LOUNGING IN A dimly lit room, stretched across a silken divan, she slowly caresses each of the suitors scattered about on the cold floor. Her delicate fingers move with purpose as she makes a final decision, trusting her feminine instincts. Oh, the secrets that have been shared and the delights these two have tasted together. Lovingly, the bride embraces her new partner and with a pounding heart shouts with ecstasy, “You will be my caterer!” as she thrusts the sales proposal high in the air. And thus the story begins …
But wait. As the chosen caterer, are you truly prepared to make this commitment? This is not a tale for the timid, tame or intolerant. Drama, passion, love, excitement, tears, laughter and sheer ecstasy describe the complexities of a wedding. It is all but getting in bed with the bride. If you don't have the passion for it, stay out — the wedding business is not for you.
Seventeen years ago, we knew we had the passion. We combined our talents to build a business that now claims three special event venues in greater Atlanta offering in-house catering, event planning and decor services, grossing more than $5 million a year in sales. Two of our venues — Flint Hill and Primrose Cottage — are historic properties both built in the 1830s; the third, The Atrium, is an all-glass ballroom surrounded by a formal garden. Many brides choose to have their ceremonies on site because of the romantic landscaping each venue has to offer.
Each venue has its own beautifully designed Web site, which is linked to our sister properties. From the moment a bride sees an ad or clicks onto the Web site, she is enticed with images that make her want more. Because 95 percent of our business is social, facility improvements are always made with the bride in mind.
Both of us share the same philosophy: “The day we stop caring is the day we stop selling.” But with more than 5,000 weddings to our credit, this does not seem likely to happen. We have become the wedding experts.
With corporate events on the decline over the past several years, many event professionals who once shunned the wedding market are now looking to the one sure thing that has always been recession-proof: weddings. But brides are not a rebound item or a cheap date to be had. They must be romanced, courted, loved, valued and nurtured.
Our company, MMinc. Events, has launched “Romancing the Bride” as our new sales strategy. Believing in love at first sight, MMinc. does not miss an opportunity to win the bride. The first impression is everything. From magazine ads to Web sites, MMinc. promotes itself as the wedding authority, and rightly so. Here, we share our secrets.
Make a name for yourself within the wedding community. Teach seminars, participate in bridal shows, host a luncheon for wedding planners, educate yourself at wedding conferences and always, always read the bridal magazines. Keep current issues at the office for all to see. If you have the expertise, promote your own bridal show event working with local vendors.
This year, MMinc. expanded our twice-a-year tasting/vendor showcase to a full-scale bridal show. Along with flyers, a Web site link, and magazine and newspaper ads, we also advertised the event on a local radio station. Attendees enjoyed hors d'oeuvre, a tearoom-style fashion show, dance lessons, elegant table designs, the latest trends in food presentations, more than 35 vendors, and spectacular ideas for both groom's cake and wedding cake alternatives. As an event planner, putting together a bridal show should be a piece of cake. Be sure to have your own table ready to book appointments.
If you answer all the bride's questions over the phone or send an all-inclusive package, you miss the opportunity to meet face to face and to start a personal relationship. The person answering the phone must be trained to answer questions with authority, but more importantly, be trained and empowered to get the appointment. Message machines, voice mail and hold buttons do not make a bride happy. Brides are special. They know it; you should know it. Even if an appointment cannot be made, try to assist the bride any way you can and always offer congratulations on the engagement. Being nice has a way of coming full circle.
The day of the meeting, be ready. If your sales associate does not genuinely enjoy planning social events, the bride will know it. Building a trusting relationship is key. Entertain the bride the moment she arrives. No matter how small your office space, designate a separate area just for brides — even if you have to stage it the day of the appointment. The space should be feminine and pretty with soft lighting, music, magazines, comfortable furniture and refreshments. Partner with wedding photographers to display wedding albums that showcase your work. Enlarge pictures of your catering and decor. Display these along with china, silver, equipment and linens that are reserved for weddings. Offer toasting goblets, a cake knife and server, guest book, pen, silver candelabra and champagne bucket complimentary to the bride. If space permits, partner with rental companies to display a fully set table showcasing the hottest new trends.
Develop unique presentations for cakes or creative alternatives to cakes that are yours exclusively, giving them fun names. MMinc. uses “Tiers of Joy,” a free-standing, square étagère, to display a wedding cake. Presented on an ornate tray filled with assorted chocolate treats from brownies to truffles, our “Chocolate Decadence” offers chocolate lovers a substitute for the traditional groom's cake. A decorative tiered plant stand doubles as “Lemonade Stand,” offering specialty drinks on a warm summer day. When filled with individual trifles in champagne glasses, it becomes a wedding cake. For catering companies that do not have a pastry chef, these are wonderful presentations for generating new revenue streams. Knowing that most brides have never worked with a caterer before, MMinc. offers prix fixe menus that are easy to understand, instead of the usual “by the piece” method.
KNOW IT ALL
The bride is always looking for something different to make her wedding special. She loves the unique, but usually within a traditional context. Be ready with your ideas, but be very receptive to hers. Even if she acts clueless, listen carefully. By asking the right questions, you will discover that she does indeed have a picture in mind. What are her favorite things such as color, season, romantic movie moment, actress, heroine, restaurant, furniture style, fabric texture, flower and scent? Ask questions until you know your bride. Ask to see pictures of what she has already selected: bridal gown, flowers, colors, tuxedo, groom! All of this information will help you guide her in menu, linen and decor selections so that her personal style is reflected the day of the wedding.
If the bride senses that this is your goal and that her fantasies are safe with you, she will eagerly pop the question: “Will you be my caterer?” Now, after properly “Romancing the Bride,” you can accept her proposal with confidence, knowing that it will be good for the both of you.
MMinc. can be reached at 770/263-7669; the Web site is www.flinthill.com.