Dealing with Unrealistic Client Expectations

We’ve all been through it. You’re sitting in a sales meeting with a prospective client and they pitch an idea that just does not make sense. There’s no way they could possibly think they could feed filet mignon to 150 people within that budget — or perhaps they want to serve a seven-course meal during a midday luncheon.

Dealing with Unrealistic Client Expectations from SBV - We Grow Value

Sometimes, client expectations are just unrealistic. As event professionals, it’s our responsibility to bring their expectations to light and show them what is realistic within their specific parameters. However, it’s important to do so in a respectful manner that treats your clients kindly without sacrificing your brand’s value.

Our experts shared their insight on how to deal with impractical client expectations — even if it means having to let them down gently.

Understand their perspective

It’s always better to be proactive, and the same goes for client expectations. You need to take the time to tap into your client’s mind early on so you can know what to expect — even if you consider it unrealistic.

 “The client rarely, if ever, thinks that what they’re asking for is unrealistic,” explains Alan Berg of Wedding Business Solutions, LLC. “When you’re the customer, have you ever asked for something that you thought or knew was unrealistic? The key here is to find out their expectations early, so you know whether or not you can meet and exceed them.”

Practice active listening

While you may have plenty of reasons to tell them why something won’t work, you need to let them express themselves as fully as necessary. As the client, they are entitled to have wants — even if they don’t fit into the parameters of the event. You can explain your reservations later, but you need to first let them have the floor to speak.

 “Most people just want to be heard,” reminds Meryl Snow of SnowStorm Solutions. “Allow them the time to speak. Stay calm, and keep in mind that the issue is not personal. Listen well and let them blow off steam. Then, acknowledge the problem and research the situation before taking action and offering a solution.”

 Focus on communication

Recognize that your clients don’t have the wealth of experience in catering that you and your team carry. What may be an obvious no-go for you might seem like no problem to them. Be sure that you are walking them through your company’s process and be open about your concerns about their ideas. Communicate honestly, but without condescension — that way, you can educate your client to set the right expectations.

 “Communication is the biggest thing here and being upfront and transparent about what is possible and what it will cost to make that happen,” says Anthony Lambatos of Footer’s Catering. “Most issues arise when we assume the client understands how our business works. The onus is on us and our salespeople to explain everything and ask questions to ensure they are on the same page.”

 Stick to your integrity

At the end of the day, there will likely be some clients who want you to provide them with services that don’t align with your brand. It could be that they want more than their venue can accommodate, or perhaps they’re expecting top-of-the-line services for a bottom-line budget. No matter the cause, you should not lose sight of your company and the value that it provides to its clients. 

 “We have learned through years of trial and error and from trying to be the ‘yes men or women’ that, to uphold your reputation, you just cannot compromise the quality or standards that you are known for,” shares Robin Selden of Marcia Selden Catering. “Honestly, you may not be the right fit for every client that comes through your doors and need to learn when to recognize that all business is not good business. Offer other solutions and recommendations of vendors that you respect and give these clients what they are looking for.”

 Lon Lane of Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions agrees: “We turn down business if they demand unrealistic things. We have to protect our brand. If we feel we cannot accomplish what the client wants, we will not do the event. Unrealistic goals = unhappy clients, unhappy guests, and damage to the brand.”

 Working with idealistic clients is part of the job. Thus, it’s important to nail down the right approach to carefully bring expectations down to par while still showing your clients that you value their ideas and are committed to their vision. Show them through actions that you can still develop a show-stopping menu, even if it means sacrificing a couple of concepts that are out-of-bounds.