January 31, 2013 |

Catering: On the Road

By Jeffrey Freehof

catering dishesThe financial boost that comes from catering really and truly can take your business to the next level. There’s so much more to catering than one time monetary gratification. I find that each catered event I complete grows word-of-mouth. I generally get a couple of inquiries from each event. Now some of these events are small and simple, but think about this: a daily catered event for a staff of 18, at an average cost of $10 per person plus tax and delivery charge, adds more than $46,000 to my annual revenue — and that doesn’t include any large events. The good news is you already have everything you need (with the exception of perhaps catering pans) to make this all happen.

Half- and full-size aluminum pans are essentials for your entrées. Use the aluminum lids instead of foil. It’s sturdier and much more professional. Some disposable catering trays are great for sandwiches, cold cut platters and desserts. Make sure you keep them in stock for that last-minute order.

Here are some of the most popular things you can offer:

  • Baked ziti with meat sauce
  • Lasagna
  • Chicken broccoli Alfredo
  • Chicken Primavera
  • Chicken Parmesan, Piccata or Marsala over pasta u
  • Stromboli (sliced on a platter)
  • Sandwich platters with assorted wraps
  • Pasta or garden salad

I like to provide bread and salad with two pasta entrées. If you don’t have any kind of dinner rolls, then simply cut your sub rolls into 2-inch-thick slices with butter on the side. I price everything to serve eight to 10 people and I use the half pans for each item.
I charge:

$12.95 for a garden salad
$5.99 for bread with butter cups
$32 for baked ziti
$38 for chicken & broccoli Alfredo with penne pasta u
$38 for a pan of four-cheese lasagna
$45 for a pan of meat lasagna
$45 for a pan of Chicken Parmesa
Marsala or Piccata over pasta: $65 for a sandwich platter for 10.

Now, if you are feeding a group of more than 10, simply put your food into the full pans instead of halves (which will actually hold enough food for up to 30 people since they are deeper). I use one pound of raw pasta to cook for every 10 people I’m feeding, which initially may seem insufficient but will be enough after adding meat sauce or chicken and broccoli to it. Let me give you some creative alternatives to take your catering menu to a more diversified place than most of your competitors.

Here are some of my favorites:

Chicken Pesto Primavera is a simple variation of our Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo, which is comprised of sliced or diced chicken breast, steamed broccoli, cooked penne pasta and Alfredo sauce. For the Primavera version, simply add some of the other veggies you’ve got in the restaurant. Since we have a dinner vegetable medley that we offer with our entrées that is made up of roasted zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and caramelized onions, we toss that in with the pasta and a little bit of our pesto. By adding these two ingredients, we’ve created an entirely new entrée.

Chicken Roma is another simple dish with slight alterations that creates a slightly lighter dish version. It’s essentially the exact same dish as the Chicken Pesto Primavera, except this dish has no pesto. Plus, instead of being all Alfredo, we use mostly piccata sauce, which is made with chicken stock, lemon, wine, salt, pepper, garlic and little bit of roux to hold it together. Add a small amount of cream or even Alfredo to bring a creamy texture to this dish.

Chicken Giordano is yet again a creative entrée that can be enhanced from your traditional chicken marsala, which is made with some sautéed chicken breast sliced mushrooms and a marsala wine sauce and chicken stock, salt, pepper and garlic with a little roux to pull it together. Now simply add a very small amount of marinara sauce, sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts to create this new dish. This would be great served over pasta as well.

There are a couple of important things to remember with these pasta catering dishes. The first is that although it’s best to typically cook our pasta “al dente”, I like to go just one stage more than that and fully cook the pasta (but not overcook it) for catering. The reason for this is because your pasta is still thirsty, in a sense, and wants to drink up any liquid. So in essence if your pasta is al dente, and the amount of sauce on your pasta seems totally sufficient, 30 to 40 minutes later when this office is about to dig into your delicious creation it will be very dry because the pasta will have absorbed the sauce. Don’t be afraid to over compensate just a little bit with your sauce for catering without having the pasta swimming in extra sauce. I also like to use penne pasta compared to spaghetti because it is much easier to serve by the spoonful.

Take your new catering earnings and do something great! Perhaps some beautiful chafing dishes for those big events!

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.