Friday, June 10, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Great Afternoon With Very Cool Caterers!

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with my friends from Finesse Catering in Chicago. I love to spend time with them because they know what type of company they wish to be and strive everyday to do some exceptional catering for happy clients in Chicago.

Finesse Cuisine's Tagline is:

The Finesse front of the house Team: Left to Right Jon Wool and Carole Wool (owners), Melanie Spratford (marketing coordinator), and Caroline Melia (operations assistant). Check out their website These are the kind of caterers that you can always call (I mean you are readers) to talk catering. Their phone number is (312) 280-9999.

(Here is some copy from their website that I really like)


What is the Finesse catered experience

For you, it means…
Custom creations blend form with function, substance with style – signature cocktails, synchronized wait staff, inspired décor…  
Expressions of gratitude from your guests – an outstretched hand, an appreciative smile, a heartfelt embrace – for a one of a kind experience…                                                                                                                                       
A growing realization that your vision has been transformed into the extraordinary.
For your guests, it means… 
Farm fresh ingredients that zing with flavor… 
Enticing aromas with high notes of passion and base notes of brilliance…  
A crescendo of conversation, a smile of satisfaction, then a deep appreciation for a truly memorable catered experience.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Special: The Handout From A Recent Speech

Note: I'd like to share with you the educational handout I gave to attendees at a recent speech I gave...

Managing Your Catering For Maximum Profit with Michael Roman, President & Founder
Catersource Magazine, Conference & Tradeshow

A. FIRST THOUGHTS: Customer service, creative menu presentations, plus real or perceived value, seem to be what buyers of catering are seeking. 2011 will continue to be a year for change, adjustments, and analysis with catering departments creating their own luck.

Catering Trends in U.S. Foodservice
“Going forward, we believe that sales will rise 9.1% in 2011 and 6.5% in 2012.”

B. Thoughts on Catering in On-Site Foodservice Programs: 
1. Catering is either a “service” or “expected” as part of your contract.
2. Catering can be a profit center, lost leader, or just a necessary evil.
3. A viable catering unit helps renew existing contracts while selling new ones.
4. Staff considers catering exciting, creative, and rewarding or just a lot of extra work.
5. Important to separate “drop-off” and “full-service” catering.

C. What We’re Telling Commercial Caterers: 
1. Think “Walmart” instead of “Costco” when it comes to product line development.
2. Shopper’s want an “iron chef” experience.
3. Some shoppers want to get to the end quicker.
4. Grasp the importance of your inbound marketing procedures and scripts.
5. Talk less about your food and more about your people, service, and presentation.
6. Value is saving money, looking good to others, or getting a “favorable” answer to a request.
7. Identify and sell your “Grandmother won’t get wet” benefits.

D. Simple and Inexpensive Marketing Ideas: 
1. Launch a tasting and/or demonstration blitz… get in front of old and new buyers.
a. Start in your public and food dispersion areas then move away if you sell the public.
b. Host “Food Critic” tastings.
c. Hold referral open houses.
d. Show-off what you do with food or you will lose market share.
2. Market and sell what your product/services do for clients… not just what they are.
3. Form Customer Advisory Boards.
4. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
5. Publicly thank your customers in a “testimonial” fashion.

E. The Current Catering Trends: 
1. How the food is presented and served is more important than the food itself.
2. Restaurants are going “big” while catering is going “medium to smaller”.
3. It’s important to talk about organic, green, and sustainable, but few will pay for it.
4. All-day inclusive catering packages for meetings are back strong – they represent value.
5. Branded foods are selling very well.
6. Food trends are being set by food network programs.
7. Most shoppers want to negotiate with the caterer for something.
8. Sanitation and food borne illness are now a topic of conversation during selling.
9. If you can sell weddings – go for it!

F. A Few Thoughts On Pricing 
1. Use matrix pricing – offer middle, higher, and lower packages all at the same time.
2. Sell down to sell up. Sell up to sell down. Sell up and down to sell the middle.
3. Use “per guest” instead of “per person.
4. Test oddball pricing - $38.37 per guest instead of the rounded-off price of $38.00
5. Resist selling “A” menus at “B” prices. Create “B” menus to sell at “B” prices.
6. List value of “no-charge” items on bids and invoices.
7. Offer “volume” discounts for size, frequency, and other loyalty factors.

