What We Have Learned Through 36 Years of Catering
Development of systems has allowed us to provide excellent food and excellent service
Back in 1982, my partner, Jim Gilmore, and I were getting tired of mowing lawns and cleaning gutters to make a buck to pay for school. That was back in the days when you paid for your own school – pre college savings plans, pre parental input, and admittedly, pre outrageous tuition rates.
We were borrowing our dad’s cars and mowers and hand tools and ladders, to complete odd jobs when we weren’t focused on getting to the gym to pound out 2 hour workouts. Jim was a college wrestler and I was an aspiring powerlifter, so gym dues and protein shakes were also on our expense list. We applied a lot of our energy towards designing elaborate workout and nutritional plans to reach our respective athletic goals.
Meanwhile, our little business utilized a haphazard approach to earning money. Not surprisingly, our results in the gym far outpaced our success in the odd-job business, and we both inherently realized the value of having a system and the rewards garnered from doing so.
We loved going to the gym and making gains, and were pretty indifferent about odd jobs, and our energy was placed where we were motivated. What we needed was a different business…one that fed our extroverted personalities and the instant positive feedback that weightlifting offered.
Serendipitously, that summer Jim worked a few pig roasts through a college roommate’s family business, and that same summer I volunteered to organize a pig roast for my tech school’s annual alumni event.
Those experiences were so fun and fed us much like the gym workouts did. It was that year that we decided to build a pig roaster, which we did, and dreamt up the name Divine Swine Catering.
We quickly realized that in order to succeed in catering, we needed to apply the same systematic approach to catering that we had applied to strength training. Since catering was so much fun, and put us in contact with so many people, it provided us with the intrinsic rewards that were missing in the odd job enterprise.
Duly motivated, we started to get organized. From the beginning, we started to develop a system for roasting a pig. We took the example of my family’s camping cook box, and built a few of them to organize our knives, cutting boards, spoons, tongs and other supplies. A system was developed for setting up a buffet. We graduated to a system for organizing a vehicle (once we bought a truck) so that it was easy to work out of. A call book was developed to log every inquiry so that we could follow up with potential customers in a timely manner.
Catering is such a detail oriented endeavor, and we learned quickly that these systems paid off in a big way. Customers told us constantly that our quick response time and organized approach got us the job. This business can be overwhelming, and as it has grown, we have escalated our systems approach.
Every aspect of our business is now organized into a system. From the first phone call or email, to scheduling an event, to ordering food, to stocking deliveries, to scheduling employees and vehicles, to preparing each menu item (each a mini system of its own), to loading a vehicle, to hooking up a roaster, to initial contact with the customer on site, to buffet setup, restocking, wrapping leftovers, to the conclusion of the event….everything is a system.
Throughout the development of each system, the theme has been and will always be excellent food and excellent customer service. We strive to make the entire experience fun, easy, and enjoyable for each and every customer, and each and every one of their guests. Every system we have is in constant refinement with excellent food and excellent customer service as the goal!
As a result, we can train non chefs (Jim and I have no formal culinary training) in our system and they become successful caterers. With the end goal in mind (excellent food and excellent customer service), our staff is a shining example of a systematic approach to success.
Of course, we have been extremely blessed with great employees over the years. Any system is only as good as the people charged with using it. We brag about our hard-working, dedicated, caring crew whose input into our operation has been priceless. We view every employee as a valuable resource, each with his or her own unique look at approaching a task. Every aspect of our operation has been hugely influenced by our staff! Our employees are truly the best in the business!
The overarching lesson we have learned, which has completely eclipsed our learning of the value of a systems approach, is that each customer is unique and has a need for a customized experience. While there is always an underlying system to meet the majority of each customer’s needs, we strive to be flexible and caring and thoughtful so that the customer gets what they want! We know that we can never be so rigid in our approach as to discount the personal experience each person at each event we cater deserves.
Providing excellent food and excellent service still motivates us today. We don’t push ourselves as hard as we used to in the gym every day, but we still apply the lessons we learned there to provide a great experience for our customers. And yes, it’s still fun!
And we are grateful for the good fortune we have had over the last 36 years to have learned so much from so many different people….employees, vendors, and customers alike. It’s been a blast!
Dale Vaillancourt, Co-Owner
“We’ll Roast a Pig That You’ll Really Dig…and Much, Much More!”