An interview with John Buskie (Event Chef)
  Posted by: Chief Editor, Selmore - Event Hire, on July 17, 2017 11:53 am Leave your thoughts
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Owner and founder of At Ease Catering

Based in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

SEH: Tell us a little bit about your background, John...

I’m a qualified head chef with over 17 year’s professional experience in Glasgow, Scotland.

I have held full time employment in this field throughout, but most recently I have juggled part time employment alongside the rigours of setting up this relatively new venture, At Ease Catering, which has been trading now for about 18 months.

I currently run At Ease Catering with a business partner who specialises in mobile event catering.

Although, my chef experience typically rests in contract corporate bookings, as well as weddings and other private functions through which I have obtained a very favourable reputation.

SEH: What do your typical customers look like?

Anything from fine dining, to restaurants & bars – even concerts and major sporting events like Commonwealth Games. I have consistently attracted a variety of work really.

SEH: How do you tend to generate new business enquiries?

I largely generate new business from the search engines like, Google.

Word of mouth among my customers also plays a positive part in how I make new customer contact, but other than this and organic online search, social media is also a profitable avenue for gathering a local audience.

Friends and family go a long way as far as mileage goes in making the most of the social media ripple effect, which I keep a keen eye on through the free online Google Analytics tool.

SEH: What will it take for you to take the plunge into full time business ownership?

I first need to set some very firm foundations.

Whilst this business benefits from my expertise as being a head chef, it is still a little green profit wise for me to really settle in full time at the moment. But full time ownership is the plan though in good time.

SEH: How do you plan to bridge that gap to more sustainable profitability?

B2B networking seems a sensible way to create a larger pool of contacts.

Generally, consistency and stability are key factors for this business to be the best it can be. Ideally, a premises to be a base for prep, rather than to just operate solely in our mobile unit would be an improvement.

But for such considerable overheads to be absorbed by this business, sound financial projections are required and of course doing due diligence for finding the right unit.

SEH: What makes your catering business an excellent choice for private and corporate customers alike in Glasgow?

We exclusively use Scottish produce, all locally sourced ingredients from local suppliers. In my thinking it’s important that neighbouring businesses support one another – it encourages survival of the small business.

I’d like to add that my menu is also traditionally Scottish.

SEH: Name a common Scottish dish which has a spot on your menu...

Most popular is stuffed chicken – I do a lot of that. Also, ‘Blaggis’ – have you heard of blaggis?

SEH: What’s blaggis?

It is what it sounds like. It’s simply an interesting mix between haggis, the most famous Scottish dish and of course, black pudding – I get a lot of requests for this actually.

SEH: What does your ideal customer look like?

Both private and corporate customers alike are served by my business, so really my ideal base is to have a healthy mix of each.

Private bookings suffice my immediate cash flow, but of course commercial contracts are bigger in deal value, the downside can be however the invoice periods which typically involve protracted delays causing cash constraints within my finances.

Either way, reputation will play a big part in attracting such quality customers in both of those camps. I figure that growing in reputation will increase my scope of contacts especially by word of mouth.

I find an area in which I win a lot of respect with new customers is by simply asking what their budget it. Once they share their budget with me then I want to protect it. Being up front helps build trust.

SEH: What is your most profitable means of marketing to date?

Social media has worked a great deal for me. I have a Youtube channel and Facebook, both of which gives me analytical intelligence so I can reinvest in the techniques that works.

Ultimately though, my website was the best investment, it’s the hub for my whole online strategy, it pulls everything together, although I could get more leads through it though.

SEH: If you were not a chef, what other career would you pursue?

I’m driven. So maybe a professional sports career would suit my mentality. I have a reputation for being very determined.

SEH: What is your definition of good marketing?

Good marketing is all in the strategy, creating opportunities to convert.

SEH: How important is exit value and do you have an exit strategy?

At Ease Catering is an evolving business project, but I have not really considered exit at all.

In terms of where I plan to take this business, I have the ambition of earning the reputation of being the best contract caterer in Glasgow.

This is my clear plan.

SEH: Should you make an exit from this industry, what would your clients miss the most?

Both my consistency in quality and value for money.

My customers see that I’m in it for the long term and not just for the money. I cannot afford to have a short term attitude, it would jeopardise everything.

SEH: What has been your best marketing investment to date?

My website’s Google optimization was worth it, I’d say I get 90% of business through this. The remaining 10% is social media – I find on my Facebook I have customers buying vouchers ahead for 2016 already.

SEH: What has been your most memorable customer compliment?

A Google Review recently was a great encouragement, it was a lady for whom I had catered a private party, and she confidently said that I was now her favourite chef!

She has even booked me again for later this year. I consider allowing my customers to completely relax being a major benefit of my service.

SEH: If I were to run your business for a week, what would be my biggest challenge?

Although you are a marketer, I believe managing all of my social media accounts for a week would be a real challenge for you.

Combined with all of the other plates I spin like accountancy and bookkeeping, I’m sure you’ll find it a steep climb.

Having said that, I’m of the mind that if you don’t know how to do something properly yourself, then it’s best to hire a professional. This leads to you focusing on simply doing what you do best to the benefit of your customers.

SEH: What are the problems which your customers thank you most for solving?

It’s more that they appreciate my approach. My planning and pricing are totally transparent. With me, customers know exactly what they are getting for their money. Honesty is the best policy.

SEH: If you weren’t running this business, what else could you see yourself pursuing?

I could see myself being a coach – either in business or for sports.

I have the tenacity to coach young people very well, perhaps in conjunction with charitable brands as an advisor or even through primary schools. I was once complimented by a professional coach for being well

SEH: Which area in your business if improved would have the greatest impact on your profit? How do you intend to change it?

Being profitable is especially difficult in the catering business with the multitude of direct and indirect costs of service.

Typically, such businesses make about 10-12% profit after all bills and expenses. So to manage this successfully I have to keep a very close eye on all margins and percentages.

I keep a strong financial head and break every pound down to pence. I have to be astute in planning, though this could always improve to increase profit.

Everything from travelling expenses to cleaning costs makes a difference to my bottom line.

SEH: How do you demonstrate value to prospective customers whilst they are still deciding who to commission?

I give a lot of my time to enquirers when they contact me. I make a real point of emphasising that my consultation with them is no-obligation, I give them plenty of opportunities to ask all the necessary questions.

One thing we are settled on in negotiation though is that we won’t budge on price. Our margin enables us to deliver excellently to the benefit of our customer and consistently so.

If it doesn’t profit At Ease Catering, then it doesn’t profit our customers either – cheaper is not always good value.


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