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Review of the Catersource 2011 Trade Show

If you are involved in on/off-premise catering you must attend the annual Catersource conference and trade show in Las Vegas, NV.

I started to write this post the day after attending — however I have been consumed with several large and demanding projects. So here we go!

With very limited time this year – March 1st I headed out early Tuesday morning driving East across the barren Mohave desert towards the new city of lights — during the transition from a dark night to an Electra dawn.

With the windows rolled down, breathing in brisk desert air and listening loud to; The Ramon’s, Pink Floyd, Puccini, Sinatra, Country and some new electronica dance music while channel surfing thru an extensive menu on Satellite radio. This made the long drive pass quickly!

Industry trade shows and gatherings such as Catersource, are a rich depository of industry related information, education, relationships fostering experiences, and a library of trivia.

Later at some opportune moment – what was collected is called upon and used in some purpose, often not for the intended purpose. Basically you get to see a lot of new and very cool ideas, concepts and interesting people. I constantly found the long time pros helping newer players to excel!

What did I see that was new and or interesting to an information and idea junkie like me and perhaps you?

I started at one end of the trade show floor going aisle to aisle and booth to booth finishing as the doors were closing and people where preparing for the spectacular Tuesday night party.

After so many sales reps are asking the usual monotonous, “How are you?” I cut to the chase by asking, “What’s new? What’s unique?” Usually followed with “What are people attending the show finding interesting in your booth or with your company or products and services?” and the inquisitive “How does you product, compare to brand X.”

That’s the point where we get down to business and have an information exchange and usually learn something useful.

Setting aside the wonderful suppliers for a moment, it was really great to meet the people attending. Some I have been exchanging emails with – as readers of this blog, some new — we just met for the first time while scoping out a booth or demonstration — all united with a common cause to get better at catering!

Here is some of what I saw and found interesting at the trade show. You may already know about these ideas, perhaps you will find some new here!

Art of Flame "Fire on Water"

Art of Flame    www.artofflame.com 

Fire on Water!

As you may know, I’m big on “function over fashion” any day of the week – however the flame floating on water in a glass container, takes the prize this time.

Medrith Nolan, the inventor is a chemist. She figured how to make a unique safe, visually stunning multipurpose decorative flame. Her creation is simple, intriguing and so safe — it often passes the open flame limitation with ease.

I had a great chat with her and applaud her for turning her idea into a success! Yes she has some new design coming out – so don’t wait. Now you can make use all those glass vases collecting dust in the warehouse.

I expect to see her floating flame creation gracing tables at events and talked about widely.

 Vikki Smyth   www.vikkismyth.com 

Vikki is my favorite designer for working with acrylics in all shapes, colors, sizes. Jackie has managed blend the gray area of function over fashion, always with stunning results. She is simply the best for “floating food in the air concept.”

You will find she is full of energy, passionate with her infectious enthusiasm — morphing science, craftsmanship, and art into some really amazing wow attention-getting designs. Everyone I’ve sent to her for solutions and products over the years is always satisfied!

Black or white Honeycomb is her newest design — which can create a “vertical bento box” display. There are lotsa’ combinations that make this a crowd pleaser for displaying Hors d’oeuvre, Tapas (Small Plates), Dim Sum and Desserts.

ISI North America    www.isinorthamerica.com

Carol Kentis was showing off new “carbonator” aka as the “twist & spakle.”

Thru some incredible end of show discounting — I picked up a new “Twist and Sparkle” unit and a Thermo Whip Plus.

Already I have put the “Twist & Sparkle” to good use pumping CO2 into wide variety of beverages — all were great over-the-top experiences.

This has been a great hit at several parties carbonating a variety of juices; cranberry, orange, apple, pineapple rum, coconut milk, mango, guava, grape juice. I have been giving this puppy a work out. Jack Daniels, a few dashes of Reagan’s #6 orange bitters chilled and carbonated became very popular at one party for toasting shots — fizzy cosmopolitans at another. Lemon infused sparkling water at another. Adding air makes a difference.

