The Caterers Corner
Why professionals care about Suzie Homemakers Caterers Corner: Why professionals care about Suzie Homemakers
By CaterGreat on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 08:22 am: Edit

Many of you are tired of this subject. So am I. But I wanted you to know why professionals care about a little Suzie Homemaker Caterer.

I don't see her as a threat. Singularly. Collectively, illegal home based caterers are a huge "industry" that cause the demise of many hard working start up legal caterers.

I have only lost 2 jobs in the past 10 years to an illegal. Or IS THAT ALL??? The argument was raised that "who needs the nickle and dime clients who would use an illegal to save money"

1. Have you ever wondered why some clients "think" we are too high? Because the illegals drive the price expectations way down... When I am charging 10.00 for a basic wedding reception package and the illegals are charging 4.50, I can understand why clients questionthis...

2. As far as these clients using illegals to save money, the client doesnt see it that way. 90% of the clients who use illegals to save do not know their caterer IS illegal. They don't know the risks and liabilities they are taking on by using the illegals. THAT is where I and many other professionals come in. It is not my goal to turn them in. I simply want to EDUCATE the public, the clients and the illegals. I would think that many of you educators would support that.

3. A wonderful point was made that suzie homemakers don't know the mother sauces let alone prepare them. Point being they do a lousy job imitating the professionals. Again, one or two illegal home based caterers don't make a dent. Remember, most clients don't know who is legal and who is not. They see "caterer". This hurts the public perception of the catering industry.

By CaterGreat on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 08:43 am: Edit


4. When the newspaper prints stories about food poisoning at a factory's employee picnic, they refer to the "caterer" It is rarely, if ever mentioned that the "caterer" was without a permit or insurance. The public perception of "caterers" in general is damaged.


In my perfect world, they wouldn't. Clients, nickle and dimers, whoever, would HAVE to turn to professional caterer for their events or do it themselves. (in the south 80% of all receptions are catered by "do it yourselfers" or illegals) I can only guess how much volume the illegals do. If they did not exist, imagine how many small, but legal caterers would stand a much better chance of survival. It is THOSE caterers who would be available to do the party for 8 and the ones that manny and I would rather not do...

Problem is, due to the vast number of illegals, the little legal caterers don't make it 2 years. This is one major reaon independant caterers have such a HIGH failure rate. I have a problem with that.

Some of you guys see me as a whining pro caterer with nothing better to talk about than illegals. I regret that. Without me, much of the activity on this site would not have been.

Whenever and whereever I have the opportunity to EDUCATE the public, I take it. I agree and repent that I do not need to ask everyone who posts here those questions. If you will scan the archives for the past 4 years, you will quickly find that I have not done that.

I spent most of my energies in the past answering "how do I start a catering biz" with information about the failure rates, the costs, the education and training, the procedures, the pros and cons of this business, and recommendations on how to gain experience.

Again, I apologize to you and especially George for my recent "questioning" of people who asked for information. I agree that it is not appropriate. Thanks for the many who support me and for those who are kind enough to offer constructive critique.


By debord on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 08:49 am: Edit

I'm saying be judged on the quality of your product with relation to price. The answer is "YES, I cost more than the other caters your comparing me to. Why because I provide a superior product.

1. I use the finest meats.
2. I hire only professional chefs and waitstaff to give you the best service.
3. I have insurance and can prove that to you.
4. etc...."

The people who called us knew our product from eating it at a freinds event or knew someone who personally recommended us to them. That's the best answer to price... quality. You have a resume', a proven track record, clients they can call for references, proof of legality, proof of insurance. Just profesionally point these facts out to them so they know how to compare apples to apples.

If the pro.s stick together and don't low ball themselfs then the average price is set by reasonable business people. Most clients will throw out the low price (wondering whats wrong there) and if their cheap throw out the high price...Work together with your legal competition by not under bidding them too.

By Peachcreek (Peachcreek) on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 11:07 am: Edit

Someone asked me once if I golf. my answer was "We all golf. Some of us just never break 500." That is how I feel about all these people who try foodservice without knowing how. Since there is really no way to stop these people, we have to GET BEYOND THEM! DO WHAT THE THEY CAN'T DO! DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF FROM THE REST! I am not interested in competing with the low-lifes and amateurs of our field. QUALITY. CONSISTANCY. ABILITY. KNOWLEDGE. REPITOIRE. PROFESSIONALISM. Those are what I use to compete.
I like to tell people that every restaurant and caterer in my area buys product from the same sources. The DIFFERENCE is what happens in between what comes in the back door, and what gets served to the consumer. That is what I can control.
Now excuse me as I play thru..... fore!

