Client Spotlight: Impressions Catering

Impressions Catering and Events, based in Cleveland, Tennessee, is a full-service catering and events company founded by Greg Hicks. Greg is truly a master of his craft; not only are his events beautiful and unique, but his team operates like a well-oiled machine.

In fact, the Impressions Catering team is so efficient, we often send Total Party Planner employees to help with their events so we can learn from them! Just this month our Client Care Specialist, Ashley Wyatt, went down to Chattanooga joining 25 other caterers from around the country to assist Greg in the execution of his latest charity event, The Believe Bash, for over 1,200 guests.

I spoke with Greg to learn more about Impressions Catering and to find out what makes their events so successful.

Impressions Beginnings

Impressions Catering and Events is now in its 18th year, having opened its doors in 2001. For Greg, his mission in life was always clear. “The only thing I ever wanted to do was go to culinary school and become a chef. Not specifically for catering, but I wanted to cook.” Growing up, he had worked every food service job on the planet, but it was during his time in culinary school that he got his start in catering.

“We can do things differently in catering. The challenges are always different and unique, interactions are different, what could be chaos to some is what I enjoy most about catering! We are a special breed, caterers.”

The Creative Spark

As a team, Impressions loves to do the events where they’re given creative freedom. “This is how we can really bring the ‘wow factor,’ is to do something a little bit out of the ordinary,” says Greg. For one wedding, the groom was from Nashville and the bride was from New Orleans. Greg’s team was able to create something from each city that doubled as a beautiful decorative element. They suspended milk pails full of New Orleans Shrimp and Grits over a vertical buffet with candles underneath each pail to keep the food warm, and they had a Nashville Hot Chicken Slider station.

“It’s fun to work with clients who have their own unique ideas but are also open to our suggestions. We’re able to give them something really cool and interesting.”

What Makes a Successful Event

This past December, Impressions catered a Christmas party for 250 people. The event ended up being huge success despite how the day started.

Greg was driving the 24’ company box truck, loaded up with everything needed for this event when it broke down. Greg was stuck on the side of the road and had to get another truck, and then transfer everything into the new truck while his own truck was towed away. There were delays everywhere, but because of the organization and systems they had in place, the event came together beautifully.

“I remember standing back looking at my truck getting hitched up to the tow truck and thinking ‘everything is going to be ok because everyone knows what to do.’ We try to take that level of organization with everything we do.”

Greg used to operate very differently; in 2009 he was busy, broke and ready to quit. All the Impressions Catering staff was part time, and Greg was the chef, loader, cooker, dishwasher…everything. But what really worked against him, was not sharing event information with his team. One guy held all the keys to the knowledge, so he was constantly interrupting his own work to give direction or step in and make corrections. Since then, he has learned how critical it is to share this information with his team and have a system in place to keep things running efficiently.

“I had to reverse engineer the entire process to avoid hiccups. Caterers operate in the ‘what-if,’ so you have to start with the all of the possible outcomes and work backwards to make sure there is a plan in place and everyone knows what that plan is.”

Catering The Believe Bash

The Believe Bash is a gala supporting the Believe Campaign to build the new Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. The event pulled in over 1,200 guests, and according to Greg, it could not have gone smoother!

“The success of this event is a direct result of all the systems and planning we put together; timelines, execution, when to set things in motion, when to be done, and so forth. It really came down to delegating to the team when we arrived on Friday. We served dinner to 1,200 people in 30 minutes. Everyone had a hot meal in front of them.”

Greg credits Total Party Planner with streamlining his processes, keeping his team organized, and saving tons of time.

“I’m so grateful for the recipes input. It scales beautifully, and the whole system takes minutes to do all the things that we’d spend hours doing. And it’s much more accurate, too! Seriously, I used to spend an hour on the prep list and an hour on the packing list, so doing 4-5 events a week meant I’d spend a whole day on pack list or prep list!”

Since Impressions Catering started using Total Party Planner software in 2013 they have more than doubled their sales.

“The key is using a software to streamline operations.  We made the switch to TPP because it is much more user friendly.”

By creating multiple menus across multiple service styles, they are able to easily and quickly create a package that feels completely custom to their clients. Greg says he listens for service style preferences (like “I want everyone to eat at the same time”), what kind of food the client likes, hints toward flavor profiles, and then instead of recreating the wheel every time, he adjusts current menu packages to their wants and needs. His team is able to provide what feels like a custom menu from start to finish in under 15 minutes by quickly generating proposals in Total Party Planner. They often must slow down so it feels more customized to the guest!

How Can Other Caterers Get Organized?

Greg has two suggestions for caterers who are just starting out, or caterers who are struggling to stay organized.

First: If you don’t already have software, you need it. Greg says he never would have thought he needed it as early as he did, but you don’t have to be a big company to need it. There are too many moving parts, and smaller caterers think they’re not big enough. But if you implement the software you can grow and keep all your information accurate.

Second: MAX OUT the usability of that software. Some caterers don’t use all the available functions, but if you use everything you have you don’t have to think about the minute details; don’t worry about whether you have that one type of plate available, the software will tell you! Because you can manage multiples events in Total Party Planner, you are able to see what other menus are being produced around that calendar date and piggyback on the items in that menu.

“It makes us that much more profitable. Other caterers are taking a week or two to get the menu out or get the proposal out. By and large, our process is: after qualifying meeting, they leave with complete proposal (menu, linens, china, etc.). We couldn’t do this without the software.”

Check out Impressions Catering on Facebook to see more inspiring event ideas!