G. Sales Scripts That Work: 
1. “Let me take a moment and share with you why our catering team is so special.”
2. “From what you’ve told me so far, I can assure you that we will have some very exciting solutions that will give your guests a memorable experience while offering value.”
3. “You’ve selected a very busy date for your event. I suggest we move as quickly as possible to insure that we are able to assist you.”

H. Final Thoughts: 
1. Sell “non-embarrassment” not just food, ballrooms, and meeting rooms.
2. Understand the differences between order taking and selling events.
3. Stop asking “What is your budget?” and start offering solutions at three price points.
4. Develop and practice “selling scripts”.
5. Catering will not fully succeed until it’s a stand-alone product line and profit center.
6. Tell shoppers the questions they should be asking and then answer them.
7. Catering really is a “growth” segment – please get your full share!

A Sample Field Kitchen Manual

Off-premise caterers live by their ability to have well-trained culinary staff at events to handle the responsibility of handling, preparing and presenting the menu. Off-premise catering is like a baseball team playing “away” games. Since cooking at events is always unpredictable, the staff needs to have guidelines to follow that offer the greatest opportunity for success.

What follows is a sample of what guidelines might be given to culinary staff at events. It is meant as an example of a manual that might be given to all staff who work in the temporary field kitchens that are created either inside a building or out. These kitchens are often setup in hallways, backyards, loading docks, or in a corner of a tent. In any case, they are the heart of any catered event.

1. Welcome/Preface
Welcome to ABC Catering.  We are one of the most sophisticated and professional caterers in (your town).  As field culinary staff, you will assist in preparing and presenting outstanding food which is flavorful, appealing, and visually beautiful.

We are intensely focused on pleasing the client with the highest quality food and the most professional service available.  We are pleased that you have accepted the challenge of working with us. This manual will acquaint you with the procedures and equipment you will encounter working in the field with ABC Catering.  Remember that you are the final contact between the company and the client and their guests!  Although ABC may be a second or, supplemental income for you, remember that you are also working with a team of people who have made catering their full-time career. We encourage you to expand your skills in all areas of event execution.  The more skills you learn, the more opportunities you will have to work with us.

As a member of the ABC kitchen team, you may also apply to work in our regular commissary.  While the pay is somewhat lower than the pay you receive while working events, there are several advantages in working at ABC location kitchen.

Those full, or part-time, kitchen staff that work in our commissary are given first priority when outside events are assigned.  Working a combination of field kitchen assignments and in our commissary will give you the best chance for increased hours overall.  Also, by actually preparing food to be served at events, you will become much more familiar with the ingredients, methods, and presentations.  This will help you communicate more effectively with other service staff, clients and event guests.

2. General Information
ABC pays all field staff at a rate of ($$$$$$) per hour.  The shortest shift you will be assigned to work is four hours.  Cash gratuities are not accepted.  If ABC receives a gratuity with payment for an event, the money is added to staff paychecks. Checks for all field work are issued monthly, within the first ten days of the following month.  You may have your check mailed to you, or you may pick it up at ABC.

Please keep a record of your hours.  If you have a question about your check, contact the staffing director.  Please include the following information:  date of the event you worked, hours worked, position worked, hours paid, the client’s name, and the job location.  Make sure you record this information for each and every party you work.  Keep the information until you have been paid for the event.

The fieldwork positions are filled on an as-needed basis.  There is no guarantee of continuous or regular employment.  You must be at least 21 years of age to handle or serve alcohol.  A clean, neat appearance, and a pleasant, professional demeanor are required for success at ABC.

The job requirements for fieldwork require stamina and the ability to do precise detailed, high quality work quickly.  This work involves long hours of standing and walking, and frequent climbing of stairs while carrying items.  It also requires lifting and carrying of food and equipment weighing between 10 and 50 pounds.  You may be assigned to load and unload trucks, or vans, help set-up the field kitchen and service area, and clean the event site before leaving.

Once you accept an assignment, you must work it.  In the event of an emergency, that would require you to miss an assigned job, you must contact the staffing director and the chef with a minimum of 48 hours notice.  Declining work when it is offered to you will not affect your status, but cancelling will.

