In our previous issue, we talked with hotel F&B pro Kevin Klein—currently the GM at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield, Missouri—about strategies for improving chef-client communication. Here in part two of our Q&A with Klein, he details how clients can make menu planning easier, how to set realistic event expectations, and why planners should have basic knowledge of hotel and kitchen logistics.
HF&B: Many clients and meeting planners are avid fans of TV cooking shows and culinary competitions. What effect has that had on menu ideas for events?
Klein: Well, in addition to TV, people are also taking more interest in cooking because of the internet; you can get a recipe online anytime. So, not only are they home chefs, but they’re also critics, and everybody’s an expert now. It’s kind of funny that they watch TV chefs and think our job is so simple, but of course it’s not, especially when you’re feeding large groups of people regularly for conventions and events.
HF&B: How do you guide clients into the mindset of realistic event expectations?
Klein: We want them to maintain enthusiasm for their vision, but we convey the reality of what is actually feasible from an execution standpoint. For example, we do a lot of themed charity galas, and many times the client wants aspirational menus that match their events. But because they’re with a charity, they want deep discounts and a low price that doesn’t make sense for us business-wise. We have to set realistic expectations up front and find common ground to assist them in achieving their vision, but at the same time it has to be something we can produce at a high level.
HF&B: How can planners help themselves from a menu standpoint?
Klein: Here’s a perfect example: We recently hosted a company for a conference, and they had a breakfast buffet. They requested turkey sausage as well as bacon, but they didn’t specify why they wanted turkey sausage. We assumed it was because they wanted a healthy option.
So when we put it on the buffet, the turkey sausage was next to the bacon in the same pan. The meeting planner became upset because the turkey sausage was touching the bacon, and it was only then that they said the turkey sausage was for kosher reasons. They never told us some attendees needed kosher meals.
We were able to fix the problem quickly, but it was unnecessary stress for everyone, and it was an easy detail that could have been handled ahead of time if the client communicated all of their needs.
HF&B: Any other examples?
Klein: We hosted an organics conference where the menu was made up of ingredients donated from nearby organic farmers, and then we created the dishes in our kitchen.
I used to be the chef at another property, and we hosted this same conference. From that experience, I knew they didn’t want organic ingredients mixed with non-organic ingredients. However, here at University Plaza, that wasn’t communicated to our chef in the planning stage. When I saw his menu I noticed dishes that combined organic and non-organic, so I stepped in and corrected it before the event. That’s another detail that wasn’t communicated by the client, and could have been disastrous for all parties if I didn’t have prior knowledge of that group’s preferences.
HF&B: What else can clients do to assist hotels in executing their events?
Klein: Timing and execution is something clients often miss when working with hotel catering departments and chefs. Sometimes meeting planners don’t have an operational background, so they don’t understand the challenges and logistics of putting on an event at the highest level. They’ll say, “I’ve got 2,000 people for dinner, and I want it to be nice, I want the food to be hot, and I want everything prepared properly.” We know they’re under a lot of pressure, and they have bosses with expectations as well.
But I think it should be a requirement for meeting planners as well as hotel catering managers or sales managers to work in operations before they take those jobs. If they worked in a banquet kitchen they’d know what it takes to execute an event, and they’d have an appreciation for it. Also, they’d understand how all the pieces fit together, and they could draw on that experience for future events.
Other than that, a more immediate help would be to give us at least 72 hours notice for any changes to a planned event. That’s a timeframe that works for most hotels. It’s very difficult for us to make staffing changes, order additional product, and create new meals for special dietary needs at the last minute.
Michael Costa is industry relations editor at Hotel F&B.
Help Clients Help You
1. Encourage clients to communicate every detail, no matter how trivial, regarding menus, special meals, ingredients, décor, and any changes as far ahead as possible and at least 72 hours before the event.
2. Offer clients and even your own B&C staff a chance to work in a hotel catering environment for experience, even if it’s just one day. It’ll give them firsthand knowledge of the logistics and execution of events.
3. Respectfully remind clients that what they see on TV cooking shows doesn’t always transfer precisely to the real world of catered events. Tell them unique ideas are encouraged, but they’ll be tempered by practical timing and execution, especially for large groups.