Thermo Whip Plus

The thermo whip Plus is more than a whip cream on demand maker. Fresh whipped cream is always enjoyed for a high end coffee or dessert bar.

Warm Bailey’s Irish Cream foam was hit at St. Patrick’s Day parties.

However the optimal applications for the Thermo Whip Plus are far more exciting — especially when you blend in lessons learned from macro-gastronomy.

I have been fooling around separately with warm beet, carrot, sweet potato, and green pea foam to dress plates – an airy tempura bather with great success and I even experienced a few food fatalities. The Thermo Whip Plus – as the name implies is insulated — so dressing up warm plated food on a fast-moving plating line with a hot sauce-foam is a breeze and will keep you outta’ the weeds!

I’m on mission to create some tasty soy-based foam for those lactose intolerant and hard-core vegans. If you have ideas — let me know. I promised my newest “BFF’s” at ISI, that I would share and post my research so that others can benefit!

BTW I’ll being writing more extensive posts on these wondrous culinary tools here at the blog soon.

Sunkist Bar Buddy

Sunkist Bar Buddy

        www.sunkistresearch.com/index.php?mod=product&id_prd=510&idctg_prd=67

Sunkist Bar Buddy has been around some time, an indispensable tool for high volume consistent cutting (sectional) of wedges and slices of apples, oranges, lemons, limes and tomatoes.

What’s new? Additional blades such as the 10 piece wedge. The new 10 wedge blade saves you money on bar garnishes and is absolutely perfect for cutting lime wedges for small tacos. Besides the 10 wedge sized lime wedge fits better in the top of a bottle of Corona beer.

Cutting limes for bar service often is often delegated to on-site bartenders. Really the preparation ought to be preformed by the kitchen or select staff — so that lemons and limes and other drink garnishes are prepared properly saving time, keeping on-site labor in check and maintain consistency and quality of cutting.

Bamboo Imports         www.bambooimports.com 

Extreme customer driven picks and skewers created from bamboo. Losta’ colors, styles, shapes, great service.

While talking with Ryan Young, he showed me several examples of customer wish created products. Ryan explained, “Caterers are in the food serving and entertaining business. We’re in the sourcing and production business to support caterers. Most of our products were created by requests from caterers. We’re always on the look out for new requests.”

Fresh White Endive

California Vegetable Specialties      www.endive.com

Belgian endive has been used number of times as an edible transport vessel-carrier for a large variety of toppings.

When I asked what’s new “Humus bars” was the reply. With so many variations on flavored humus there certainly is potential. Great ideas on how to use endive at the site above.

Belgioioso Cheese         www.Belgioioso.com 

Famous for their authentic Italian style cheeses — especially the mozzarella sheets — was another visit after the endive booth. So with the new concept of humus bars, so I asked, “Why not soft cheeses?”

Belgioioso creates 12 different flavors of soft cheese that when formed as cannels or piped would sit nicely in the endive. So another food presentation idea worth considering.  

Big Ass Fans New Pivot 180

 

I have been an advocate for several years. The fans do the trick of moving large volumes of enough air at low speed to lower temperature.

Showing off a new Pivot 180º Fan, that will be great for cooling event and kitchen-cooking-preping tents during warmer periods.

  

Blaze Products            www.blazeproducts.com

New clear container, looks cool behind glass blocks supporting a warming griddle because you don’t see the container. Another nice plus is that you can actually see how much fuel is left.

So instead of tossing ½ used fuel cans at the end of an event, cap’em and use the remaining fuel next time, you’ll same money and help the environment.

 

The new chork: a blend of chop sticks and a fork The Chork http://www.thechork.com The Chorkä is quite an idea blending a fork and chopsticks together. How many events do you take tons of forks and chopsticks for Asian food? The Chork solves the problem with one utensil that will certainly be a popular topic of conversation.I have another idea for the Chork -- which I’ll reveal in another blog post!Electric Buffet Burners

Buffet Burners    www.buffetburners.com

Bob Feaglery enlightened me about the applications, ease and smart use of this electric chafing dish heaters for adopting existing chafing dishes. Using existing chafing dishes is the key point here.