If you get lost, or have an emergency close to your scheduled start time, you will need to contact the supervisor at the event site.  In the immediate hours prior to an event, there may not be anyone at the catering office, or commissary, who will be able to relay your message to the event site coordinator.  So, you might need to make a call right to the event site itself using the cell phone number that the staffing coordinator gave you when you were assigned the job.

3. Uniform & Field Kit
The uniform for ABC Catering staff for culinary functions at job sites:
            1.  Clean white chef’s coat.
            2.  Checkered “salt” and pepper” pants.
            3.  Hat or hairnet - a chef’s hat is rarely required, it will depend on your visibility at the event.  A clean baseball hat is usually adequate.
            4.  Clean white (full) apron.
            5.  Completely enclosed, sturdy shoes (steel toes are recommended), worn with socks.

You are responsible for providing you own uniform.  Make sure that it is clean and professional looking.  Please remember that the client will probably see you, even if the guests don’t.  At most job sites, there are no official changing rooms, so you might do well to arrive at the work site in uniform.   Some arrive in pants with clean shirt and don’t wear their coat until the function begins. Some events require special uniforms due to location, theme, or size. You will be notified in advance if these conditions exist. 

In short, your uniform needs to be spotless at the beginning of all events.  Staff will long hair must have it pulled up and tucked into a hat or hairnet.  Beards and moustaches must be neatly trimmed.  Jewelry should be kept to a minimum.  Do not wear necklaces, bracelets, or large rings.  You may not wear cologne or perfumes. 

In addition to your uniform, you are also required to provide minimal cooking gear that you will use in your job.  Be sure to mark, or identify, all your personal equipment so that it does not get mixed up with ABC or other staff’s equipment.  You need to bring with you to the job sight:
            1.  Chef’s knife.
            2.  Paring or utility knife.
            3.  Event information provided by the ABC staffing director.  Most importantly, you must have the correct address and driving instructions and the phone number of the onsite manager.

These items are not required, but many of our field cooks find them useful:
1.  Bread (serrated) knife
            2.  Slicing knife
            3.  Large and small spoons
            4.  Rubber spatulas
            5.  Matches or lighter
            6.  Small tongs
            7.  Side towels
            8.  Small sanitation thermometer
            9.  Cheap, dispensable watch

4. Supervision
While working in the field kitchen at a job site, you will be supervised by the chef, the sous chef, or the chief cook.  One of these individuals will be present at every event.  That person is directly responsible for the successful, and safe, operation of the field kitchen.  At each event, you should seek out these individuals and introduce yourself to them.

The ABC management staff has developed a complex and highly successful operational plan, for field kitchens, to ensure success of our catered events.  To insure that the system continues to function properly, everyone must work within it.  Whatever your past catering experience level before coming to ABC Catering, you must rely on the expertise and knowledge of your supervisor and the years of success behind our systems.

Events are supervised by a member of the service (front of the house) staff.  This individual is ultimately responsible to ABC for the success of the event.  The event supervisor often makes last minute changes in scheduling and presentation based on the changing demands of the client.  The field kitchen staff must respond quickly to the requests of the event supervisor.  Generally, you will not have contact with the client or the guests.  If a client asks you a very specific question about the food you are serving, you should answer or ask the assistance of one of the key chefs.

Questions from guests, or the client, concerning the event schedule, food quantity, food quality, presentations, buffet or plate design, staffing, etc., or ABC company policy must be referred to your supervisor.  If a client approaches you with any type of problem, refer them to your supervisor immediately.  In some cases, it might be best for you to take the person right to your supervisor.  In no case should you appear to be uncaring, or not aware of who your supervisor is.

You are responsible for team, and individual, efforts that help implement these changes as quickly and neatly as possible.  Your workload may increase, and you may become pressed for time, but it is essential that you maintain high standards of quality and a professional attitude.  Remember that many of these last minute changes are nobody’s fault ... and let’s all remember that this is a service industry where the host and hostess must be happy!

