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3 Solutions for Unrealistic Client Expectations

We’ve all seen our fair share of unrealistic client expectations, but in the thick of COVID, these circumstances may appear a bit more frequently. Through no fault of their own, many clients aren’t aware of food safety protocol or the ins and outs of contracts and company policies. That said, with many postponements and cancellations, it’s crucial that we help them understand the new (temporary) ‘normal’ as it pertains to events.

As the professionals in this situation, it’s our responsibility to educate our clients and walk them through the realistic options for their event. This is an area in which you need to tread lightly; if not presented in a respectful way, a client may be quick to think it’s simply that you aren’t up to the task at hand and will look for someone who tells them what they want to hear.

Fortunately, there has been a great deal of flexibility and patience, but that may not be the case for each interaction. Here are a few tips for getting your clients on the same page as you, even if it means changing directions from their original vision.

Be a good listener

Every client is entitled to their thoughts and opinions; when it comes to their event, you need to recognize that they’ve likely dreamed up a lot of the details already. This can especially tricky with engaged couples who have had a wrench thrown into their original plans but are now having to take a different route due to a postponement.

When they come to you with their dream event, take the time to hear them out and listen to everything they’ve thought about; don’t cut them off if you hear something that raises a concern or may not be within the realm of possibility due to COVID. By being an active listener, you allow your client the opportunity to feel heard while also affording you more ideas to work with in the way of inspiration. Offer alternatives and solutions rather than shutting them down right away.

Prepare to educate

While you may have produced countless events over the years, keep in mind that any given event may be a client’s first – most notably, their first taking place after a major pandemic. They may not be familiar with industry rates or logistical parameters that eventually become second nature to event professionals. You need to be prepared to coach them through the process.

Note that you may also be their backup if their original vendor is no longer available, so you want to step up and show them that you’re perfectly capable to achieve their vision within reason. Don’t just tell them it’s not possible — explain why it doesn’t make sense and offer up solutions based on your insider knowledge. If they can’t grasp why the menu they want is more expensive than the one on your website, be a resource and talk them through the differences in pricing until they understand the value in the menu. Additionally, you’ll want to keep in mind that if they are switching seasons, they may not understand that some ingredients are no longer available or in-season.

Don’t be a yes-person

When it all boils down, there will still be clients who want far more than is possible for their event. Perhaps they don’t align with your brand or are simply outside of their budget; whatever it may be, don’t feel that you need to say ‘yes’ or offer a discount just to keep the business. While it’s a tough time for industry pros, it’s still okay to say ‘no’ and encourage them to look elsewhere for someone who may be better suited for their specific needs. You should not feel like you need to sacrifice, over-extend your resources, or under-cut the value of your work in order to make someone happy.

By nature, people tend to be idealistic when they’re planning an event. They get caught up in how it should be without understanding how it can be. This is a very frustrating time for those that envisioned their event or wedding taking place long before their rescheduled date, so they may be especially sensitive to compromising on details they’ve always imagined.

Your approach to these customers should bring their expectations back to earth (respectfully, of course) while maintaining your company values, safety, and showing each client how much you care about their event. Show by example that, despite their ideas not working out, you can still rock their world in other ways that will give their guests the experience of a lifetime.


Clint Elkins is the V.P. of Sales for SB Value, a Group Purchasing Organization that helps culinary professionals save an average of 16% on every food order. Membership is 100% free. No hidden fees. No extra work. Just extra profits. See how much you can save on your next food order when you become an SB Value member. Request a quote today.

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