As you know many,  historical sites, office buildings, and venues prohibit any open flames – so instead of buying new electric only chafer dishes — adopt these heaters to your existing rectangular and round chafers.

The heaters meet the no open flame requirement and from further discussion if you are at a venue on a regular basis — I suspect the operating cost and safety consideration beats using the canned fuel.

 

 

Caviar Specification Tool Kit

Chef Rubber   www.chefrubber.com

Chef rubber is a great resource for macro gastronomy, tools, specialty pastry ideas. It was a lot of fun to see some many items — get your hands on them and ask questions about use. The staff was such a treat to answer questions and offer ideas!

If you have been thinking about adding Caviar spheres or perls to dishes or cocktails and weren’t quite sure where to start, this is the place. Order the Caviar Specification Tool Kit and start making tasty luscious pearls right away.

I have been looking at using round silicone molds to use to make ice spheres for drinks for specialty bars such as Scotch bars. The round sphere melts slower — so the cocktail is cooled and not watered down.

I found a 2” dia. silicon sphere mold here that’s perfect for a whisky bar.

Creations in Lucite     www.creativecoverings.com

Edgy display and in clear, opaque, black plastic and a willingness to  customize.

Demarle   www.demarleusa.com

Food grade fiberglass and silicone molds-shapes for well; butter, sorbet, chocolate, ice cream, bread, mac & cheese bites and more. This is one of those thrust your imagination into overdrive for possibilities companies.

I’m not a big pastry maker. However I often marvel at the creations, and am always borrowing techniques and ideas for other and cocktail creations and enhancements.

Sterno    www.sterno.com

“Flame on!”

New Sterno Jet Burner

Sterno was showing off their new Jet burner. This innovation will be outstanding for certain stations where portable fast heat is needed to finish off dishes that also has stylish form.

New Sterno Torch

The new torch was also on display. Seems the days of carmelizing desserts and such with my plumbing torch are coming to a close. The canisters use the same fuel source as the butane stoves.

Xroads Philippine Sea Salts             WWW.Philippineseasalts.com 

An informative chat with Lennie who founded the company. Her sources follow traditional sea salt farming practises long time in the making. The taste of her salts were fresh and clean!

I have been considering using finishing and or premium sea salts as lead generation offers or gifts to select clients packaged in special vessels. The different textures, flavors and colors is certainly appealing especially when finishing seafood dishes. Xroads has some truly unique bamboo packaging.

I learned that all sea salts are to be labeled with a notice about possible allergic relations to shell fish. Often sea salts contain some trace amounts of what causes a reaction. There’s nothing like a guest experiencing anaphylactic shock to dampen the enthusiasm for a party.

Mini Push Up

J.B. Prince    www.jbprince.com

Another kid in candy store moment with lotsa’ things — hard to find, unique culinary tools, and I didn’t have to travel to Manhattan. The booth staff was as always very helpful answering questions, and explaining new and different applications. What a joy!  

JB Price has the new push ups cups in two sizes that have become so popular for breakfast, snacks and desserts!

Vanillaness at it's best!

Nelson-Massey Vanilla     www.nelsonmassey.com

Beth was a real treat to talk with. I received an in depth education on vanilla —  a spirited debate concerning vanilla from Tahiti and New Guinea or Mexico, plus a review of some other new flavorings and extracts – which I will be experimenting with shortly.

Sensational vanilla flavoring that fills your mouth with wholesome “vanillaness” Ummmm so good!

Pick On Us   www.pickonus.com

There was the book: “Stick It, Spoon It, Put It In a Glass” signing with chef Eric B LeVine, certainly a masterpiece to add to your culinary library.

There was large display of so many different ways to secure and transport food; picks, skewers, stirrers, etc. of all types of color and shape and design.