By CaterGreat on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 01:04 pm: Edit

Great analogy, Peach....

I have been beyond "them" for many years.

There are ways to stop them. That is what we are doing....

Nice Putt....


By CaterGreat on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 01:08 pm: Edit

Debord, I have no problem when I go head to head with the illegals, that has only happened twice... I am talking about educating the public so they will be leary of hiring someone without a foodservice permit and insurance...

Education is the positive approach.... Closing them down would be next to impossible...

Again, it's not the illegals who bid against you, it's the clients that never get to you that is hurting our industry...



By CarlsBuddy on Saturday, June 30, 2001 - 05:34 pm: Edit


Illegals not only happen in catering, but in restaurants as well. One of our local restaurants is really dirty. What makes it most difficult for us is that they are the largest grossing independant in our area. Here are a couple of examples:

1. A few years ago, there was a big change at our local SYSCO Foods. It seems as though a truck driver was finding his way into two places - the SYSCO warehouse and another restaurant that NEVER CHECKED IN THEIR ORDERS! (I know, who could beleive it!) Anyway, there was one buyer for all of this stolen food - guess who. Talk about a competitive advantage!

2. This company pays 80% of it's staff nightly right out of the cash drawer. Waitstaff, bussers, you name it. No gratuities claimed, no sales claimed. What amazes me is that they even get away with this on credit cards.

Want to know what they charge for a wedding? 15.95 for buffet, beer, soda - 4 hours - includes tax and gratuity! (We have a 7% sales tax here)

Add wine and do it for 17.50

Add well bar and do it for 18.95.

Includes linen, china, champagne, and facility.

They do weddings every weekend and double book as well....and get away with it.

I do have a much nicer facility and better wedding food and selection than they offer.
But my restaurant portions and prices(as well as every other restaurant) are often compared to these people.

Now we aren't dealing with Suzie homemaker. Yes they have a license, but they're illegal to the point that they do have a big competitive advantage. I would estimate they do 1.5 - 2.5 million a year.

What do you think? Would you do anything?

By debord on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 12:36 am: Edit

There's two ways to think about this local place. You could call uncle sam and tip them off to this illegal activity. But there's one thing I rather believe in and that's that most people eventually get what they have coming to them. Sometimes it seems to take forever...then one day they get what they deserve....and you can smile and feel good that you did it the right way and didn't get your hands dirty.

By Sam (Sam) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 03:12 am: Edit

"Carlsbuddy",I can relate to your situation, not to mention any names, but one of the top three grossing off premise catering firms in the country, (thats right the entire USA) is based in my home town,,,talk about undercutting, he will do a wedding 250 heavy hors, open well bar, service staff, tents, tables, chairs, linens, dance floor & simple centerpiecs for under $30.00 pp, because he can & does approx 18M, but his product my retort to potential clients that pit my small time firm (compared to his !!!) is that "Do you want my services/products with my reputation OR do you want his services/products with his reputation?"", most times I win out......some times I don't and not a damn thing I can do about it.........sam

By Panini (Panini) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 09:39 am: Edit

See, I still think that money dictates what the customer will buy. I'm about the only bakery left in town that is not a franchise. Talk about mediocre products!
This spring we are going to have afternoon and evening classes at the bakery. Not only do I get paid but I can at least educate the customer a little bit about the products.

By Catergreat (Catergreat) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 10:39 am: Edit

Sam, that is the kind of competition that Debord has been referring to.... If they are doing it legally, then your reputation and theirs is they difference. A MAJOR difference....

As fars as Carlsbuddy, (nice name) I would suggest your tip off the IRS, state revenue and maybe the news media.... just do it anonymously... such as "carlsbuddy"

I think you can make strides in Texas by working thru the Texas Restaurant Association... mine in TN is sympathetic to my cause and are advising me as to the legislative changes that need to be.

Education is the key, right Panini? No matter how one goes about it...

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 03:30 pm: Edit

You guys still at this about this subject! Thank goodness I went to Disney this weekend!!!
Talk about crappy food, even Suzie or an illegal could do better!!!

By Catergreat (Catergreat) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 04:31 pm: Edit

No, we are simply having discussion in the appropriate folder...