5. Arrival & Unloading
Always allow extra time to arrive at a job site.  This is especially important if you are unfamiliar with the location, directions, or the site itself.  You should also allot extra time if you are working an extremely large event.  It can often take ten minutes, or more, just to find the field kitchen once you are inside the location itself.  At your scheduled start time, you need to be dressed, checked-in, at your assigned kitchen space, and ready to work.  When you arrive at a location, ABC will have arranged for an area for you to change into your uniform.
Plan on extra travel time if taking public transportation.  Your checklist before leaving your home is:  your uniform, your equipment kit, the location address, location phone number, job assignment, and name of event contact.  Forgetting your information, losing your way, not finding parking, a slow bus, or getting stuck in heavy traffic are not valid reasons for being late to an assignment.  Remember:  it’s not the client’s fault if you are late.  ABC’s reputation and the client’s event are in your hands.

Once you arrive on site, you must check in with the floor supervisor. The staffing director will also give you, when you’re given your assignment, specific directions for which door/entrance/alley to use to enter the site location.  Usually, the floor supervisor will be in the area near the staff entrance.  If you do not check in, you will not be entered onto the time sheet for payment.  The floor supervisor will direct you to the field kitchen, where you will report to the kitchen supervisor and begin working.  Remember:  You must be in the kitchen, dressed and ready to work at your assigned time.

If you are scheduled on a long shift, your first task will be to help unload the truck or van.  If you are unloading a truck with a liftgate, be careful.  There is no safety feature on the gate.  When it is being raised and/or lowered, watch that your feet and hands are not caught underneath.  Also, be especially careful of all rolling racks.  Food items need special attention and need to be understood before moving.  Many of our food items are already trayed, or plated, so the wrong type of movement can cause problems!

When loading into a building, keep floor equipment (i.e tables, chafers, linen) separate from kitchen equipment (i.e. food, cooking equipment).  This will prevent constant re-moving of items from place to place.  Be extremely careful when moving things through other people’s buildings or living space.  Accidents often happen when moving large equipment through doorways.  In addition, serious damage can easily be caused to carpets and counter tops.  If you cause any damage to other people’s property, inform your supervisor immediately.  Also, if you notice already existing damage caused before your arrival, inform your supervisor immediately.

6. Field Kitchen Set-Up
Your supervisor will describe how he, or she, wants the kitchen set up.  It is important to set up as quickly as possible.  The earlier problems are discovered, the more time there will be to fix them.  While moving quickly you must also be careful and precise.  If food or equipment is damaged at this point, it is usually impossible to replace.  While you are loading in, think about load-out.  Everything that comes in must also leave.  This usually includes garbage and ice!  Very few sites provide for trash or excess ice disposal.  Double bag all garbage and do no overload the cans.  Do not pour liquids into the trash.

Usually, the order of tasks for the kitchen set-up is as follows:
1.  Protect the floor.  We send tarps or plastic mats to tape to the floor.  In an emergency, split garbage bags in half to cover floors.
2.  Arrange the large equipment.  Set-up 6’ or 8’ tables and arrange caves (rolling proofing boxes), hot boxes, and trash cans.
3.  Unpacking and inventory.  Unwrap each item and check it.  Make sure it is not damaged.  At this point, the supervisor inventories all food and party equipment.  If any item is wrong, damaged, or missing, now is the time to discover it ... early!  Never believe the label on a box ... never assume ... always look inside!
4.  Set-up convection ovens, coffee makers, oil fryers, caves, cassette and electric burners.  Locate our fire extinguishers in the cleaning kits.  Place them near the caves.  Make sure that the electric ovens are working and that they have the right number of shelves.  Make sure that enough canned cooking fuel is on hand.  Turn on all electric equipment to determine if fuses will be blown.  If any problems arise tell your supervisor.  If you need any assistance please ask your supervisor.
5.  Organize stations.  Your supervisor will tell you what your main cooking task for the evening will be.  Familiarize yourself with all menu items.  If you have questions about ingredients, cooking methods, or presentation, ask your supervisor.  You will describe to the floor staff everything that you are preparing.  Make sure that your station is well organized, and that you will be able to find things quickly.  Set-up a space where buffet items can be set aside until the floor staff needs them.  Split the plastic wrap along the bottom of platters and baskets with out removing them completely.  This will permit the floor staff to arrange the buffet while the food is still covered with plastic wrap.  Then, at the last minute, all the food can be uncovered quickly.
6.  Double-check everything!  Recheck food quality and readiness.  Find, and report, problems early!
7.  Maintain on-going briefing!  Things change rapidly during an event.  Keep touching base with the kitchen supervisor and other team members to keep everything running correctly!

