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How The Coonamessett used catering software to streamline and automate their 25-year-old catering business and bring it to the modern age

by | Aug 8, 2022 | Business, Catering, Event Management, Event Planning, Event Venues, Featured, Interviews, Tools and Software

Running a catering business looks much different today than it did 25 years ago. Still, despite major advancements in technology and a growing expectation of instantaneous, online access, it’s not uncommon to find a catering company still relying on old-school paper and processes for their event management solution. 

The Coonamessett, a full-service inn, restaurant, and event venue in Falmouth, Massachusetts, was no exception before Planning Pod’s event management and catering software. For 25+ years, the event venue, catering business, and Inn operated under manual processes and paper filing systems that were outdated, time-consuming, and chaotic. 

When John Norton stepped on as ACF certified executive chef and general manager of The Coonamessett, he vowed to change the “stone-age” catering system and put in its place a modern software solution built specifically for event management and catering businesses.

“I was the general manager for just a short amount of time before I pulled Planning Pod into The Coonamessett, but it was a game-changer for me,” said Norton. “It’s so easy on my end. All of the information I need is there, and clients can access it anytime they want.”

John Norton, ACF certified Executive Chef and General Manager at The Coonamessett

Moving from paper processes to centralized digital business management with catering management software

Norton and his team have come a long way from manila folders, mailed checks, and handwritten notes. 

Now, instead of sifting through file cabinets of documents, Norton can quickly log onto Planning Pod and see everything he needs to do his job. He can quickly accomplish tasks like accepting automated payments, signing proposals, submitting online orders, and reviewing real-time updates. 

In this article, we’ll outline the specific challenges The Coonamessett faced before they implemented Planning Pod’s event catering software and how our tools helped them streamline their workflow and become a better caterer by:

  • Improving communication with clients, vendors, and the catering team 
  • Replacing mailed checks with automated credit card payments
  • Automating the booking process 
  • Making it simple to reschedule and alter bookings during a pandemic
  • Centralizing event details into easy-to-follow, scannable dashboards

Ready to learn more about the features and pricing of Planning Pod’s event management software? Check out what Planning Pod can do for your catering company here

Challenge: Chaotic communication and missing information

When it comes to catering companies, one of the most important ingredients of a well-run kitchen is communication. Missing even the smallest details can lead to a food shortage, menu mix-ups, or missed orders. 

“Communication is the toughest part of working in the kitchen,” said Norton, who has more than 26 years of experience working in kitchens for country clubs, big hotels, and even Disney World. “You’re back there 14 to 15 hours a day just tearing through stuff and trying to get stuff done. And if you miss a minute piece of information that you needed, like a reservation coming in late or if something didn’t make the delivery, it just ruins your week.”

Old school methods of spreadsheets, handwritten food orders, and event contracts that are usually filed and stored in a dusty file cabinet can only lead to more miscommunications. 

For example, if a client places a phone call to add 15 guests to a party, but the coordinator forgets to relay that information to the kitchen until after catering orders have been placed, the kitchen staff will be scrambling last-minute to try and fill 15 additional plates of food.

Solution: Central hub for communications with clients, vendors, and back-of-house staff

As a kitchen veteran, Norton understands that mistakes and setbacks happen, but what makes a difference is prompt and clear communication. 

“From the people I order pillows from for the hotel to the food for our kitchen, it’s relationships and good communication that matter,” said Norton. 

Being able to anticipate challenges and changes provides the back-of-house staff more time to come up with viable solutions and for event managers to remedy the situation with clients ahead of time. 

Implementing Planning Pod has provided Norton and his team with an easy-to-access, centralized place that houses every detail of an event, from menu items and food costing to staff scheduling and updates or changes.

Banquet Event Order (BEO)

Banquet event orders (BEOs) provide clients, vendors, and site catering staff with a concise, one-page summary of event details. These one-pagers are used as a cheat sheet to ensure every piece of the puzzle comes together to execute a successful event. 

With the Planning Pod BEO tool, Norton and his team can create customized banquet event orders that can be easily shared with clients, caterers, vendors, and coordinators. They can even create multiple customized banquet event orders to provide to front-of-the-house staff, back-of-the-house staff, clients, vendors, event coordinators, and other parties who may need slightly different information. 

