In The Catering Kitchen With Charlotte Berwind Fine Foods & Party Planning, Inc.

John Cohen | August 14, 2012

This month, we asked busy upscale caterer and event planner Charlotte Berwind of Charlotte Berwind Fine Foods & Party Planning, Inc. how Total Party Planner has helped her Carmel, NY business. Read on for great info and tips!

Tell us about your business.

We are extremely high end caterers and event planners whose focus is on personal life events.  We do some corporate, but that seems to be an organic extension of the primary focus of our business when the personal client pulls us into their business life.

What brought you to begin using Total Party Planner?

My “little” business had begun to grow beyond my office capabilities.  We could handle the volume of business everywhere but in the office.  Proposals began to be drudge work and our ability to produce them in a timely matter began to slip.  Billing was getting way beyond our grasp and key elements were being missed.  Lost revenue, lost opportunities.  Not how to grow a business.

I attended my first Catersource conference with the intention of purchasing software to help me get a handle on these issues.  I came with a list of needs and a list of questions so I wouldn’t be swayed by a good pitch.  I sat for long period time with each software vendor going through all of my questions while at the same time judging if they would be responsive to my personal needs.  The team at Total Party Planner clearly had it all for me.  To this day when I call with an issue, a question, a snag,  or a want, I have a resolution almost immediately.  Some things took slightly longer, like when I needed a new feature, but the team is so responsive and client driven that they address everything and provide what we need.

What is your favorite program feature in Total Party Planner?

I have to pick one?  Really, I can’t so let me list what I LOVE!

  • The ability to change proposals and have instant updates for the client.  Think: Changing head count, allergy alerts, removal of specific items in specific dishes, ADDING courses and items, timeline changes,  and staffing changes.  The changes flow down to the financials and all I had to do was make a keystroke.
  • Staff Schedules, or what we call sign-in sheets.  They keep my staff accountable and me informed.  PLUS, on the sign-in sheet, I add having their phone numbers, so when someone gets lost or bangs out, anyone on staff has the ability to call them.
  • The Event Worksheet.  This is probably the single most important internal document we use and is as good as the information you put into it.  When I return from a client meeting or after a client phone call, the specifics of their issue, location, event, and desires are entered into the notes section or under the individual item, or course, or station and then all of my staff can reference the information on location.  No more do I need to travel with all the information in my head, or flipping through countless pages of notes.  The information is sorted and distributed to the proper people.  My staff receives the worksheet, which also has everyone’s contact info, directions, uniform needs, and timeline, so ALL of their questions are added, eliminating those 20-30 phone calls or emails.
  • Staff Earnings.  Simply enter the times they actually worked (Staff Schedules), the gratuity the client decided to bestow, and bingo.  No more calculator.  Makes Monday mornings a breeze.
  • The Menu Heating & Serving.  Because nearly everything we do is tailored and specific, I am able to give the event chefs, assistants, and interns complete and specific cooking instructions, plating instructions, etc.  I have fabulous chefs and can trust them with the explanations so I can focus on what is happening in the front of the house.
  • Event Menu Item Production.  For the big months when we want to produce something in bulk.  Rather than go through each and every menu, hoping to see it all and not leave something out, this report brings an entire time frame up with accurate counts.  Perfect for planning, purchasing, and production.
  • I love he fact that I still have not used half of what TPP can do for me.  I think of what I need, I look on the list of reports and that has already been provided.

How has Total Party Planner helped your business?

I am organized. I stayed afloat through the economic downtown and I am in a much stronger position now that the economy has turned back again.  I can glance at the calendar and see what future business I need to follow up on.  I can get my deposit installments in a timely fashion because everything is laid out on the calendar.  TPP has given me the ability to grow because I have been freed from the chaos of paperwork.  Don’t get me wrong, the government nonsense still has us busy and proposals still take time because you have to think and brides will be brides. But, all that time, cutting and pasting, with the calculator, remembering what the client said so you can tell the staff, running around each event to the departments who need to know what you just remembered, that is all gone.  TPP handled it.

What sets your company apart from others in your area?

We hand craft everything.  We find unique and excellent sources for everything from oil to table linens.  I am personally involved with every event in some aspect, making sure my vision and point of view is expressed.  We hire “nice”.  I can teach the skills needed to most anyone for the floor, you cannot teach someone to be nice.

What do customers expect when doing business with you?

The best.  The best of everything that is involved in their event.

What advice would you give a new caterer?

Start slow and grow into your dream.  Surround yourself with people who are smarter than yourself while remembering they are employees and not family.  Listen.  Listen to your clients, listen to those who want to mentor you, listen to people who have done it and THEN listen to your gut.  Create a business plan.  It’s tedious work, but will reward you in the end when you realize you have fleshed out your dream in thought and now have a road map.  And lastly, take the plunge and get Total Party Planner.  I simply cannot imagine doing this business without it.

What has been your greatest accomplishment as a caterer?

Surviving the economic downturn to come back stronger.  To realize I had captured the market I set out to without a leg up.  That talent, honesty, intention and a constant eye on the prize worked.

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