i.e. for a wedding, you have it out in some field far away from any cooking facility, necessitating lots of rentals, as in the op; or you might have extra people on staff for clearing, serving, bartending, cake cutting etc. whom you wouldn't have working at a comparable business dinner; or the wedding party may want specific, expensive and/or labour intensive items: 500 piping filled peapods atop the individual salad servings, 3 cases of hulled sliced organic strawberries, macerated in champagne (in january), itsy bitsy cute widdow mini cuppie cakes with edible flower garnishes, 3 per guest, one of each flavor: meyer lemon, lavender-ginger with candied ginger and edible johnny jump-up garnish, double german chocolate with chocolate dipped strawberry. guess what-- these so-called "little special touches" are actually very expensive in terms of ingredients and labour, & the more of them the couple wants, the more *staffing* the wedding caterer requires to get everything served at the same time-- which is what you're paying for-- you're *not* paying for 75 lbs of salmon, you're paying for the *services* of the caterers to obtain, store, transport, cook, sauce, plate and serve your 300 guests the 75 lbs salmon simultaneously, then clear and serve the next course, clear/clean up afterward. . .

                            2. re: Miss Needle

                              Negotiating fees is one thing, that usually implies some sort of give and take. All too often what I saw was "we want the $500 package but we'll only pay you $150" not "how can we change things to make this work in our budget".

                              The real disssonance in the situation is that the wedding is a once or twice in a lifetime event for the bride, but an everyday event for the service provider.

                              1. re: Scrapironchef

                                Yes, I agree with you about what negotiation is. I fully support that notion if it makes sense -- ie. "I can't afford $50 a head for salmon. What can you provide for us for $40/head" kind of deal. I actually negotiated my wedding -- I don't consider it bargaining or haggling. They quoted me a price with open bar and unlimited wine. DH was not happy with the wine choices. So we negotiated a deal where we had the open bar and paid for the wine by the bottle. I had to negotiate a price decrease from the original quote -- they didn't just automatically offer it. And we came down to a figure that was fair to all parties involved.

                                The issue is I've seen advice where they advocate saying something on the lines of, "Well, XYZ caterer can do the same thing for $50 instead of $70. Can you match it?" Not quite the "we want to the 500 package but will pay you only 150" and not "how can we change things to make this work within our budget." It's somewhere in the middle, kind of like what you would do at a flea market. And I kind of find that a bit insulting to the caterer or whatever vendor.

                                1. re: Miss Needle

                                  To be fair though there are times when vendors do a "try for" or price according to zip code. For example the town that jfood lives in is New XXX, with another town 1.5 hours north of him named North XXX. When jfood was pricing the removal of his oil tank from the yard one vendor thought jfood stated North XXX instead of New XXX and the price was $1500. Jfood asked for a fax of the contract and noticed the incorrect town. He corrected and sent the signed contract and the deposit. Call came a couple of days later and jfood was told that the price would be $2500, not $1500 and when asked why he was told the the town was New XXX, not North XXX. Asked why the price difference he was told because it was a different town. When Jfood pointed out that New XXX was 1.5 hours closer and the BBB would like that concept, the vendor backed down and $1500 was the agreed price.

                                  Long story short that certain vendors have "try fors" and there is no harm in asking. If the vendor says no, then its no and customer can choose to move forward or go elsewhere.

                                  Mrs jfood has priced certain assignments so she would loose the business because there was no PITA surcharge that would cover this qualitative nightmare.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Of course things will differ according to situation, and there is definitely no harm in asking, but I think it should be under the right circumstances. Your oil tank situation doesn't sound like you were haggling but were inquiring (and rightfully so) about the price differential. It definitely sounds like the company was overcharging you guys due to zip code -- similar to how some places double fees when they find out with a wedding. In some cases the extra fees are legit (as in the example that Janet of Richmond gave about how a vendor may charge more for a wedding versus Acme's Christmas party due to the extra work that a wedding usually takes). And in other cases the extra fees are uncalled for (as in your oil tank situation).

                                    Negotiation/bargaining is an art. There are no hard and set rules about it. There are instances where it's appropriate (or even expected as I stated above). And there are times where you've got to be saying to yourself, "Is that person out of his mind?" I remember looking for a roomate years ago. I wrote an ad specifically looking for one female to rent a BR in a 3 BR house, sharing all utilities three ways. Rent was explicitly stated. Somebody answered my ad and started haggling, saying that she would be willing to pay $150 less than what I wrote in the ad. When I said no, she said (not asked), but said, that she'll bring in a friend to share the bedroom with her and will pay my asking price. I again refused. She then said that she'll pay the asking price but won't pay for the utilities as she won't be in the house all the time. Oh, it gave me such a headache! Even though I was in my early 20s and not as experienced, I knew better than to get involved with somebody like that. I just said that it wasn't going to work out and this would not be the most appropriate arrangement for her.

                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      Miss Needle....I definitely agree that there are times when negotiating simply verifies that you don't want/need to conduct business with that person. There is appropriate bargaining and then there is trying to hoo-do someone.

                                      1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                        Correct. As many have stated here it is how you ask. Jfood routinely asks at the check out at Circuit City, "Any chance you can do better on the price?" Volia they throw in a 3 year warranty. And if the product holds up, no problem and if it breaks they replace. A very happy and returning customer and no cash out of the store's pocket.

                                  2. re: Miss Needle

                                    I hear you, but usually precious little snowflake gets all whiney when you suggest that XYZ is really giving them a good deal and they should go with it. If they really wanted XYZ they'd have already done the deal, why bother trying to get you to meet the price if everything else is the same (it isn't, they're coming to you because they don't want XYZ).

                                    Never expect anyone else to be as invested in your wedding as you are.

                                2. re: Miss Needle

                                  Yes, I don't think that reasonable negotiations are the same thing as what this couple is trying to do. I hate negotiating too, but sometimes you just have to.

                                  1. re: thew

                                    That's always been my experience too. And yet, I get the idea from others who posted here that they would be very offended if a prospective client asked them if that was the best they could do price wise.

                                    1. re: flourgirl

                                      I think the key is "reasonable negotiations " ...that is not the case in OP.

                            3. re: alkapal

                              Agreed. You'd end up on Judge Judy for sure!