Are we cannibalizing our own Industry?
There are no secrets anymore....any information you could ever possibly want is at your fingertips. With the availability of information online and in various other mediums, we as catering and event professionals need to take additional steps to show our value to clients more than ever. Anyone can Google "how to plan a wedding" and get 119,000,000 results in .69 seconds (that's a real number - I just did the search myself). That being said, how do we show the value in hiring an actual planner or professional vendors?
So, how do we show the value in hiring an actual planner or professional vendors? I have a few ideas....
Education. We need to educate our clients as to the "why" of hiring professionals. Having the experience and knowledge of the industry to foresee potential pitfalls and avoid them before they even materialize is one of the key elements of our trade. A professional caterer can look at a timeline and see that 1 hour to seat 600 guests, serve and clear 3 courses and start an awards show on time is a bit of a stretch. I'm not saying it CAN'T be done, but that's a lot of extra staff and moving guests along at a pace that they may not be comfortable with. A pro would see that and work to tweak the timeline to accomplish the goals of the event and not alter the experience for the guest. In turn, having a professional wedding photographer at a reception is key. I was so sad to learn years ago that a friend hired a landscape/outdoorsy photographer for her wedding....not because shots of nature aren't gorgeous, but weddings were not their niche. They didn't get a picture of the groom's face as the bride came down the aisle and when all of the guests clinked glasses they took shots of the guests. They missed the beautiful shots of the bride and groom kissing when the glasses were being tapped because they were not wedding pros - they didn't know that was what that sound signaled. Key elements were missed, which probably would have been caught if they were fluent in weddings.
This also leads into the topic of being REALLY GREAT at what you specialize in and knowing when you are in over your head and should either refer someone else or just turn down the business. I know, how dare she say "turn down business"?!?! That's also us as an industry educating our clients. If you get asked as a caterer to bake a cake, yet you have no pastry chef or bakery experience you need to be transparent in letting the client know you'll be outsourcing that item OR refer them to someone that can do the cake. If you accept and the cake is not up to snuff with the 25 Pinterest pics you were sent it further devalues what we do and leads to pricing being questioned. Professionals cost what they do because they are professionals. If you can not deliver to the expectation of the client then you need to know to speak up. It reminds me of an ongoing conversation we have at many industry conferences about being taken seriously when you are a limo driver, cake decorator, balloon artist, florist and you dabble in photobooths. It's better to choose a couple of disciplines within the same family and be REALLY GOOD at them as opposed to being mediocre at a bunch of different things. That is how you hone your craft and become worth what you charge.
Organizations. We are strong together than divided, so having a common voice by being affiliated with organizations like NACE show your dedication to your trade and to your profession. Bonus points for being involved in committees and on boards so you can help move our industry forward with standardization of policies and procedures! One voice talking about an issue doesn't carry the same clout as 5,000 voices all speaking on it. Our industry organizations are here to move us forward and give all of us a voice, so get involved and help make it happen.
Transparency. Being transparent in pricing and the structure of your charges is key to future success for all of us. If you charge a flat fee or percentage spell out what that covers. If you're absorbing the discounts offered to you by a wholesale partner then be clear on that. People can find information quicker than ever before, so if you are not clear on items like this and they find out in a way other than from your mouth it can lead to mistrust and hurts not only you, but the ethics of our entire industry. When people feel that they've been wronged in any way they now take to the internet to blast their criticisms, which causes anyone reading those reviews to also second guess their experience. If you're clear and transparent from the get go you won't be scrambling and calling vendors asking for invoices with different (higher) amounts so that you can send those along and show your client the inflated price you're billing for. It happens people....I received those calls almost weekly when I was in the vendor world at it was always disappointing. We are better than that. Charge what you're worth from the start and learn to show your value and you won't need to be tacking on hidden charges on top of subrental items. If you do tack on additional charges then tell your client..."I have a 20% service fee on all rentals since I'm handling the ordering, counts, delivery, set, strike" etc etc etc. If the client knows this and WHY then it's a much easier charge to account for and justify.
This is an ongoing conversation and it's not going to go away....it's only going to get larger as people can access additional information daily. Take a look at your policies & practices and don't be afraid to have this conversation. How can YOU do better by your business and for our industry? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this controversial topic.
Kate Patay, CPCE
International Speaker & Consultant
Vice President, National Association for Catering & Events
Faculty Lecturer, The International School of Hospitality
Advisor, Student Event Planners Association
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