The Caterers Corner
Buffets Caterers Corner: Buffets
By Cjay (Cjay) on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 05:56 pm: Edit

My Family andI are in the rest. business and are in the process of starting a wedding & banquet Center. We have catered events in the past but never any buffets. We want to offer buffets to our clients but have little or no experience in them. If you know of any books or personal advice that could be helpful to me would be greatly appreciated.


By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Sunday, October 26, 2003 - 08:35 pm: Edit

Go check out a few buffets where you live!
Nothing like seeing it live to help the creative juices flow!

By Steve9389 (Steve9389) on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 10:58 am: Edit

Or working at a few buffets. It's a completely different animal than a la carte or plated banquets, and you really can't know how unless you've tried it yourself.

By Smartbytes (Smartbytes) on Sunday, January 04, 2004 - 03:12 pm: Edit

Here is the text of a newsletter article I wrote for restaurants and other hospitality operations looking to start up a catering profit center. Hope you find the informatio useful. (the text will be divided into 2 postings due to size restrictions on individual responses)

Creating interesting, profitable, and logistically feasible banquet menus is an art of
balance and contrast: balancing kitchen resources between the banquet department and
other kitchen uses; balancing the creative ideas of the client and the banquet manager
with the production and serving skills of the staff; balancing customer budget against
food and labor cost; and insuring enough contrast in flavors, colors, textures and cooking
methods to make the banquet meal or buffet beautiful, interesting, and delicious.

If your new service is an add-on to an existing restaurant, the first place to look for
banquet menu items is your regular menu. It is, after all, familiar territory. You already
keep the ingredients in inventory. Your staff know how to prepare and present them. You
can showcase your signature items and encourage banquet guests to return to the
restaurant to relive an enjoyable experience. But not every recipe lends itself to banquet
or buffet service. When evaluating recipes for suitability, ask yourself the following

* Can the recipes be produced in quantity? Many dishes designed for a la carte
service simply do not lend themselves to volume production. Certain recipes cannot be
scaled beyond a certain point, but must be made in labor intensive multiple small batches.
Some recipes require intricate last minute finishing, and may not be practical for volume

*Can it be produced in advance? Recipes that can be prepared ahead ,stored
either hot or cold, and quickly finished for service can take advantage of slow production
periods in the kitchen and avoid conflicts for prep space, kitchen staff, and cooking
equipment during busy meal periods.

By Smartbytes (Smartbytes) on Sunday, January 04, 2004 - 03:13 pm: Edit

newsletter article part II

*Does it hold well? Some items such as most braised entrees hold well on the
buffet line or in a holding oven without loss of food quality and appearance. Other
foods, like cooked broccoli, die a quick death when held hot for more than a few
minutes. Unless you are set up to move them immediately from steamer to plate,
consider alternative presentations for cooked green vegetables such as chilled poached
broccoli, green beans, or asparagus with a lively sauce; and leave the hot presentations to
the carrots, cauliflower, and other vegetables that can withstand heat and holding. Serve
egg roulades (egg sponge rolled jelly roll style with a savory filling). or baked frittatas
instead of scrambled eggs. These items have the added benefit of advance preparation and
ease of presentation.. Avoid items that become crusty and dry within a short time, or
bread or pastry wrapped items that become soggy upon holding. Avoid lining buffet
platters and bowls with lettuce leaves if they will hold foods in acidic dressings. The
lettuce will become limp very quickly. Experiment with curly and ornamental kales
instead. Above all, design the buffet table to present food in quantities that will move
quickly, and replenish and refresh the table frequently. This avoids having large volumes
of food exposed to unsafe temperatures for prolonged periods, items becoming dry
looking or limp, and large containers unattractively half filled

*Can you produce the items with your current capacity? Do you have volume
cooking, holding, and serving equipment adequate to produce the menu within the time
you have available without seriously disrupting restaurant production? Do you have
sufficient staff with the necessary expertise to handle both your restaurant and banquet