7. Service Tips
Once the event begins, you will concentrate on serving the food.  Remember to be fast, be clean, and be professional.  While the event is in progress, you should work quickly and as quietly as possible.  Often, the kitchen will be set-up out of sight of the guests, but not out of hearing range.  Do not knock or bang equipment.  Remember to speak softly as well.  Cooperate with the other service staff. 

Remember, this is a team effort and everyone needs to work together to make the event a success.
Keep your workstation neat and clean.  This will help prevent damage to the site and will make cleanup faster as well.  Keep your trash organized.  You know that you will be removing garbage and unused ice at the end of the party.  In certain suburban areas, we need to be concerned about raccoons, dogs, etc, getting into our garbage, so pack it securely.  Plan ahead to make it easier on yourself.  Double bag and only fill cans halfway.  Do not let liquids leak onto the floors!  At most sites, we do not have access to sinks.  Water must be carried away from the site in closed containers.  It is of great concern that no injuries to staff be created while carrying heavy objects like water and garbage.

It may seem that we are painting a negative picture for our staff.  We’re sorry for this.  It just costs us all so much in time, money and safety when we don’t concentrate on what might go wrong.  One of your roles as a kitchen person at events is to maintain the fine reputation of our company.  We have worked for years to create a reputation that provides hosts and their guests with high expectations as to what they can expect from one of our events.  Therefore, you have an obligation to foster professional habits that will extend our past reputation and create even higher expectations.

It is important to be familiar with the foods you are serving.  If you don’t know what something is, ask.  Servers will assist you in learning and we hope you will do the same for others in the future.  You should know the name, all ingredients, what the sauce is, and how to present each food item.  Be aware that menu items change, or are served with a variety of options.  For example, clients may request a sauce different than the one which is usually served.  At the beginning of the event, “relearn” each and every item.

8. Passing Hors d’oeuvre
Many events begin with, or consist entirely of, one to three hours of passed hors d’oeuvres.  You will be preparing four to eight different types of hors d’oeuvres.  These are usually presented on a passing tray which is garnished with greens and flowers.  The dipping sauce, if any, is poured into a small bowl set on one corner of the tray.  Put a tiny wad of plastic wrap between the bowl and the tray.  This will keep the bowl from sliding around while the server carries the tray.  Each passing tray should carry approximately twenty to thirty portions of hors d’oeuvre.  This varies depending on the size of the event, the number of servers, and the type of hors d’oeuvre.  Your supervisor will show you a sample presentation on how each tray should look when leaving the work area.  Make the tray look exciting and beautiful!  Our presentation style is lavish and overflowing, so present your trays accordingly.

Use diagonal grids for stuffed mushrooms, cucumber hexagons, and potato pancakes.  Place some items in overlapping shingles.  Wedges of quesadillas and pizzas are set in pairs, with points overlapping.   Several items are served on skewers.  Chicken and steak items are cooked in the convection ovens as rolls.  They are then cut between the skewers into rounds.  The skewer point should protrude 1/8” from the roll.  Try to keep the skewers as clean as possible.  If the marinade or sauce is spilled on them, it burns, making the skewers black and messy.  Set the skewered items so that the skewers all point towards the corner with the sauce bowl.

The sales staff works with the client to determine how much food to serve.  The salesperson then forwards this information to the kitchen staff.  There is usually plenty of food to pass for the scheduled amount of time, but for a variety of reasons, food may begin to run short before the end of an event. 

Some reasons for running short of food are:
            1. Customer ordered for a certain number of people, but actually was intending to serve more.  Example they order for 150 guests, but they invite 200 creating a shortage potential for food amounts.
            2. Kitchen makes an error in preparation.
            3. Salesperson misjudges the “eating” energy of a particular group.
            4. Food is sent to the wrong party.

The easiest way to deal with the problem of food shortages is to gradually slow the kitchen’s output before certain items begin to run out.  Keep track of how much food you have left and tell the supervisor if you suspect that you are running short of any item.  The kitchen supervisor may also ask you to put less food on the passing trays to help solve the potential problem.  Also, please pay attention to the relative quantities of items.  Do not simply rotate service of items. In other words, don’t use more of one item than another which will help you eliminate running out of one item ahead of the rest.

