HORS D'OEUVRES AND DINNER CATERING
Dinner can come off the same lunch menu that you are already successfully using. Sandwiches, hot entrees, etc. are what your business clients are looking for around dinnertime as well. You don’t have to change the portion sizes and pricing, it’s just a service that you offer at a different time.
First, decide what you’re offering; buffet, hors d’oeuvres, entrée choices, etc.
GENERAL GUIDELINES TO CONSIDER:
- Offer more than one choice of entrées. That way both the meat lover and vegetarian are pleased with their meals.
- Offer two or three salad dressing options for salad courses (remember onions on the side), including good quality oil and vinegar for the health conscious clients
- When possible, allow clients to add their condiments separately.
- Offer a choice of two desserts, one rich (chocolate brownies and cookies are always a hit), one for the health-conscious (fruit salad).
ITEMS THAT SELL:
Cheese & Crackers
Pigs in a blanket
Scallops wrapped in bacon
Build in room temperature items like salads, entree and appetizers, etc.
The logistics of dinner doesn’t vary much from lunch, it’s just another segment of the market that you’re offering at a time where other places may already be closed.
CONSIDER SPECIAL DIETARY NEEDS & FOOD ALLERGIES
In this day and age, you need to know if your clients have any food allergies or dietary restrictions.
- Food allergies such as dairy, shellfish, nut allergies, intolerances, etc.
- Food Intolerances such as gluten-free for clients with Celiac Disease.
- Religious requirements for clients following a Kosher or Halal diet.
- Voluntary dietary restrictions such as vegetarianism or veganism.
Many of this we covered in Breakfast and Lunch Catering, but this section for Dinner Catering can be applied to all areas of catering, so don’t restrict these tips to just dinner.
The catering industry has front-facing serving staff, those who work on-site hand in hand with your clients, and back-end chefs who work behind the scenes to help the front enders bring everything together. The ultimate goal is to achieve a steller final product that impresses your clients. Delivery representatives and sometimes sales/marketing representatives are the ones who interact with your clients at their luncheons, events, company picnics etc., but they are also the ones setting up the event as well. This is where consistency comes in it’s greatest form. The catering chefs are responsible for designing menus, preparing food, creating the on-site event menu, whether table-spread or buffet style and - most importantly - making sure no one goes home hungry! All caterers are responsible for making sure the event/meeting goes smoothly.
Take a look at these helpful tips, you newbies will find these especially helpful, they’ll surely help you run an operation that is free of snags and drama.
UNDERSTAND FOOD SAFETY - This is a repeating pattern that we continue to touch upon. Nonetheless it’s crucial to your success. As someone working with food, you want to know the basics of food safety. By now you should be an expert in this field having tackled the 25th yard line. Your entire team, including yourself should already have this training under your belt, but here’s a recap...Everyone from servers to chefs to catering managers must know about food allergies, dietary restrictions, current trends, and food safety temperatures.
- Make sure if you’re tasked with preparing food, you use separate chopping boards for raw meat and fresh veggies to avoid cross contamination. Also keep it in the forefront of your mind if your client has communicated that they have a food allergy. This is not a matter of inconvenience, it’s life or death, so all staff MUST be educated.
- When cooking, storing, keeping food on warmers or ice, make sure you avoid the danger zone (4 to 60 °C) so that no one is at risk for foodborne illness as bacteria multiply at an alarming rate when kept at these temperatures for a prolonged period of time.
- Cook all foods to the appropriate temperature (75°C or above or below that temperature if food is held at a temperature for a suitable period of time).
- Cool foods to the appropriate temperature (5°C).
- Store foods properly in airtight containers that are clearly labeled and dated.
- Hot holding foods should be above 63°C, or if not, consumed within a couple of hours.
- Reheated food should be raised to a temperature of 82°C. A time and temperature combination will ensure food has been safely reheated.