3M

New “Scratchless” stainless steel scouring pads — that doesn’t leave marks on stainless steel. Essential for cleaning stainless steel display items that have accumulated crud – you know the kind where the only grime removal tools left are harsh chemicals or elbow grease.

New Safe Tray

Safe Tray                 www.safetrayproducts.com 

There was two nice lassies from Scotland. One was Alison Grieve, the inventor who was was pitching in a very charming way her new Safe Tray.

The Safe Tray I believe, has great promise.  The collapsible handle on the bottom is perfect for learning balance, stacking and a few new magic tricks and navigating thru crowds that have been happily drinking. see the video at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSgayqzrcks

Safe tray is “spot on” for training new inexperienced staff to hold, balance, serve and clear tables with a tray. We had good a good chat about establishing distribution and learning to drive on the “right” side of the road. I plan on using he trays for training new staff soon. I wish them well!

Must Have Sklips

Skipco    www.sklipco.com

I have seen the ads for the sklips™. This was the first time I could actually get my hands on them. A simple, functional design for turning sheet pans into stacking racks.

I bought a box and have been using them extensively on events since the show where counter and shelf space was limited.

Another great application is to use them give some height to buffet tables which are usually flat. Stack a few sheet pans add some draping to cover the pans and suddenly you are escaping flat land, safely.

Suggest you order a box or two of each size and add them to your culinary tools arsenal.

Cocktail Rimmers    www.cocktailrimmers.com

Rimmed cocktail glasses especially for specialty welcome or signature cocktails at events present an incredible visual, tactile-tasty garnish which instantly increases the perceived value to guest.

With over 30 prepared varieties of colored, flavored sugars and salts makes this the one stop shop for cocktail rimming. Every color and flavor I had been challenged to create and experimenting with over the past few years was here. Great, now I can move on to something else. 

 I love the Wrap-N-guard for at least two ideas; a built in nice stainless steel stylish wind screen — which comes in handy on windy days for outdoor events, plus the space saving design that require less space for transporting chafing dishes.

Space saving at first, doesn’t seem like such a big idea…until you try packing 26 chafing dishes for a large event. The space taken up is huge. Or if you are trying use one van to deliver several hot lunches to be served from chafing dishes. The space saving and bulk reduction helps a lot. 

 
 

 

New Misty Stix

 MistyStix                  www.dryiceflordia.com 

 

Having been challenged at some events like large outdoor weddings on hot summer afternoons in Southern California with getting 200 cold Moijtos or Margaritas served quickly to thirsty guests as the ceremony concluded.

Faced with no freezer or cooler and limited resources; time and staff – I often inserted small pieces of dry ice into the drinks, to cool and not water down the cocktails. The icy smoke cascading off the glasses always looks so inviting. However my dilemma was always guests grabbing a cocktail too soon and burning their lips on the pieces —  I was often fishing out the larger pieces as the trays left for passing.

MistyStix solves the problem. The capsule stirrer holds the dry ice and preventing burns from the dry ice. The unit can we washed and reused.

BTW the way I also learned of this terrific site for locating dry ice anywhere in the world www.dryicedirectory.com something to add to your computer and cell phone favorites.

Truffly Made   www.truffymade.com

What I liked best was the simple clean mold designs and a willingness to help and even create custom molds. I told the rep in the booth of my quest for round ice spheres. He promptly showed me a sphere mold that was just over and 1” in Diameter.

He provided me with samples for testing. Now I’ll be ordering a few molds to make smaller ice spheres for some special cocktail and drink events.    

 

Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar

Gourmet Blends         gourmetblends.us 

There’s a lot of good Balsamic vinegar floating around these days. Some OK, some good and what I found here had an exceptional clean, wholesome, satisfying taste — I dreamt for a moment I was standing in an aging room somewhere in Modena, Italy and that we were lucky to sneak a sample of something that had been waiting 12 years just for this moment!