9. Buffet
During buffet service, the kitchen is responsible for restocking serving dishes with reserve food.  One or more servers will be responsible for returning empty presentation containers and platters to the kitchen.  When you are replenishing, remember presentation.  Rearrange, or replace garnishes. Remember also to wipe all edges and make sure that visual, and real, sanitation has not been compromised.  When in doubt destroy foods that do not look proper.  Your supervisor will be happy to assist you in this matter.

Buffet service may seem easier to most first timers, but it really is more demanding than plate service.  During plate service the guests wait for us to bring them their meals, while during buffet the guests get irritated when they have to wait at the buffet after waiting in line already.  Buffets put into play a lot of psychology between the kitchen staff, the servers and the guests invited by the host.

Most of the items on buffets are cold, such as green salads, entree salads, cheesecakes, cold plattered meats, and breads.  Fondue, pasta, risotto, or stir-fry stations have canned fueled chafers or cassette burners as heat sources.  Some items, such as carved meats, quiches, savory tortes, and pizzas are heated and plattered in the kitchen.  They should be sent out in small quantities, especially later in the buffet period, when things begin to slow down, so food will not cool on the buffet or leave the safe temperature zone.

 At an event where a buffet follows a passing period, begin to break down the passing station as soon as the buffet is opened.  There will be a lull before the buffet items are depleted enough to need replenishing. Use this time wisely to break down and clean as much as you can.  Once the buffet closes, the servers will bring back the serving dishes en masse.  It is important to have the kitchen clean and organized before this happens.  If a staff meal is provided, the kitchen supervisor will designate a table as the meal table.  Some of the items returned from the buffet will be left there until all of the servers have had meals.  At other times, the staff meal may be offered before the serving begins and will consist of an entirely different menu than the one being offered to guests.

10. Plated Sit Downs
The most challenging event you will ever face is the sit-down dinner.  During sit-down we all work against the clock.  We have two enemies ... time and temperature.  First, we need to serve all the guests as quickly as possible.  Second, we need to make sure that the cold foods are cold and the hot foods stay hot during our dish-up and delivery to the guests. 

This is definitely a team task!  No one is more important than the server who is our first line of attack and defense with the guests.  The food quality and presentation that we achieve during plate service exceeds that found in many restaurants!  We plate assembly line style.  Each kitchen person is responsible for adding one, or two, items to a plate as the plate moves down the line.

The servers will carry the plates down the line.  Wait until the server brings the plates to you before you place your item on their plates.  If the servers are carrying their plates to high, or low, or if they do not stop long enough for you to place your item correctly, ask them to correct the problem.  This will not be popular with some of the servers, but it is part of the team concept.  It is imperative that you maintain precision and consistency as you work on the food assembly line.

A single plate may be just one of hundreds that you fill during an event, but it is the only plate that a particular guest will receive that night ... and you never know who will be getting an incorrect plate!  So, each plate forms an impression on the guest that will stick for the rest of the evening and maybe for years to come. If you notice that an item, being placed by another person other than yourself, is missing, or otherwise incorrect, please make the supervisor know it ... don’t be timid ... this is battle and only the strong will survive!

Keep plate rims as clean as possible. It is far easier to keep them clean than to have to wipe them off later.  Be especially careful with drippy meats and a squirt bottle full of sauce.  If you mess a rim, shout it out so it can be cleaned before going out to a guest.  While you can’t assume that the next person will correct your mess, there will always be one person at the end of the line who’s only task is to clean rims before they leave the kitchen area.

Keep your work area as clean as possible. Meat items are usually more easily placed on a plate that’s moving with your hands than with a utensil.  Obviously, if you decide to do this, or are advised to do this, you need to wear the disposable latex gloves that will be on hand in the work area.  If you don’t see them ask your supervisor. If you are allergic to latex, please inform the supervisor.

One of our company’s more experienced cooks will usually be responsible for restocking the assembly dish-up line.  When you are down to about ten portions of what you are putting on the plates, call for more.  You should only have to pause for a few seconds to replace your position with the new supply.  Never leave a plating line for any reason unless instructed to do so.  If you discover a problem, attract the attention of a supervisor.

