Jeff just celebrated a milestone birthday.  I’ll give you a hint about which one it was with this photo…


No, that’s not a pretty girl.  It’s Jeff in full 80’s rockstar attire!  Jeff’s sister was kind enough (ha!) to enlarge this image and turn it into a giant birthday boy sign.  
I’m not sharing this to embarrass Jeff (although that may be a happy side effect) there’s actually a lesson buried in our crazy 80’s rockstar surprise party experience: I decided to hire a caterer for the party.
Thanks to over 13 years of experience working weddings in our area, I quickly settled on two caterers.  Both provide excellent food.  Choice #1 specializes in upscale events and offsite catering.  Choice #2 does everything from delivery to partial and full-service offsite catering.
Since I was short on time, I decided to call them both and make a fast decision.  Here’s how those calls went.

 Caterer #1 Shopping Experience

Background:  There is no information about catering services on the website, just a contact form.  I need a fast response, so email won’t do.  I call them.
ME: “Hi, my name is Stephanie.  Is [owner] there?  I’m actually friends with [owner], we’ve worked a lot of wedding together.  I’m planning a party for this weekend and I need catering for about 35 people.”
THEM: “[Owner]’s not here.  But you can talk to [other person I don’t know].  Uh, she’s on the phone right now.  I’ll put you on hold and see if I can get her.”
A click and a series of high-pitched beeps ensues.  I think I’m on hold; either that or my phone has become a bomb that’s going to explode any minute.  After five minutes, I can’t take it anymore, hang up and call back.
ME:  “Hi, this is Stephanie again.  I just called about catering?”
THEM:  “Oh, yeah.  She’s still on the phone.  Do you want me to take a message?”
I leave my name and phone number.

Food 2  

Caterer #2 Shopping Experience  

Background:  The caterer’s website lists several different catering options and packages.  I pick out a few possible packages first, then call.
ME:  “Hi, my name is Stephanie.  We’ve worked together at quite a few weddings and I know you do a great job.  I’m planning a surprise party for this weekend and I need food for about 35 people.  Can you help me?”
THEM:  “Sure.  35 people.  Are you serving a full meal or just appetizers?”
ME:  “I want to keep it simple, lots of finger foods.  But some people may be coming from work, so I want to make sure it’s enough to be a dinner if they need it.”
THEM:  “Do you have anything in mind?”
ME:  “I liked the looks of the antipasto platter, maybe some pasta, and I think the Panini would go over really well.”
THEM:  “Any vegans?”
ME:  “I don’t think so.  But I’d like to have a vegetarian option.”
He proceeds to ask me a bunch of questions, makes a few suggestions for desserts.  We talk a bit about budget and he takes me number to call me back with a proposal.
An hour later I get a call back from Caterer #2.  He gives me a menu that works in everything I liked that comes in slightly above my budget, but throws in a platter of cookies and cannolis for free.

Wedding Business Lessons From Throwing a Party

Even if you aren’t a caterer, there are a lot of lessons to be taken away from this interaction to improve your wedding business.

Lesson #1 – Provide couples with at least some of the information they’re looking for on your website.

Caterer #1 had ZERO package information on the website, which was really inconvenient.  Caterer #2 provided sample packages and pricing that really helped me get an idea of what I wanted before calling.

Don’t list all of your packages and prices on your website, but DO give couples enough information to determine if you might be a good match for the wedding.  A price range and general description are enough.  They’ll be grateful for the information and you’ll have higher quality leads as a result.
Lesson #2 – A fast response increases your chances of booking the wedding 10 – 100x.
I really wanted Caterer #1 to come through for me.  They do amazing gourmet spreads and very cool food combinations, and we’ve worked with them dozens of times.
But I was super busy and on a tight deadline.  Caterer #2 provides simpler fare, but they were available when I needed them.  Their fast response landed the job.
Lesson #3 – Whoever answers your phone should be trained to answer questions or take detailed, reliable messages when necessary.
The guy who answered the phone at Caterer #1’s establishment obviously knew nothing about catering.  He was working the lunch counter and scribbling down take out orders. He’s lucky I called back after the obnoxious hold experience!  

But I did call back and he still blew it.  It’s been two weeks since I called and they still haven’t returned my message.

Lesson #4 – Ask questions to control the conversation and get them to take the action you want.
Caterer #2 asked a series of good questions to understand my needs and guide me to the best options.  I felt like my business was important to them.

He didn’t make me work to figure out what to do; he guided me right to the next step.  As a result, I ended up hiring him.
Your brides and grooms will appreciate the same thing from you.  The questions you ask take pressure off and guide them through the process of hiring, right to the booking.  

They’ll be relieved when you take control and will follow your lead, just like I did.
Lesson #5 – Pump up the value before giving your price to make couples feel good about what they’re paying.
Caterer #2’s estimate came in $100 higher than my budget. Before giving me the total, he told me what was included: asiago cheese and sopressatta on the antipasto platter, focaccia with mozzarella and roasted red peppers, turkey and gorgonzola sliders.  His description was so good my mouth was watering!
Then he “cut me a deal” and threw in cannolis and cookies for free.  Who can resist free cannolis?
Use what you learn from the couple’s answers to your questions to paint an emotional picture of the experience you’re going to create.  Include all the aspects that you discover are important to them.  Get them excited about what you’re about to do.
Then when you name your price, they understand what they’re getting and what it’s really worth to them.  Stretching the budget to accommodate becomes a no brainer.

The next time you buy something, notice the things that annoy and delight you throughout the customer experience.  You don’t need to be a child of the 80’s to learn something.  :)

What have you learned from your good and bad customer service experiences?

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Stephanie Padovani

Stephanie is a Hudson Valley wedding insider, blogger, writer, and wedding business coach. Want to book more weddings at higher prices? Quit dealing with price shoppers? Transform your wedding business so that it supports the life you really want? Look her up! They don't call her the Wedding Business Cheerleader for nothing. :)

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One thought on “What One Crazy Surprise Party Taught Me About the Wedding Business”

  1. Paulette Loren says:

    Hi Stephanie, great story. I think people are really scared to commit to a high $ or important purchase (I certainly am). You talk about making them comfortable before giving them the price – it is paramount coz once someone has the price the pressure is on them to act or not, not on the vendor.

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