The quality is high and the blends such as vanilla fig are sensational for dressing up some strawberries, persimmons and ice cream!

Best part two parts the boys can ship on large volume packaging – so you don’ have to fool around with all the smaller bottles and they work with you to create and work out the details  for special unique gift packages to give to clients!

Summary

As mentioned in the start of this post — I listed just some of the more interesting booths I saw at the trade show. Can’t wait to put to use many of the new and different ideas I found.

Mark your planner now for next year: February  26 – 29 th 2012 in Las Vegas, NV. 

Hope to see ya’ there!

P.S. Want more information on Catersource 2012?  Here’s where to go:      
                                         http://www.catersource.com/conference-tradeshow

 

 

Essential Tools For Servers!

What tools must every server have when showing up to work?

At most catering companies, banquet facilities and hotels — there’s no list.

You will find at better run, finer, high-end catering & banquet operations there is a list.

Let’s start with basic essential tools; a polishing cloth, waiter’s cork screw, flashlight, pen and notepad, a cell phone, and a can-do good positive attitude.

When working with catering companies to improve service, a recommendation to management usually includes this short list of tools as “conditions of employment” for the serving staff.

Notice is given to the staff, with time to conform, and then “inspect what is expected.”

If staff arrives at events without the proper tools — they can leave, get the tools on their own time, and then return prepared to work. You might be staff tight on an event or two. However, word will spread quickly among the staff and suddenly the “I forgot” excuse disappears and service improves!

If the catering company never serves beverages in crystal, glasses or stem ware – skip the polishing cloth.

If wine is never served at your events, drop the cork screw opener and replace with a basic pocket knife. A Swiss Army knife with a cork screw is a better tool of choice. Here’s why:

Years ago at an event, a guest showed up unplanned with several cases of wine. Being the only server on staff with a cork screw, the host gave me an extra $80.00 tip for opening the wine bottles with my Swiss Army knife cork screw.

Rethink the glass and wine service aspect, because there’s huge opportunity for increasing revenue proving these services.

Besides the perception of quality of an event with wine service, glass, or crystal vs. plastic cups is much higher.

 

Magical Polishing Cloths - Flour Sack

 

1.   Magical Polishing Cloth  

The high concentration of polyester and little if any cotton in table napkins doesn’t work for polishing silver, stainless, glasses, flat and stemware.

The best tool is a 100% cotton polishing cloths, AKA “Flour Sacks.” Yes, Grandma was “correcto mundo” on this point of using a good dish cloth.

If you don’t have the flour sack type polishing cloths — Bed, Bath and Beyond and Williams-Sonoma are great sources to get them.

Cut the cloths (32″ Width x 38″ Length) in half; hem the cut ends and you have twice as many polishing cloths. Add your name to the cloth with stitching, or a marker.

Once a fantastic member my staff Julie, dyed her polishing cloths orange, resembling her brilliant hair color. There was no mistake the orange colored cloths belonged to her.

Color coding like a name on the cloth helps with easy owner identification.

Flatware

When placing flatware, use the polishing cloth to polish-wipe-buff out any water spots, or film residue.

The trick is to place the flatware, in the polishing cloth, while holding the cloth in your hand. Buff out the flatware and gently “Push” placing the flatware onto the table, in the correct position.

This method leaves no finger prints or smudges on the flatware and knife blades sparkle. A little practice and you’ll get it.

Glassware

A polishing cloth is the bomb to “polish-wipe-buff out” any dust, residue water spots on crystal, glasses or stemware that’s not up to par.

Have cloudy or water spotted glass and stemware?

Steaming or boiling hot water with a shot of white vinegar is part one of the trick here.

Use a thermos, a small pot of boiling water or even water glass full of steaming hot water for the wetting powers of steam.

Expose the glass in question to the steaming evaporation for a moment, then wiping with a polishing cloth — usually does the trick.

If the servers setting up  need to to use stronger methods such as a full vinegar dip or making a paste from baking soda and water several glasses, then some one needs to addrss the problem be getting on site.