Disney food is worse than Dollywood... :)

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Sunday, July 01, 2001 - 05:36 pm: Edit

I agree!!!!!

By KarenMG29 on Monday, August 06, 2001 - 11:21 pm: Edit

Good Grief, you people are snobby elitists. Do you realize how many of your fancy-schmancy "products" (read: recipes) came from Mrs. Suzie Homemaker 3 or more generations ago? You "business people" are something else! And my homemade salsa and chili can beat yours any day!

By Matt on Monday, August 06, 2001 - 11:27 pm: Edit

Comments such as yours honestly don't even dignify a response. It's a shame that this is the kind of mentality that the legal caterers have to deal with.

By Peachcreek (Peachcreek) on Monday, August 06, 2001 - 11:34 pm: Edit

I feel the same way about my doctor...And my salsa is better than his, too!

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Tuesday, August 07, 2001 - 06:05 am: Edit

.....and the mechanic.......

By linkhorn on Tuesday, August 07, 2001 - 09:22 am: Edit

I'm not that impressed with catered food. Karenmg29 is correct. i think i've had maybe 2 good meals from a catered event. caterers know how to put together food in volume ect. and have a good handle on the business end of thingsbut they essentialy can't cook well. details like overcooked chicken, overcooked eggs in omellettes,overcooked veg. overdone meats. i mean,i could go on but i think you get the message. where do you think the term another rubber chicken dinner came from?

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Tuesday, August 07, 2001 - 01:11 pm: Edit

Linkhorn, that's a pretty inaccurate blanket statement you've made; a better one would be that you just go to cheaply catered parties, you don't have a good handle on business practices because you cook well.....I could go on but, I know you get the point! I'm sure you also know where the term "shoemaker" came from right?
KarenMG29, you may think that about your chili and salsa but, you can't sell it for $8.50 a bowl, like I do!

By ChefSpike on Tuesday, August 07, 2001 - 09:18 pm: Edit

To KarenMG29,
Will you marry me?
I'll sign a pre-nup that I will never give out your salsa recipe, and your chili.
Marry me and be in desserts forever!!!!!!
I have a dog, that Ok?

By houston on Tuesday, August 07, 2001 - 11:58 pm: Edit

Another dinosaur chef,oh brother.

By TMarta on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 06:08 pm: Edit

My biggest problem with illegals?
I take time with regular customers to plan or "just let me get an idea" and then they tell me that their "somebody-in-law" is going to do it on the cheap. I am getting better at demanding non-refundable deposits on, say, wedding cakes, but we have lost a lot of production time on people who are not going to use us. Anybody else have this problem? We are located in a very small town, near a cluster of small towns. My partner and I are nearly at wits' end to find a suitable facility in the biggest of the towns, where it is in between our homes and is becoming more "sophisticated",(for lack of a better word. Let me put it this way...there are more of we "Brought-ins", as they call us, and it is growing rapidly).
And they, illegals, have no accountability.( See the intelligent statements made on the topic of left-overs and liability.) I have had food poisoning at too many weddings. And I can't get the authorities involved...they are each others' cousins.
And even the non-franchise establishments nearby, (We are the only one in that particular town), accept shoddy, unsanitary products and delivery practises from their suppliers. (Don't get me started on suppliers..I have horror stories to tell. Someone already mentioned the Evil Empire..Sys.)
I became a professional later in life than I would have liked... but I take exception to the nasty "snob" remarks. I think that you have to really enjoy working with food and know thatyou can do it to do this, unlike many other professions, some medical, lawyers, realtors..I'm
probably getting myself in too deep now!

By ChefSpike on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 08:33 pm: Edit

Hey Houston,
Lighten up, I was kidding.
And I'll take that Dinosaur remark as a compliment, like old school.....which I quess your not.

By houston on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 08:54 pm: Edit

just playin' wich ya's,spike buddy

By Chefspike (Chefspike) on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 09:12 pm: Edit

oh good, thanks.
the chef I'm working for tells me I'm old almost all the time, then waves a charlie trotter book in front of my face. quess I'm just a little jumpy at the mention of things older than cd's.
oh well, another 3 weeks and I'm out-of-there.
Then they can hire back the baker that they had before, and he recieved his bakery training from the Marine Corps. Tubs of this, tubs of that. LOL

By houston on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 09:16 pm: Edit

ya know what's funny though,it seems in some kitchens,the hot side and the cold side are segregated. ya got immigrants working the line and the white middle class chicks working cold.even with the turnover it seems to work out that way. not only that nobody really talks. old school? i might be,the basics don't change though. a lot of people are getting out. i don't regret it though.