“The ability to pull information wherever, whenever I need it is nice,” said Norton. “I can be in the kitchen, and somebody says this or that, and I’ll pull out my phone, log into Planning Pod, and input that information—everything I need is at my fingertips.”

Creating a custom BEO isn’t hard either. You can develop reusable templates that automatically pull information already stored within the event, such as: 

  • Event name
  • Date and times
  • Location 
  • Headcount 
  • Floor plans and room setup instructions 
  • Food and beverage packages 
  • Food and beverage service and delivery information 
  • Invoice and proposal totals 
  • Contract, proposal, and signature statuses 

You can then add to that information to provide customized information or details specific to a particular vendor or in-house team, such as:

  • Special requirements
  • Delivery instructions 
  • Load-in details 
  • Audio-visual equipment 
  • Food service style 
  • Staffing needs

You can even collect electronic signatures from your BEOs from the Planning Pod app, making it easy for your kitchen staff to sign off on food deliveries and vendors or event managers to mark off payments. 

There is no limit to the number of BEOs you can create per event, helping you manage events as small as a luncheon or as big as large-scale corporate catering events. 

Email communication

Even if you’ve eliminated snail mail, important details can get lost in overstuffed inboxes and private messages. 

Planning Pod’s customer relationship management (CRM) tools include a central location to manage and record emails pertaining to events and other important business functions. Users have the option to integrate personal or business email addresses to send, receive, and monitor emails within Planning Pod, making it visible to vendors, clients, and in-house staff who may need to communicate with each other and be notified of changes to the event. 

The email tool also enables you to create automated email templates to confirm new leads, follow up on proposals and payments, send invites to collaborate, and more. 

Client portal

The client portal offers the perfect solution to communicate with clients, send and receive documents and signatures, and reassure them that their event is on-track. 

“All the information a client needs is there, and they can access it anytime they want to,” said Norton.

Planning Pod’s client portal offers customers a limited view of their event where they can: 

  • Pay deposits and invoices
  • Add and manage payment methods 
  • Sign off on event contracts, proposals, and BEOs
  • Review and check off tasks as they complete them
  • View event itinerary and pricing 
  • Review, upload, and download files
  • Collaborate on floor plans and seating charts 
  • Manage the attendee list by adding guests, managing meal selection and RSVP status, and grouping guests 
  • Review catering menus and packages (and if you have customer choices set up, select which options they prefer)

Providing clients with 24/7 access to pertinent event planning information can help reduce phone calls, worries, and miscommunications. 

Challenge: Waiting on manual payments and signatures by snail mail

Event booking can become a mess with drawn-out processes for collecting proposals and payments. Previously, The Coonamessett would mail proposals and event contracts to potential clients and wait for days or even weeks to receive a signed contract and check to confirm the reservation. Then, have to wait up to another week to ensure the check clears. 

Meanwhile, other leads interested in the same dates would be put on hold, causing them to keep looking and reserve with other event venues. 

Solution: Automatic payment processing and e-signature functionality

“We used to send our proposals off for signatures via snail mail, and we hoped we would get it back with payment,” said Norton. “In the meantime, four or five other people would come in and look at that booking date.”

Norton and their team can now receive instant confirmation and payment through the Planning Pod portal, enabling them to confirm more event bookings and prevent missed leads and bounced checks.

Payment processing and automatic credit card payments 

Before catering software, The Coonamessett didn’t even accept credit card payments. But with Planning Pod, collecting invoices, registration, and ticket payments via credit cards directly through the platform is easy. 

Planning Pod’s POS system integrates with several merchant payment processors—PaySimple, Square, Stripe, and QuickBook Payments— so you can choose the payment processor that makes the most sense for your catering company. 

You can also schedule automated charges to a customer’s credit card, so both you and the client never have to worry about a missed payment or invoice follow-ups. It also makes it easier to organize installment plans for clients. Simply select the amount of each payment, when the card should be charged, and have your client agree to automatic payments to the card on file. 

“The ability to take a payment remotely and not have to wait for a check to clear has been huge,” said Norton.

Payment notifications

Planning pod users receive automated email notifications when electronic payments have been made, letting you know everything is on track.