If the glass has lipstick on the rim, have the glass cleaned again.

If dusty, dirty, spotted, or cloudy glasses with mineral deposits are constantly arriving at your events — then you need to have a serious chat with the rental supplier or dish washer.

Staff should not have to polish, wipe out every glass.

Polishing Is Attention To Details

Clients, planners, coordinators, photographers, and guests who arrive early are always impressed when they see serving staff polishing various items.

Later comments heard include,” This is an excellent caterer. You know — I saw the staff polishing the forks, knives and glasses when we first arrived.” They figure if you pay attention to the flatware — the food and service will be “A Game” quality.

 Step Up The “Bling” At Buffets & Stations

Polishing cloths can add last minute luster and shine to silver service buffet chafer dishes, serving utensils or an elaborate silver urn coffee station.

If you are using stainless steel chafer dishes, the water spots, finger prints and smudges can be buffed-wiped away with the polishing cloth. A little stainless polish helps too.

A polishing cloth has many uses including; insulating hands from hot entrée’ plates during service delivery.

Once a guest fell during an event and fractured her arm. I fashioned a splint and made a sling out of polishing cloths. Her family drove her to the hospital. She returned later to join the party — giving a few hugs and a generous tip to the staff. 

 

Waiter's Cork Screw

 

2.   Waiter’s Cork Screw

A Waiter’s Cork Screw aka “pull or lever type wine bottle opener” is next. Carry the opener in your pocket all the time when working on events. Use the foil cutting blade for opening packages during setting up.

Try out a few different types. Some openers are small, stainless gracefully adorned with rosewood handles.

A few are big, plastic and easier for newbie’s to handle. Find one that feels comfortable to work with because some day the opener and your hand will get a real work out.

Avoid at all costs the F-18 drone wine bottle cork extractors, you know the ones where the arms like wings are pulled down to extract the cork.

Staffs often earn extra tips for opening bottles of wine table side providing they know how to provide wine service properly.

 

Mini Mag Pocket Flash Light

 

 3. Flash Light

Carry a small flashlight. Read the “Be Ready For Service” blog post “Let there be light.” 

Pocket Note Pad

4. Pen and Pocket Notepad

 A pen enables you to write information, special orders, directions, and changes.

A small (3”x5”) spiral top pocket note pad works best for easy quick reference and keeping track of details while nesting in a pocket.

Think of the small expense as an investment in yourself.

You may be able to deduct the expenses from your taxes. Your tax advisor can best
advise you on this.

Besides staff will make more tips!

 

Cell Phone

 

 

 5. Cell Phone

Nearly everyone has a cell phone these days. Often the cell phone is glued to fingers or ears.

Serving staff need one for especially for communicating. If staff is late to an off-premise event, staff needs to call and let the lead-captain know what’s going on.

Some times incorrect addresses or directions were given to the staff and the cell phone is the life saver.

Walkie-talkies are the tool of choice and need to be used on events for communicating among the staff. A cell phone works in pinch.

Staff needs to put away cell phones while working — so they are not making, taking cell calls, updating face book and twitter or checking the Nikkei Index for stock prices. When guests observe staff texting and talking they feel “dissed” and ignored.

I have been known to collect cell phones from offenders and return at the end of the event along with a stern warning.

 6. A Can-Do Positive Attitude

A good positive attitude is the most important essential tool to bring to every event.

A good attitude will get you through rough spots and challenging and unexpected moments that crop up in catering.

There are millions of pages, thousand stories and books written on the importance of, and having a good attitude.

I encourage you to read them often as they provide inspiration and assurance — a sorta’ “charger” or pick me up.

What it boils down to is; make a decision to have a good attitude and doing your best!

When you excel at any thing and do your best — there’s personal satisfaction.

Some times going home tired after an event where you gave your all and made a difference in some way, is a great physic payoff — even though there was no tip.