By Chefspike (Chefspike) on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 10:37 pm: Edit

what do you mean,...cold side? Are you pastry?
or do you mean Salad stuff?
I think your kinda right about the basic's not changing, but it depends on what you are doing.
Me... I bought puff pastry dough, danish dough, and stuff like that. When you work alone you have to, there's not enough time in the week to do it all. I never noticed the way some kitchens are staffed, that is weird come to think of it. I think women ROCK!!! in the kitchens, this women I'm teaching now is so smart and can take procedures to the next step without help, it's great to watch. I'm so happy with her that I told her she has acsess(sp) to any recipe she wants, and I have recipes and notes that go back 3 generations of Chef's. I don't get this impressed often. Well it's time for my warm milk and bed time, you know how us 45 year olds need our rest.
If I could find my glasses, I could find my geritol.

By Peachcreek (Peachcreek) on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 11:14 pm: Edit

You're not that old. I remember hamburger before it needed help!

By Chefspike (Chefspike) on Wednesday, August 08, 2001 - 11:44 pm: Edit

Hamburger...helper, hey! you may have something there! You could run with this.

By KarenMG29 on Friday, August 10, 2001 - 02:29 pm: Edit

Chefmanny, even if my chili was worth $8.50 a bowl, I would not sell it for that much. No chili is worth that exorbitant a price. In a time in our own country where 1/4-1/3 the population of children go to bed with empty stomachs at night, and in other countries they are dying for a bowl of beans or rice, I could never justify that kind of price. THAT is what I mean by elitist. Oops, just gave myself away as a bleeding heart liberal. Yikes. .... :-)

By Chefspike (Chefspike) on Friday, August 10, 2001 - 04:12 pm: Edit

Karen, the wedding's off, if chef manny gets 8.50 a pop for chili, God bless him.In fact if i new where he owned/worked i'd like to have some of that. why does that make him a bad guy?
In the early 80's I sold wedding cakes for $800. for 4 tiers, that make me an elitist? Now where did I put those Jag car keys?, oh yea.....

By catergreat on Friday, August 10, 2001 - 04:39 pm: Edit

Why is it ok for other professionals like lawyers and doctor's to charge exhorbinant prices and not for professionals in foodservice to make a great living?

I think China would be a great political system for you to join, Karen, since free enterprise disturbs you.

By Cheftim (Cheftim) on Friday, August 10, 2001 - 04:57 pm: Edit


When my mom said "Eat your vegetable! There are people starving in China." I thought "they can have this."

Calling us (chefs) "snobby elitists" because there are hungry people in the world is idiotic.

What does the price on Manny's chile got to do with starving children? Could you please explain. I'm serious. One has nothing to do with the other.

The vast majority of hunger in the world is do to strife, i.e. war, politics, disasters i.e. flood, hurricane drought or just the lack of infrastructure.

In the United States it because wages have not kept pace with the cost of living. Manny has to charge $8.50 a bowl so he can pay his cooks a livable wage. It only seams like a lot because of all those Suziehomemakers charging less than the true cost of the product.

Karen what have you done lately to help the hungry. Have you donated surplus food to a local food bank? Have you donated your time to teach children at risk how to cook a nutritious meal? Have your donated your time to supplement the paid staff of a food bank or agency pantry. Have held a fund raiser for any agency that helps the hungry? These are just a few things that the chefs I know have done recently.

Karen your bleeding heart has cut the blood flow to your brain.

By Peachcreek (Peachcreek) on Friday, August 10, 2001 - 05:33 pm: Edit

Bowl of chili: $0.95
Cheaply catered lunch by illegals: $2.99
Cost of medical bill litigation from improperly prepared and served foodproducts when people get sick from eating this stuff: priceless.
Some folks would have no problem feeding **** to their friends and relatives. For the rest of us, we use professionals.
Karen, I'm curious as to how much money YOU make.. And for what.....
Maybe YOU charge too much for your phoney baloney job!
By the way: My restaurants' entire advertising budget is to NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS. This year so far we have held over 6 fundraising events, with the next being on August 22 to raise money for the local Farmers' Market. Last year we donated over $12,000.00 to various groups. So I guess I am an elitist: I contribute more than you do! NOW GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND VOLUNTEER!

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