Blessed are the bean counters, sayeth this savvy guide to the commercial food biz.
Dombeck, a professional caterer, offers something less than a soup-to-nuts encyclopedic treatise on many aspects of catering. Vital topics like sanitary regulations aren’t covered here, and he tells readers who don’t know how to cook to go learn and then come back. But what he does focus on, in straightforward, digestible prose, is the art of wringing a healthy profit out of prepping and presenting good food through a sharp-eyed focus on the bottom line. He starts with the basics of crafting a concept that will appeal to customers—market research can be as simple as asking people what they like to eat and finding out what other local caterers are doing—and hammering out a menu segmented into cheaper and fancier dishes. The bulk of the book takes up money matters: Readers learn how to calculate the cost of ingredients, with allowances for food lost to trimming and shrinkage in cooking; how to price dishes (four times the price of the ingredients is a rule of thumb—unless you can get away with more!); and how to comparison shop between wholesale food vendors and exploit bargains that crop up. Also important, Dombeck continues, is estimating how much food guests will eat so that you neither run out nor throw out. The subtle psychology of portion control is covered in intriguing depth—smaller plates and food pieces yield bigger profits by preventing guests from overloading at the buffet. “Catering is not rocket science,” Dombeck allows, but it does require some math; fortunately, he and co-author Bast present it in clear, easy-to-follow lessons with plenty of examples and sample spreadsheets that make analyzing financial data simple. Their combination of common-sense principles and insider tips—if you give your business a hard-to-pronounce name, he says, potential customers will go elsewhere to avoid pronouncing it—will point neophytes in the right direction.
A useful hands-on primer.