“Think not of yourself as the architect of your career but as the sculptor. Expect to have to do a lot of hard hammering and chiseling and scraping and polishing.” –BC Forbes

Polishing Your Brand

Keep doing great work and find ways to turn your work and style into something outstanding, over-the-top, sensational service. Let’s call it “Your brand.”

Set an example, help other staff members out. Many will balk.

Ignore them and keeping pushing your limits, style and techniques. Others will take up the challenge and collectively most of you will get even better in small subtle ways. Remember, “All boats rise with the tide.”

Some one will notice your actions and with that comes acknowledgement and more opportunities and better financial rewards.

Basic To Basics

This list here of serving essentials covers the most basic items.

Depending upon the season and locale bug spray, sun screen lotion, a snack, some bottled water, a lint roller and shoe shine brush, plus a few other items might be in order too.

Since I don’t know it all – and if you have a suggestion for the list – let me know.

Keep polishing and hold on to your aprons,

“Pass The Salt and Pepper Please”

If you are “On the Floor” as I am often, at catering events you hear this request a lot.

Despite the best quality ingredients and the magic of a talented chef — some guests still want salt and pepper on their food. Yes, some have been known to sprinkle salt and pepper before  tasting the food. I refer to that as “Asalting the food.”

Reasons for adding salt and pepper to food include; being food snobs, old bad habits, damaged taste buds due to smoking, or a guest claims to add salt to prevent dehydration on a hot day. Some guests like the aid to digestion that back pepper provides and some simply enjoy black pepper’s savory warmth.

Even though black pepper is the world’s most traded spice, black pepper usually is overlooked in the shaker — as some basic mediocre commodity on the table until something happens or a decision is made to kick it a notch or two.

Disaster In The Making

We’ve all seen it…

A guest removes the black pepper shaker top and tries to lightly sprinkle black pepper on their food and ends up dumping most of the shaker out – for any number of unintended reasons. Sometimes these guests want their course replaced because of the pepper dumping.

Good quality table salt and ground black pepper does not belong in plastic, shiny metal bullets, aluminum mini canisters or paper packets mixed in with packets of sweeteners for coffee or tea.

Coronita Mini Salt & Peper Shakers

If you’re serving BBQ or Baja style fish tacos — OK then I’ll opt for the smaller Coronita beer bottles as shakers because that fits with food theme and decor.

However in more formal service, salt and pepper shakers need to be glass or crystal, clean and polished; meaning the holes are not clogged, no water spots, food particle or smeared fingerprints from the last week’s event.

Good etiquette suggests that two salt and pepper shakers be on one 60” round table — one of each shaker per four – five guests. The shakers need to in the same location on each table — say at 3 and 9 o’clock.

There needs to be enough fresh salt and pepper in the shakers, so the guests don’t have to ask for more.

Why Are Guests Removing The Tops Of Black Pepper Shakers?

The reasons include; the shaker was overloaded, the contents are compacted from over filling or expanded grains from absorbing moisture, the shaker holes are clogged (dirty), or the ground black pepper is larger than the holes in the shaker top.

The last point escaped me till a member of the staff, pointed it out one day after replacing two elegant plated entrée’s. Tim said, “Look here, the ground pepper in the shaker is larger than the holes in the shaker top. How are the guests supposed to shake the pepper out?”

I replied, “Good Point. I never saw that. We must work on a solution and make it better!”

We did. Here’s what we discovered and the course of action taken.

I talked with the Executive Chef. We spoke at length to several suppliers and became more knowledgeable on table salt and ground black pepper.

After considering options we made some decisions. Then we established some written standards and procedures to provide an above average experience for the guests, regardless of location, menu and serving staff. We wanted quality ingredients, an over-the-top guest experience and consistency at all events. 

What’s Inside Counts!

As for table salt in most cases, pure anodized shaker salt is the choice.

If you are going high-end or looking to truly enhance the guests dining experience consider finer (smaller) ground Kosher or mediterranean sea salt.

