There’s More to Catering Than Selling in Bulk
The other day I was walking by an Applebee’s and I saw a sign in the window that read “Applebee’s Anywhere Catering.” I thought, “Wow! Applebee’s is catering?” So I popped in to have a talk with their catering chef. They didn’t have one. I asked them about setting up a wet bar and on-site cooking for an event at a local park. They don’t do that either. They handed me a menu and said, “This is our catering menu.” It was their regular menu only with larger portions and fewer options. They don’t even deliver, you have to go pick it up yourself. That’s not catering; that’s take-out.
Take a stroll by any of the soulless cookie cutter fern bars or worse a fast food joint and you’ll see advertisments that they now do catering. This is a disturbing trend right now among the nation’s chain restaurants. To start with they are lying to you, flat out lying to you. Secondly it is demeaning to all of those actual caterers across the nation. The service they provide goes far beyond large batch cooking.
In an article for HowStuffWorks.com Katherine Neer addresses catering by saying, “Food is definitely the star in the catering world, but it’s only one part of the equation.” She quotes Chef Joel Dondis of Joel in New Orleans who defines catering as, “full event planning,” adding that, “food is no longer a focal point, but rather that it is part of a broader mission.”
If you have ever watched an episode of Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible or The Private Chefs of Beverly Hills that is catering. Going where the customer wants, providing what the customer desires, cleaning up and heading out. A box of 40 chicken wings thrown at you through a drive thru window is not catering.
Most foodies remember the bubbly Jyll Everman from season 7 of Food Network Star. Jyll is the owner of Jyllicious Bites, a very popular catering company specializing in finger foods and hors d’œuvres in the LA area. I spoke with her about what it’s like to be a caterer and her thoughts on the chain restaurant industry abusing the word “catering.”
How has the Recession effected your catering business?
The recession has definitely had an impact on catering, which honestly surprised me! I thought people would be giving up on entertaining at restaurants in favor of having events at their own home, but I have learned that many of my clients have turned to “pot-lucking” or having me do the main dishes while they supplemented the rest of the food. Also, with so many people struggling to find jobs, getting laid off or having a decrease in their income, people are not throwing the normal holiday parties, company BBQ’s, etc.
Has your appearance on FNS helped your catering business?
Yes, especially through the holidays! I was actually turning down work, hired a sous chef to be at the events I couldn’t make it to, etc. It was awesome! Although, I found so many people wanted to be in the kitchen to just talk to me (about the show) that it slowed my cooking down quite a bit! Thank goodness I am used to a lot of distractions in the kitchen (cameras, producers and former cast mates! Ha, ha.) so I am able to work through the distraction. After FNS, very few things stress me out anymore!
How do you define catering?
The technical definition is “to provide food or entertainment” but I feel it’s so much more than that. I want to provide a sense of relief to the client, that everything is under control (even if it’s not!) and I am there to make sure they enjoy their own party. I am also there to make sure EVERYONE is happy. If a vegetarian wanders in the kitchen starving because she has nothing to eat, I will make sure to cook her something before she even asks.
Do you have any thoughts on chain restaurants that call their large portion togo menus “catering?”
I will just politely say that catering is a full service job. There are 100 details that go into catering, and just because you put food in a disposable container to be picked up, I do not consider that catering. I offer “to-go” food on my menu as well and would never call it catering.