Meet Vince DeFinis, CPCE. Involved since NACE's inception in 1958, Mr. DeFinis established the first chapter in Philadelphia and also served as national president.
Editors note: As NACE approached its 50th year, the organization was saddened to announce Vince's passing in November 2007. Vince became a symbol of the association's longevity, growth, and success. He attended almost every educational conference, earned his CPCE, and shared his wisdom, knowledge, and history of NACE with all who crossed his path. Read a tribute to Vince by Jerry Edwards, CPCE, and former national president, who talks about Vince as a friend and mentor.
Mr. Vincent DeFinis, CPCE, relates that, "Before World War II, catering was a status symbol for the very rich. Most of the catering occurred in hotels where the rich had a home away from home, where they sometimes occupied an entire floor. Many of these families were from Europe and so they stayed for long periods of time. Most had their own staff when they entertained. The Maitre'D was a very respected person who supervised this staff."
After the war, many companies who had been involved in making war products had to find another product to manufacture, and their efforts fueled a manufacturing revolution. The large number of new products resulted in traveling salesmen as well as the beginning of the sales meetings as we know them today. This coincided with an increase in air travel, which meant that leisure travelers were also beginning to occupying hotel rooms for extended stays.
Noticing the increase in revenue from business travelers, hotels set up sales departments and began to create meeting and ballroom space especially for this business. As the number of people in hotel sales and other executive positions increased, several saw the need to create associations. Among those formed were the American Hotel Association, The Hotel Sales and Marketing Association and the Food Service Executives Association.
Then, in the early 1950's, several hotels began to hire sales managers specifically to sell catering. Initially, most of these individuals reported to the sales and marketing department but as the potential for business increased, several of the hotels established a separate catering department. The Waldorf Astoria in New York City was one of the first to create such a department and, following their lead, other hotels did too. As more hotels in New York added catering departments they recruited from the Waldorf Astoria for directors of catering to run their departments. In fact, probably the first 15 to 18 DOCs in New York were employed originally at the Waldorf Astoria.
These directors decided that they needed to form an organization to retain as much business as they could amongst themselves, as well as to promote good fellowship and relations. They also felt that their positions were not being recognized on the same level as the directors of sales and marketing and wanted to promote their positions through an association. Thus, on June 3, 1958, the Banquet Managers Guild was formed.
For two years the Banquet Managers Guild existed only in New York City. Then, in 1960, Joe Haney, who had previously worked at the Waldorf Astoria, left to be general manager of the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia. He encouraged his catering manager, Vincent DeFinis, to join the Banquet Managers Guild in New York. Vincent went to see Clyde Harris, then president of the Guild, saw the potential for the association, and joined the guild as member number twelve.
Travel to New York on a regular basis was difficult for Mr. DeFinis, so he began forming a Philadelphia chapter. He accomplished this in 1964, making the Banquet Managers Guild a national association. The Guild continued to expand, and chapters were soon added in Atlantic City, Washington D.C., Boston, St. Louis, Miami, Chicago and Atlanta.
In 1965, the Guild’s first seminar was held at the Bellevue-Stratford hotel in Philadelphia with 32 attendees. This was followed by the next year with 50 people in attendance in the Wedgewood room of the Waldorf Astoria. From this beginning, the NACE conference grew into the annual, cutting edge industry event we know today.
In 1980 the Guild changed its name to the National Association of Catering Executives to reflect better the trends in industry job titles and the increase in off-premise caterers. In 1985 the Association reached over 1000 members and strengthened its focus on education by forming the NACE Foundation. In 1986, the Certified Catering Executive designation was created and the first certification exam given, with the name changed to Certified Professional Catering Executive in 1994, the same year the Catering Research Institute at the University of Houston was founded.
From its local beginnings in New York City, NACE has grown to encompass more than 4000 members in more than 40 chapters in North America, continuing to raise the standard of professionalism in the industry through its education and certification, its standards, ethics and professional recognition programs. NACE remains dedicated to growing and changing with the industry’s needs, continuing to provide critical resources for all its members, wherever they are in their careers and whatever their position.
This article was put together by Larry Osburn, CPCE, former NACE Region 3 Vice President and National Historian, based on an interview with Vince DeFinis. Vincent DeFinis, CPCE, started in the hotel industry in 1932 and worked in all the food and beverage departments of service under European chefs in front operations with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Systems. In World War II, Vince served in the Air Force as Food Supervisor for the largest air depot in the European theatre of operations for the Eighth Air Force Service Command. During his association with the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel as Director of Catering, he personally arranged functions for eight Presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Carter and Bush, as well as many foreign dignitaries and heads of state. For over fifty years, he has served in almost every executive capacity in the hospitality industry. He was the oldest living NACE member until his passing in November 2007. He was named “Man of the Year in 1971 by the National Food Service Executive Association and received the first “Hall of Fame” award from NACE in 1998.