22 Quick Catering Fixes

22 Quick Catering Fixes

Here are some of caterers' best tricks for staying ahead of the curve. Plus…new mini and small plate recipes.

  1. Got an LCD screen in your dining facility? Why not create 30-second video spots showcasing your catering operation that can rotate alongside existing content? Many customers and employees may not know the types of catering services available to them, from handling small office birthday parties to parking lot cookouts.

  2. In these rough economic times, comfort food is still king. Try some fancied up potato chips to make people feel right at home. (see recipe on this page).

  3. A great menu reflects the weather and makes guests feel good at the same time. Damian Monticello, FMP, corporate foodservice liaison, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Jacksonville, FL, marinated grapes in grape juice, then froze them for a frosty appetizer at an 11 a.m. outdoor event under Florida's 95-degree-and-climbing August sun.

  4. Quick rule of thumb: For every 100 guests, include one complete buffet line. Therefore, a two-sided table can serve 200 people.

  5. Who hasn't witnessed the effects of a heavy steam-table lunch of Chicken Cordon Bleu with tons of carb-filled sides, followed by a rich chocolate dessert? That's the perfect setup for snoozing conference attendees. Keep them awake and alert with protein-packed whole-grain salads and fruit-based desserts.

  6. Practice makes perfect. At the University of Michigan's football stadium (aka “The Big House,” the largest football stadium in the country), 1,700 staffers face up to 140,000 hungry fans in 15 concession stand locations and 82 luxury suites, 55 of which are clear on the opposite side of the single kitchen. How does everything get delivered on time? “We do time runs with simulated orders. We put pylons out as obstacles,” Spencer says. “It's about finding the best route from A to B.”

  7. Get organized sooner rather than later. “I make lots of checklists. The more planning you can do, the better the events go off,” says Jessica Wright, executive chef, Jeffco Public Schools, Golden, CO. “We bring the dry goods to a secure location, figure out what can be cooked ahead of time. No one wants to be thinking ‘I know I forgot something.’” Checklists should be as detailed as possible and every employee should be aware of them.

  8. What adult doesn't sometimes love to feel like a kid again? Grown-up versions of childhood favorites tend to make a great impression at catered events. Check out this Tomato Soup Shooter with Grilled Cheese Croutons at right.

  9. Start with a tortilla and go from there. Tortillas can be spread with any ingredient combination you can dream up, rolled tightly, then sliced to make pinwheels (recipe, p. 36). Don't discount the versatility of this classic hors d'oeuvre. Try one of these trendy combos inside: goat cheese, chive & walnut; feta cheese, sundried tomatoes & chopped olives; bacon, tomato & guacamole; brie & pear.

  10. Mexican food ranked high on this year's NRA Chef Survey. With so many dishes in this cuisine being bean-based and vegetarian friendly, it's a destination worth revisiting. The street-food fascination still ranks high, so mini fish tacos could be a perfectly on-trend option.

  11. Planning on frozen treats for an ice cream social? Ask your ice cream vendor if you can borrow some extra freezers or display cases.

  12. In a setting where you can't use gas or open flame? “We use an induction burner for display cooking — nothing that produces a flame or a lot of smoke, which could leave a residue on the art,” says William Jones, director of catering for Parkhurst Dining Services at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. “It's a different thought process for doing foodservice,” Jones says. “We're required to stay 6 feet away from the art. You have to rethink what you can do.”

  13. Catering Econ 101: Set up the highest cost items last on the line and put out larger selections of ‘fillers’ first. The order on a burrito station: beans, rice, cheese and chips (the plate is nice and full at this point, as a guest moves down the line). At the end, set up the grilled peppers and sliced flank steaks.

  14. Get everyone on the same page. “When a bride says she trusts us to decorate, I always ask more questions," says Merrill Collins, director of events/catering, Connecticut College, New London, CT. She emphasizes the need to probe and probe to get as many specifics as possible, even if some have to be ruled out. “That way, we can match their vision. Develop a list of ‘the right questions’ that address what a customer may not be telling you.”

  15. A dollop of cream cheese added to eggs on a breakfast buffet prevent them from drying out.

  16. When it's not practical to grill individual steaks, cook a tenderloin, then slice it to order. That's how Jones of the Carnegie Museums handles serving food in the Music Hall Foyer, “an area not designed for foodservice at all.”

  17. Customize purchased items to give them the look of rustic house-made without the extra labor. Add some diced pineapple, fresh red onion or mango to a generic salsa and boost the impact in a big way.

  18. A gourmet coffee bar can double as a dessert station. Put flavored syrups next to coffee urns and sweeten things up with mini cupcakes (recipe p. 36).

  19. Menu tastings are a great marketing tool. For a quick business boost, deliver a sampler tray to a particular part of your organization to show off what you can do.

  20. During down time like spring break, have your staff make up batches of things like lasagna. Make a big roast, then freeze it or cut it up for a future barbecue.

  21. Let potential customers know that you have budget or value menus available. Use social media to convey catchy benefit statements with value menu promo.

  22. Blanching vegetables before they go onto a tray brings out their color, keeps them looking good longer and also helps with sanitation issues.