11. Heat Sources
ABC Catering uses many different methods to cook, or heat foods at off-premise events.  It depends on the situation at hand.  Is there a kitchen available for us to use?  What type of menu do we need to heat? Here are some of the ways we accomplish the task when a kitchen is not available for us to use”

1.  Portable electric convection ovens.  These are used primarily to heat passed hors d’oeuvres.  Plug them in as early as possible to make sure that the electrical system in the home, or office, can take the amps drawn by the ovens.  These ovens become very hot on all sides, including top and bottom.  Leave several inches of clearance on all sides of these ovens.  Protect all counter, and tabletops by placing cardboard under the oven.  Always use the ovens at full power since they are opened so many times during the evening.  The aluminum half pans we use are slightly too wide to go easily into the cavity of the ovens.  Simply bend up the ends and they will fit.  Be sure not to put parchment paper into these ovens. Since the ovens often are jostled about, the doors don’t stay closed all the time.  Be sure to watch for this.  Also, when breaking down, be sure that the ovens have cooled.

2.  Charcoal grills.  These are used at large outdoor events to cook large quantities of chicken, brats, steaks, tenders, etc.  It is important to light the grills as soon as possible.  It takes about two hours for the large mass of charcoal these grills use to burn down to proper cooking coals.  Later, coals should be added a few at a time.  Only reload one section of the grill at a time, so that three-fourths of the grill area is useable at full strength at all times.  It takes careful planning and attention to make sure that the re-coaling remains smooth and consistent throughout the day.  The grill takes several hours to cool.  As the coals burn down, remove as many as possible and deposit them in the steel can provided for used coal disposal.  Keep the lid on the can as tight as possible to smother the fire.  Do not pour water into burning coals unless all food is packed away and the general area is free of guests.  Special Note:  When using a grill, or other cooking method, you need to have one of our portable fire extinguishers close by.

3.  Cassette burners burn butane gas.  The fuel comes in a can similar in size and shape to an aerosol can. The can gives between two and four hours of heat, depending on how high a flame is used. Since there is no obvious indication when the can is empty, you need to check frequently to make sure the flame is still on, sounds silly, but it’s important.  These burners are used for pasta and risotto stations on a buffet, and heating sauces in a field kitchen.  They also heat pans of oil to be used as deep fryers.  Before packing a gas burner, be sure to let it cool completely.  Turn the pan support upside down. Disengage the can from the cooker. 

4.  Electric induction stoves. These are the same size as the butane cookers above.  They use 110 electrical power and are used in the field kitchen and sometimes on guest stations.  The top of the burners don’t get hot to the touch, except when a pan has been on them for awhile.  These burners are powerful and cook very quickly.  They use special pots and pans that will be in the same packing box as the stoves. 

12. Event Breakdown
A great breakdown begins with a thoughtful set-up!  Start thinking about breakdown while you are loading in.  Planning ahead while you are unpacking makes re-packing at the end of the event much easier.  Organize empty boxes in an out-of-the-way spot.  Keep like boxes (i.e. boxes for cassette burners and passing tray) together.  Keep the site clean during the serving of the event and cleanup will be easier.
Once the passing period is finished, break your station down.  Wrap all reserved chutneys, vinaigrettes, salsa etc.  Cream sauces and all sauces which have been passed to guests, or left out of safe temperature zone, are to be thrown out.  Wrap the passing trays carefully; use the boxes they were packed in, if possible. If the convection ovens are not being used for buffet ovens shut them off so they will cool.  When they are completely cool to the touch on all sides, return them to their boxes.  If fritters are on the menu, turn off the deep fryer as soon as the passing period is over so that the oil can cool.  If possible, arrange a water bath for the deep fryer pan.  Return the cool oil to the container it was packed in, and wrap it several ways and in several layers of plastic to prevent spilling while traveling back to the catering kitchen.

Have the field kitchen clean, organized, and broken down as far in advance as possible before the buffet is cleared.  As the buffet items are returned to the kitchen, remove all serving utensils and ornamental vegetables.  If the staff is being fed, consolidate remaining buffet items on one or two platters. Place the empty platters, bowls, and utensils in caves.  Pack the glass and ceramic bowls carefully.  Wrap them in a few towels or in newspaper, then wrap them in plastic.  Return the garnishing vegetables to the case they arrived in.