- Many of these preparations should be handled by the chef and his/her team who is preparing food for delivery, but it doesn’t hurt to understand these basic principles yourself, in fact, it’s to your benefit.
BOTH HOT AND COLD FOODS - For a catering chef, the demands of keeping all food hot can be astronomical, especially if you're cooking off-site. If you're cooking in advance of several orders, it's much more stressful to worry about how you'll keep everything hot until it reaches its destination. Pro caterers, who conduct large-scale events often choose cold hors d'oeuvres and a warm dinner - or even a dinner with foods that can be served at room temperature. These are great tips, and in the corporate catering industry very easy to accommodate. Grilled steak, roasted vegetables, and chicken can all be served at less than piping hot, but fish is delicate and has to be served hot. With this in mind you may want to steer clear of fish. Vary ideas with a taco bar, which believe it or not is a huge hit, buffet of Italian style entrees, and maybe even sushi...all are big hits for luncheons and corporate dinners.
THINLY SLICED MEATS - This is a big one. A great way to save money (in addition to spot-checking your scales to ensure that your vendors are delivering accurate amounts of food) is to slice your meats thinly. This doesn’t seem like a major feat, but believe me, this small act goes a long way. Guests often take three slices of meat whether the meat is thick or thin, so when serving a deli platter, verses a sandwich platter, this is a huge price break. Hungry guests can always go back for more, but they'll often find that the protein they've taken is enough. Choose cheaper cuts of meat too and marinate and tenderize them to maximize flavor.
PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE!Mentally prepare the tasks you have to do for the next night’s dinner, the night before - no matter your role. A chef can go through all the steps to get the food to the venue. The manager can decide what steps need to be taken to pull of the event/meeting without a hitch, and the delivery team can prepare the truck and decide which deliveries/routes are the most time-effective for the following day. If this is a tasting, it is essential that these plans are made the night before, with every single person on the team. If you are ever caught off guard or fail to deliver a stellar presentation then there’s only yourself to blame; poor planning, on all fronts. The night before, make sure all preparations - table cloths, cutlery, chafers, cambros, creamers, sugar, stirrers, napkins, etc. (the list goes on forever...and EVERYTHING should be outlined in your Operations Manual) are done ahead of time; the chefs and kitchen staff will want to prepare as many foods ahead as possible too to alleviate any stress.
STAYING HEALTHY! This is an interesting one, and probably not something you thought you’d find in The Virtual Playbook, but it’s extremely important and you absolutely must incorporate this into your daily lifestyle if you’re going to find success in this business. Find the time to stay healthy. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get to the gym when you can...don’t say you don’t have time, even the most successful entrepreneurs find time to keep in shape and stay in good health. If you’re wondering how much is enough, well the answer is, as much as you can do. If you still don’t think you can make it to the gym, then try opting for that salad instead of the burger next time, or how about taking the stairs instead of the elevator, believe it or little things like this have an affect. Catering is a demanding job, you spend the bulk of your time on your feet, sometimes for hours on end, walking between the kitchen and the delivery van, then often times up and down the stairs at the corporate offices that keep us busy all week. Of course nobody if complaining, but it’s no secret that you need a lot of energy for that!
The plus side of our industry, is that we are not typically serving passed hors d'oeuvres, so once set-up is complete we are finally free to take a breather. And that’s exactly what you should do, you’ve earned it.
Unfortunately, another part of this industry is that you may be tasked with several jobs. Just because you make the deliveries doesn’t mean you won’t be chopping lettuce on a busy morning when there are more orders going out than your kitchen is typically used to. You must be ready to conquer any task, that’s what a team does. But don’t fear, using this training platform you‘ll be adequately trained and prepped on anything outside of the realm of your typical work, so you got this.
Another tip to withstand the physical demands, which should be pretty obvious, is to get plenty of rest when you can, both mental and physical rest. Make time for other activities you enjoy since catering often takes up a lot of evenings. Take a nice walk in the park, go for a run, do some writing, or painting, play a sport, whatever your hobby. This is the only way to truly prepare yourself for the physical demands of this job.
ASK FOR HELP! There’s a lot to learn in this industry. Even seasoned professionals are learning new things every day, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Instead of making a mistake, it’s advisable to ask for help if you do not remember how to do something. It’s okay! We’ve all been there, and if you’re a newbie, it’s totally understandable that you may need a grace period. It’s better to ask too many questions (and do a job well) than to ask too few and make multiple mistakes - although many would be forgiving if you do make a mistake or two.
QUALITY CUSTOMER SERVICE - Excellent customer service is among the top priorities of the catering world. As a caterer you’ll provide customer service, quality control, hygiene, cleanliness, staffing, shift work, and sometimes budget work. You’ll have a lot to balance so make sure you’re able to withstand the demands. However, many caterers do say that when the corporate events begin rolling in, adrenaline is high and the job is a lively one, keeping you going for long, all-consuming hours. It’s important that you are polite, friendly, and diplomatic. You want your clients to rave about your service so you’ll continue to have a job weekend after weekend or evening after evening! It doesn’t hurt for the boss to hear great feedback from his valuable clients either.
GO FRESH, GO LOCAL!
Farm to Table, Farm to Fork, and the Eat Local movements are not just trends, they’re the keys to more delicious and healthy menus. When you’re selecting items for your catering menu, consider the time of year because seasonal foods should play a large factor in determining your food and beverage selections. Take into consideration the different food items available during the different seasons and plan seasonal menus for the freshest catering menu options. Another key factor is to consider the region or location of the event and popular food items from the area. Incorporating fresh seafood or regionally grown produce to reflect the local area and ensure some of the freshest ingredients will help make your catering operation stand out.
Sometimes it helps to take a word of advice from those who have walked in your shoes. When you have time, google some celebrity chefs, or some top local restaurants. Explore what they doing right and also what they’re learned along the way. This can only help you become a better caterer. Here are a few to get you started, but don’t stop here, be proactive and pick up this research on your own.
Rowley Leigh, Award-winning cookery writer and chef owner of Le Café Anglais.
"The biggest difference between professional and amateur cooking is the seasoning. I think a lot of cooks just add salt as an afterthought, whereas professionals use more salt, but they use it earlier as well. It's very important to bring out the flavours with salt at the beginning, for example, when you're making risotto. The other thing is that I'm never without a lemon. There's hardly anything I cook which I wouldn't add a squeeze of lemon, to heighten the seasoning and bring out the flavour.
Follow Rowley Leigh on Twitter: @LeCafeAnglais
Tom Adams, Chef and founder of Pitt Cue Co.
"I call this the lazy stock. Our restaurant kitchen is mini, and having only two induction hobs means that having a massive stock pot ticking over all day is dream. But since we use lots of trotter and smoked ham stocks in the sauces we had to find a way. We now cook out all our stocks overnight in the oven. You get a perfectly clear stock – all the impurities that you would usually remove through skimming stick to the bottom and sides of the pot.
Take lots of kitchen vegetable trim (celery, fennel tops, onion, garlic) and place in a pot with all your bones (we use smoked hocks, trotters and rib trim). Cover with water, then cling film and foil it. Cook overnight at 140c."
Follow Tom Adams on Twitter: @PittCueCo
Stevie Parle, Chef and founder of the Dock Kitchen, west London.
"There are some important things to remember when using spices. It's really important that you should always grind them with a pestle and mortar, always buy them whole, and always use a lot. The volume you use is crucial. Buying them whole instead of ground keeps them for more than a year, you get much more vibrancy in the flavour, and you're just crushing what you need. You can add a ground spice at the end of cooking, and that gives it a little lift, or you can add them in whole at the beginning. This is important with lots of spices, even black pepper – grind it with a pestle and mortar instead of buying it ready ground or using a stale old pepper mill."
Follow Stevie Parle on Twitter: @StevieParle