*How easy is it to serve? Can buffet guests easily serve themselves or is a server
required? Do you have adequate space for a server and is there sufficient room in the
budget for the added labor? What does the item look like half way through? Take, for
example the classic decorated whole poached salmon. The initial presentation can be
spectacular. But whole poached fish are difficult to portion and serve. No matter how
skilled the server, halfway through the process, your beautiful salmon deteriorates into a messy carcass. Try poaching and decorating a smaller display fish. Stuff him with balled
aluminum foil to conduct the cold, and mount him on a block of ice to maintain safe
temperature. Surround your display fish with beautifully garnished portion cut pieces of
poached salmon fillet. and bowls of your favorite sauce. Factor the cost of the display fish
into your buffet price. You get portion control, ease of serving, the beauty of the display
fish, and no carcass to detract from your beautiful table. The display fish can be served,
if necessary, after the portioned pieces have been consumed. But by then, the buffet is
almost over, and the vast majority of your guests have seen your beautiful presentation. If
the display fish is not needed for consumption at the buffet, the meat is safe for use in
your restaurant to add price and value to your soups, quiches, or salads with no additional
product cost.

*Is there enough variety? A buffet should be a feast to the eye as well as to the
palate, with enough variety to insure that everyone in a diverse group ought to be able to
find sufficient food to make a meal. While this is less of an issue in planning menus for
served banquets, it is still important to make sure that any menu serving a large number
of people have enough variety that a common allergy ( such as to seafood)or religious
prohibitions(such as to pork) would not leave a guest with nothing else to eat.I always
recommend having something on hand that can serve as a vegetarian entree, both for
vegetarians and for others that can't eat the planned entree. You will find that your guests
and your host will appreciate the courtesy.

By Steve9389 (Steve9389) on Monday, January 05, 2004 - 01:44 pm: Edit

I work most Sundays at the Sunday brunch buffet at a moderately upscale casual brewpub, and I just finished a season working the very upscale pregame buffet in the Chicago Bears' club lounge. All of Smartbytes' points are good ones, and I would put a big star next to "Does it hold well?" Nothing turns people off more than dried-out, lifeless blobs sitting in a chaffer past their useful lives (the restaurant I work at has a big problem with this, especially with bonelesschix breast dishes -- go with bone-in, with plenty of legs and thighs).

And I'll add two:

*Focus on cold food. The Soldier Field buffet, at $40 a head, had only 3-4 hot items, an omelet station (including me), and two huge, identical tables featuring beautiful salads, seafood like shrimp cocktail, crab legs and raw oysters (on ice, of course), and stuff like hummus and pita. Folks loved it, it held for the entire buffet, and it looked gorgeous.

* Cook something to order. As I said, I did omelets at the Bears games and I do cooked-to-order pasta and carved roast beef at the restaurant. Food cost for a plate of either is way under a buck, it fills people up, and their immense popularity is well worth my hourly wage. It really is a cost-effective way to add tons of perceived value.

- Steve

By Chefspike (Chefspike) on Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - 11:03 pm: Edit

yea, more stuff per order.
it's a great way of getting rid of stuff before it gets to old.
example: someone making little cakes to order.
old cake-different flavors, old mousse (or whatever kind of cream ),fruit, nuts, ect....
everything in pastry bags, squirt,squirt your done and the people love choosing from different ingreidents. shvartvartles!
you can do so many little pastry items this way.
people LOVE watching this and if you can put a flash here and a twirl there, even better.
make it right on the plate, on a cake decorating wheel.
cover items with ganache'too little spoon full, oh man they go nuts.
squirt,squirt shvartvartles.

By Chefhdan (Chefhdan) on Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - 07:15 am: Edit

It's all about the sizzle & not the steak sometimes!!! AIN"T IT!!! Pasta or risotto stations are huge profit makers. I have even gotten away with a tossed salad station where the biggest cost was the waitron I stuck in a chef coat to toss salads & put them on a plate

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