It’s important to secure all used linens.  Remove linens from empty food baskets.  Baskets should be packed carefully in laundry bags, then boxed.  The floor supervisor will set up a used linen station.  Return basket napkins there, but do not put them into the laundry bags.  The floor staff needs to inventory them first. 

We often rent tableware, as well as many larger items such as tables and chairs.  The rental company usually picks up these items at the event site the day after the event.  The floor supervisor will designate a place to stack rental equipment.  Wipe off the tables thoroughly.  Put chairs back into their bags. The plates must be rinsed well enough to remove all food residue.  Be especially careful when sorting linens, tableware, and utensils.  Often both the rental company and ABC Catering equipment will be used on the event.  Sometimes these items are the same, or similar make, so when in doubt ask someone.

Once the kitchen is broken down, it must be cleaned.  Leave it cleaner than it was when you arrived.  Clean all counters and sinks.  Check and clean all walls, especially those behind your work area.  If you find any damage, or stains, which you cannot remove, notify your supervisor.  Clean the floor with the broom, dust pan and mop brought by ABC Catering.  While you are cleaning, check around the edges of the work area for forgotten items.  There are a few items which will be needed until the last few minutes of any event.  Do not pack them up, but have an empty box ready for them at the end of the event.  These items include: clearing trays, plastic wrap, china cap strainer, coffee pots, cleaning kit, broom, dustpan and mop.

13. Leaving The Venue
If you are scheduled to leave before the event ends, your supervisor will tell you when you can leave.  Before leaving, make sure that your station is tidy and organized.  If the event is still in progress, let your replacement, or the supervisor, know about any equipment problems, potential food shortages, or damage on the site.  Before leaving, you must check out with both the floor and kitchen supervisors.  If you do not do this, you will not be signed off the time sheet and your payroll will be affected.

If you are scheduled to work until the end of the event, you may be asked either to load the truck or help break down the floor.  The order in which we break down and load-out changes depending on the event schedule and the site.  Either the kitchen or floor supervisor will direct you.  If you are not sure what to do next, ask.  Remember that we almost always take all the garbage and extra ice with us.  Your supervisor will tell you if it’s permissible to use the site trash receptacles for garbage.  If you do not know, assume that you cannot.  Do not ever dump ice or dirty water into sinks, down sewers, or off of loading docks, even in the summertime.

Once the truck is back at the ABC kitchen, do not take trash into the building. It goes right into our large outside garbage receptacles.  Use good judgment when bringing food and equipment into our kitchens and storage areas.  Be sure to refrigerate all foods and put equipment back in its place.  When in doubt ask for direction, or follow others.

Please remember to clarify any doubts you might have or questions with your supervisor. Thank you for becoming a team member of the ABC field kitchen team!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Roman's Action Plan #284

I just love this list of "stuff" to get things into perspective. Use it next time you have a company meeting - you do have company meetings?

a. Unlike other caterers, you must project that you are very busy!
b. Speak and act positive at all times.
c. Imply and offer multiple pricing solutions.
d. Make a list of your ten top clients – work them!
e. Believe in customer harassment. Personally speak with them… now!
f. Send your best customers something.
g. Relearn the power of “snail mail”.
h. Go to the event – use your star power.
i. Hold open houses to troll for new clients.
j. Seek referrals from regular clients.
k. Cross-market your product lines.
l. Have your best people answering the phones.
m. Kill the answering machine during regular business hours.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

50 Years of Marriage... a very good thing!

Last night, Bernice and I traveled 70 miles south of Chicago to Kankakee, IL to attend a banquet honoring 50 years of marriage for our friends Bob & Jackie Donald. The banquet was held at the Kankakee Country Club. The dinner was prepared and served professionally. It was a very fun and enjoyable evening.

Bob Donald, believe it or not, was my 6th grade school teacher! We have been friends ever since. When I graduated teacher's college, Bob helped me get an outstanding position with the Chicago Board Of Education. Over the years we've fished, sang and had many laughs together. Our friends Bob & Jackie Donald - congratulations on 50 years of marriage, two wonderful children and three grandchildren!

Here are some shots of the food served by the Kankakee Country Club: