With the current healthy economy, catering can be a great way to build cash flow and your brand.
It wasn’t that many years ago that catering actually took a break in the summertime. Tradition dictated that events were planned for before Memorial Day and then again after Labor Day. Like so many things in today’s world, catering is now a 52-week business. It’s not at all unusual to get invited to a Fourth of July or even a New Year’s Eve wedding.
So whether you are the food and beverage manager at a Manhattan hotel, or managing a Westchester country club or a Hamptons hot spot, you need to be on top of your game 24/7. My definition of that is the ability to create signature concepts that reflect both your facility and of course the current season.
It’s really interesting watching how you can tweak your table top to reflect the pressures that come with a $15 minimum wage on staffing. It can start with a move to a bigger coffee cup. We are also seeing a lot of thought going into the quantity and coffee of the bread basket.
My read on the new reality of a higher minimum wage is that you are in fact going to see a different type of turnover in the wait staff than you may have expected. It could very well lead to the return of the old days of the professional waiter. So restaurant owners knowing that they are going to have to have fewer waiters doing more can afford to be more selective and demanding of their staffs.
The other change that we are seeing is how vacation time and capital projects are being handled. It used to be that catering was a seasonal business. Today it’s 52 week of the year. So let’s take an example of a large caterer that needs to install a new flight machine. The approach today has been to close for two weeks, bite the bullet, have the entire staff take their vacations at the same time and comeback rested and ready to go as well as getting the install done without any sacrifice in service.
Catering also requires a re-evaluation of your inventory of banquet small wares. We can work with you to build a flexible base of small ware staples including stainless pans with induction warmers and wood risers and stands. We are also seeing a fresh new approach to how a caterer should handle small wares inventory. What we are seeing now is a change of how this is successfully mapped out. Caterers are doing a full mock up of the night menu and buffet and then figuring out the multiples of math function of the number of functions you’re hosting per date.
Among the trends that we are seeing this summer is a wooden farm look. It focuses on comfort and tends to be more homey than rustic. In many cases restaurants are using darker woods that are a little more polished but create a sense of comfort.
We are also seeing a lot of brass with an old flat finish vs. shiny where to create an aged look with almost a copper look. In many cases it is also being combined with a brushed metal or black matte finish.
One of my favorite finds of the year is using frozen fruit or vegetables as a garnish for a martini menu. Many of our clients are taking their vacuum sealer and sealing vodka and olives or onions which they then freeze. So the outcome is a fabulous dirty martini with frozen olives and onions with an ice cube garnish. It also works beautifully with brandy and cherries. I’ve seen them sealed and then frozen with chocolate. This year’s hot look for serving cocktails is the on-going return of traditional cut glasses.
I am also seeing lots of cool colors with cocktail service. With today’s mixtures of sweet and sour and spicy and salty, many of our BHS/Weiss customers are using the garnish to make a statement. Colored salt or a colored sugar for lavender are all in play this summer.
We continue to see our customers try to find the replacement to plastic straws. I just don’t see anything in paper that cuts it. We certainly can’t comfortably suggest a reusable to our customers. So at this point we are advocates of serving drinks without straws. So the best operators simply work around the issue. They get their customers to focus on the cocktail itself. I love the glasses being served in a mini-muffin tin. The servers loved it because the glasses didn’t spill and it was really kitschy looking.
It is always fun working with our catering customers as their culinary teams create new additions to their menus. This summer, we are seeing many of our caterers returning to fusion on their menus. You have a whole crew of young chefs that are very artistic. Our clients tell us they are seeing more experimentation than ever with Asian, Mexican and Latin fare all being mixed and matched. There’s also a new energy for fun desserts that include things like a lavender cheesecake.
Our BHS/H. Weiss team is here to help with updating your catering service and share our experiences as you look to keep it fresh for your customers.