Documenting the dark underbelly of catering and party planning.
By The Secret Caterer
Let’s talk about TRUST baby, lets talk about you and me
(Salt-N-Pepa Remix 2017)
Starting your own company is a bit like having a baby - you push it out, you nurture it, you love it, you delight when it grows or when something new happens and you feel sad when things go wrong. And just like having a baby, you just keep loving it and you get up and do what you need to do day in day out. Just like a parent though, sometimes you just can’t be there doing everything all the time so you need someone to look after things for you. ‘Manager’ is company speak for a babysitter. Managers look after your “baby” while you are out and you trust them with your life and livelihood not to fuck it up.
Except they can and they do because your trust in them doesn’t mean anything to them. To be clear, not all managers are like this but there really are only three kinds:
The one who can do everything you do (probably a bit better, faster and more successfully). This person is committed and will make it happen at all costs. They love what they do, maybe not as much as you do, but they love it. They make your problems their problems and will hustle to make everything great. They’re in it for the money but they are also in it for the satisfaction.
The one who is learning from doing. They in it for the money but also the opportunity to learn. They may not get everything right but they try really fucking hard. If they mess up its cool cause they learn and they learn fast and never do it again.
Then there is the one who doesn’t really give a shit and is just in it for the money. They are more focussed on cutting their nails, watching cat memes and wondering what they are going to have brunch in 3 Saturdays time.
So, you wanna hear my story about “TRUST”, how I totally misjudged it and the DISASTER AND FUCK UP that ensued?
I left a manager, who by the way I was about to make my business partner, in charge. I run a small company by myself and I was going on holiday so I thought it would be a good opportunity for this manager to take on the responsibility while I was away. I thought this manager was 2 on their way to being a 1 but turned out to be a 3. This manager was responsible for running two events while I was away and this is what happened:
EVENT 1: The manager/ chef had agreed with the client that they would get to the venue early to set up and prep. On the day of the event, the manager had a change of circumstances but still met the client at the time they agreed, made appropriate arrangements and all went well and according to plan. Not ideal but not a disaster. As expected from a 2.
EVENT 2: The manager/ chef was responsible for running all elements of the event – prep food, logistics, staff briefing, cook on the night, clear down, clean up as well as being the “face” of the company for the client ahead of and on the night of the event. An opportunity to real step up to the plate and be a 1. We worked together to plan menus, speak to the client and manage everything ahead of the event. It all looked like it was going to very smoothly until… On the Monday before the event (on the Saturday), the Manager texted me telling me that they had a diary clash and couldn’t do the event. That was it. No phone call. No apology. No assurance or promise to sort it out. Not even an attempt to try to find an alternative. Not ideal and this 100% was a disaster and a fuck up!
So there I was, 3000 miles away with the success of an entire event (and someone’s birthday party for that matter) up in the air and no back up plan! My client trusted ME to make sure everything was perfect and I couldn’t let them down. I called everyone I knew and begged. Everyone was busy. I asked everyone I knew to beg to everyone they knew. Everyone one was busy.
In the end, a friend of mine moved some things around and agreed to cook on the night. My sister was a goddess and did ALL the prep in advance and ALL the dishes after the event. My waiters were rockstars and went above and beyond to do all the set up and clear down. My mom was on hand sort all the loose ends. The client was pissed the original manager wasn’t there but was thrilled with how the event went (THANK GOD).
It all got sorted, the show went on, no brand destroying fuck up but I was lucky to have amazing friends and family who refused to let it fail. I spent my entire ‘relaxing’ holiday trying to sort everything out from 3000 miles away and 8 hours behind the right time zone. I didn’t have a vacation because I was cleaning up the messes of someone I thought I trusted.
For me this was a disaster and fuck up on so many levels. To ensure this doesn’t happen to ANYONE EVER, here are the hard lessons I learned.
ALWAYS HAVE A BACK UP PLAN
Crisis manage ahead of time and you won’t have a crisis - you just execute plan B. Tee staff, suppliers, rental companies etc… up ahead of time so you know what options and alternatives you have. Also communicate your expectations of them in the event things don’t go according to plan.
GIVE PEOPLE A TRUST TEST IN A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT
I was sentimental about my manager’s capabilities. I thought they could just do and it would all be fine but I never had any real detailed evidence of this because I never sought to look for it or test it. Going forward I will give my managers mini tests where the company, the client or the event are not at stake.
Let’s face it - no one is going to care as much as you. Its no skin off their back if they fuck up or can’t do things so don’t expect them to. Ultimately, if they fuck up its your problem - face that reality. You can’t just clock off and go on vacation just like you can’t just leave your baby.
BUILD A TEAM
I put all the responsibility on one manager and when the one thing (their diary clash) fucked up, it all fucked up. If I had been better at building a team and distributing responsibility more evenly then I would only have had to solve one problem not all of them.
DON’T PAINT EVERYONE WITH THE SAME BRUSH
Just because this manager fucked up doesn’t mean every future manager will, BUT that’s down to two factors: The kind of manager they inherently are and how you create an environment in which fuck ups are mitigated… and that’s on you.