“I just sit back and watch an email pop up once a while with a payment notification,” said Norton.

If your client isn’t enrolled in automatic payments, you can also schedule automated invoice and payment email reminders. The client can then open the email, view the amount, and make a payment online. 

Invoicing and pricing  

The Planning Pod Invoicing tools allow you to create, manage, and send customized invoices with unlimited line items. Whether you enroll your client on automated electronic payments or scheduled payment reminders, you can keep them up-to-date on payments made, remaining balance, and what they are being charged for. 

With the Planning Pod invoicing management system, you can easily: 

  • Add and calculate gratuities, service fees, shipping and delivery charges, setup costs, and other additional fees
  • Attach invoices to events and run reports on them
  • Add automated and manual payments to invoices 
  • Schedule payment reminders for unpaid invoices or installment plans
  • Schedule automated credit card payments 
  • Enter and track deposits 
  • Email invoices to clients from inside your account
  • Create and import invoice templates into new invoices 
  • Create and import line item templates into invoices 

E-signatures for proposals and contracts

Payments are important to collect, but so are signatures! Planning Pod’s built-in e-signature capabilities make it easier and quicker to secure clients and receive sign-off. 

Simply send customized or updated proposals, contracts, or BEOs via Planning Pod’s email tool and have clients click, review, and sign instantly. Planning Pod will then send you an email notifying you of the updated e-signatures. 

“Two clicks of the mouse to send a proposal for signature with a new date on it, and it’s done,” said Norton. “And with automatic payments, we don’t chase anybody down. That’s nice. I can’t say enough about it. It’s really great.”

Challenge: Arduous processes for rescheduling bookings during a pandemic

With manual processes, writing and sending proposals, collecting signatures, processing payments, and following up with clients took a lot of time. The problem became even more apparent when the pandemic hit, and Norton had to reschedule more than 50 weddings booked at the The Coonamessett. 

“When COVID hit, I took home two huge paper ream boxes full of folders,” said Norton. “I went home, and I moved every single wedding and every hotel room associated with each of them into a manila folder.”

Solution: Changing dates and details with change orders

Planning Pod creates a centralized hub for event information that can be accessed from anywhere. So, whether you’re at the office, at home, or in quarantine, you won’t have to lug around file cabinets full of documents to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a computer, phone, or tablet, and you can check, change, and update important details. 

Change orders 

Whether it’s adding more guests, menu management, or switching dates, changes are common in the event world. With Planning Pod’s change order feature, you can easily update event details and send the modified proposal for review and approval. 

The original signers will receive an email requesting an e-signature on the amended proposal, followed by email notifications once they’ve accepted it. Previous versions of the proposals are also saved for recordkeeping purposes, but you’ll never have to worry about sorting through various versions of a proposal for the most up-to-date one.

“Brides would call me during Covid and ask ‘what do I do?’ and it’s so easy on my end,” said Norton. “I would just go in there, and I’d change the date, and that’s it.”

Brides receive an email confirming the new date, they e-sign the updated contract, and the calendar and event details are updated. 

Challenge: Taking too long to complete bookings

Confirming event bookings quickly is critical to filling your venue and increasing profitability. However, with paper processes and snail mail communications, the booking process can become long and tedious. 

The Coonamessett sales team might send a new client a proposal and invoice to be signed and paid and will have to wait days or even weeks for the lead to review, sign, and mail it in with a paper check. Sometimes, the lead may even have a change of mind and never send it in, wasting time and leading to time-consuming follow-ups and missed opportunities from other interested leads. 

Solution: Electronic documentation, lead management, and online ordering

Digitalizing the entire event and venue management process has dramatically sped up the booking process for The Coonamessett. Now, prospects can confirm and pay their deposit as early as the same day. It also makes online ordering and event booking easier, shortening the time from lead to client. 

Sales Pipeline and CRM

The Planning Pod sales pipeline and CRM tools cover everything from lead capture to lead management, helping Norton and his team book more dates quicker. 

“Sales are completed within hours instead of days, even minutes sometimes,” said Norton. “You literally just turn the computer on, put your credit card information in, and sign the document.”

It’s that easy. 

