Several years ago I was involved as a consultant with a regional grocery market chain. My charge was to start up and fully develop a catering company to operate as part of the grocery chain. This proved to be very challenging in terms of recruiting, hiring and training associates, cooks and management.
Obviously, we needed to have a facility to cater out of along with coolers, freezers, prep areas, stoves and kitchen equipment. Perhaps the hardest project of all was to market the business from ground zero and secure business. It was necessary to achieve a profit from the first day of operation in order to justify the start up expenses to upper management.My biggest success story in obtaining catering jobs that achieved budget centered around a National Guard base. I had bid very low to win the contract to supply three meals daily for a week of training exercises at the base.
We devoted all our efforts and resources to the project and as a result it went extremely well. We transported hot meals in the dead of winter for 80 soldiers and received rave reviews. On the last day of the contract we were to deliver a hot evening meal after the soldiers returned from a day in the field.
We showed up at the gate with two catering vans filled with food, tables and chairs. As usual, we were directed to the building on the base where we had delivered meals for the last week. I jumped out of the truck and went into the offices to find the staff sergeant with whom I had been working. I was shown in to see him and realized immediately that something was wrong. The sergeant’s face dropped and the color drained from his face.
He then told me that he was supposed to cancel the meal because the soldiers had finished up early and moved out. He simply got busy and forgot to call me.
At that moment, a captain walked into the office and asked what the catering trucks were doing out back. Seeing the stricken expression on the sergeant’s face, I spoke up and apologized to both soldiers, telling the captain that I had delivered to the wrong building. Satisfied, he walked back to his office.
The staff sergeant looked at me and asked what I was doing. I responded that we appreciated his business of the last week and since it appeared as though he might be in hot water with the captain, we would simply drive away without charging a penny.
To say he was appreciative was to understate his reaction. I simply asked him to remember us for his future needs. Man, did I take flak for the missed sales and the food we brought back to the facility.
It was about a week or so later that I received a call. The supply sergeant advised me that a huge job was coming up and I should go online and make a public bid for it. I did so, and wonder of wonders, I won the job; feeding 320 soldiers three times a day for 14 days. The contract was worth over $100,000 and served as the kick-off for the catering business.
It’s amazing how the decision to take the hit when the sergeant failed to cancel the earlier order—for which I took flak—turned into a brilliant decision all of a sudden when we landed the big order. Customer service pays off!