Without having to wait days to receive a confirmation by mail or process check payments, you can know whether or not clients are committed to your event venue and, if not, book another lead who may be. 

E-signatures 

A lead isn’t a client until a contract is in place, and e-signatures make that process easier. Instead of waiting for clients to review and sign documents in person or via snail mail, you can just email them a custom proposal and contract and collect a signature instantly. You can even use customized event templates to quickly create an invoice and request a signature during the venue walk-through to lock in their date and deposit. 

This makes it easier for clients to say ‘I do’ to your catering company and commit to working together. 

Client portal 

You’ll never have to track down documents, signatures, or payments with the client portal. 

Clients can simply log on to their customized event dashboard and review important event details, such as dates, times, menu items, and more. 

They can even check off tasks on their to-do list, like sending out invitations or updating final headcounts. And if changes need to be made, like moving a wedding date due to a global pandemic, they can quickly sign in and sign off on their new date. 

Challenge: Scattered and difficult to track information

One of the biggest complaints Norton had of the “stone age” processes in place at The Coonamessett was trying to find and organize important information for each event. 

“When I say copy and paste, there used to be a glue stick on my table. We would have to print out a menu, cut out the other packages, paste it onto a BEO, and photocopy it,” said Norton. 

There were also stacks of manila folders, which meant sorting through filing systems and endless documents to find what seemed to be the most updated documents and information.  

Solution: One-stop shop for all business and event booking details

Planning Pod is an all-in-one catering management solution—that’s why Norton chose Planning Pod as the best catering software after comparing the system to competitors like Total Party Planner, Flex Catering, Curate, Tripleseat, Event Temple, Caterease, and FoodStorm. 

Planning Pod combines various easy-to-use tools and features that are designed to make kitchen production, order management, and event planning easier. 

In addition to the invoicing, proposals, BEOs, lead management, and communication tools highlighted above, Planning Pod is packed with many more features that make event management easier for Norton and countless other event planners. 

Templates

The option to create customized templates helps save event venue managers like Norton hours of unnecessary work each week. Instead of recreating proposals, contracts, and menus for each event, you can simply drag in a template, update necessary fields, and within minutes, send a beautifully polished document in minutes. And when permanent changes happen, like pricing or packages, you can simply update the template so new events can reflect those changes.

In Planning Pod, you can create templates for: 

  • Budgets
  • Checklists
  • Contracts
  • Emails
  • Floorplans
  • Food and beverage packages
  • Forms
  • Invoices
  • Itineraries
  • Line items for proposals and invoices
  • Proposals
  • To-do lists
  • Vision boards
  • Worksheets

Food and beverage package 

The ability to create food and beverage templates makes menu management and proposal creation easier. Norton’s team can quickly add and customize a package template to a proposal, invoice, event, and BEO—or download a PDF event menu to share with clients, staff, or vendors. 

Task management 

Norton uses the built-in task manager to keep everyone from vendors to clients on track. With the task management tool, he can easily create custom to-do lists for himself, his team members, and his clients. He can even create a task list template of essential to-do items to easily drop into new events. 

Each task includes options for assignment details, task owners, due dates, reminder emails or texts, notes, and file attachments. Tasks can even be categorized into custom lists for better organization. 

Norton even takes the guesswork out of deadlines by setting task templates to automatically backdate to-do items based on the event date, lead capture date, or event booking date. And with notification options, he never worries about missing an important milestone, even if the event is booked well in advance. 

Choose the best catering software to save you hours of busywork, shorten booking timelines, and streamline processes

The average user saves more than 62 hours of busy work per month with Planning Pod. It can also reduce stress and mistakes while increasing profitability and positive customer experience. 

“It’s at least an entire salary we save with Planning Pod,” said Norton.

We aren’t the only catering software on the market—competitors include Total Party Planner, Flex Catering, Curate, Tripleseat, Event Temple, Caterease, and FoodStorm—but we do aim to be the best. 

Our mission is to provide a true all-in-one solution for catering, event, and venue professionals of any kind. So, whether you’re bringing a decades-old event venue business into the modern age like Norton did for The Coonamessett or are just looking for the best catering software to save you time and centralize your business data, Planning Pod has your back. Try Planning Pod today and see the difference for yourself!