The taste of either is cleaner and there are no additives as in iodized table shaker salt. Make sure that the salt in the shaker will pass thru the holes in the shaker top.

Some Back Ground On Black Pepper:

The word “pepper” is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit pippali.

The English word for pepper is derived from the Old English pipor.

Black peppercorn

 

Black pepper comes from the dried ripen berries of the pepper plant (Piper nigrum), a climbing vine in the family Piperaceae. The plants are native to India’s Malabar Coast, where the Malabar pepper and Tellicherry pepper hail from.

Tellicherry is a higher-grade pepper, made from the largest, ripest 10% of fruits from Malabar plants grown on Mount Tellicherry, hence the name. Tellicherry has just a bit more warmth, zing and earthy aroma.

Currently Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing roughly 34% of the world’s black pepper crop. Black pepper is also grown in Indonesia, Brazil and a few other tropical regions.

So depending on where the black pepper was grown will have influence on how it tastes. Check your sources and origins carefully. The French have a term for this called “Terroir” The literal translation is how the earth, water and air — the growing environment affects the taste of fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, seafood, etc.

The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately 5 millimeters (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red when fully mature. Although we are focusing here on ground black pepper — I’ll mention briefly about the other peppercorns. We’ll talk about using freshly ground black pepper in grinders in another blog post.

 

 

Black and White Peppercorns

Black peppercorns: Are picked when green and dried in the sun until they turn black.

White peppercorns: Ripen on the vine, the berry is fermented and its red-brown skin is removed. Be careful as some unscrupulous suppliers have been known to bleach the peppers to avoid the peeling step.

Green peppercorns: Are picked while green and not yet ripe. They are then freeze-dried, dehydrated or packed in brine or vinegar.

Pink peppercorns: Are the dried berries of the Baies rose plant, mostly grown on Reunion and Madagascar. The Baies plant is native to South America not India, and really isn’t a pepper plant.

Black pepper like coffee is being cultivated in small batches around the world. Recently an organic black pepper crop from Ecuador arrived. Great earthy taste, however the heat intensity is just not suitable for table service. Watch for new developments as it seems closer to the equator is better for growing and more heat!

Many things have been used to extend pepper, including juniper berries, pea flour, mustard husks, and papaya seeds. Check the quality carefully.

 

Getting Your Salt & Pepper Shakers Outta’ The Weeds!

Gather all the salt and pepper shakers used for guest table service.

Line them all up like attentive soldiers. If you have different styles and heights, separate them and then decide on only one style. Get rid of the mismatches, obsolete units and replace with matching shakers – so all your shakers are the same.

As the shakers degrade over time this allows for scavenging tops and bases as you replace providing you stick with the same design and supplier.

Order some extras (back ups), as shakers have a tendency to wander off. Be sides good stylist salt and pepper shakers are not very expensive unless you go for crystal.

Samll Pepper Shaker

I like smaller shakers. Smaller shakers contents are fresher and they are less obvious on the table.

TableCraft makes several nice shakers. (http://www.tablecraft.com/storefrontB2CWEB/browse.do?action=refresh_browse&ctg_id=759&root=747&dispatch=itemdetail)

If you decide to get rid of all your current salt and pepper shakers spend some time looking around for a size, style, design that you like and price that makes sense and assurance that the manufacturer will be around. Once I found some great styling shakers at Ikea. A large quantity was purchased only to find out nine months later the line was discontinued.

Some manufacturers make the holes in the pepper shaker top just a little larger than the salt shaker tops – check and sort accordingly.

Some others add more holes for the pepper or for the salt. The jury is out on which goes in what shaker based on the number of holes. Just go with what you like.

Dump out all the salt and pepper. Inspect threads on the shaker and top for spice accumulation and plugged holes. A wooden tooth pick, a stiff tooth-brush, and a small container of warm water are good for cleaning the messy threads and holes out. 

Inspect the glass shaker and tops. If a shaker is chipped, scratched, the top dented, rusty, or corroded replace it.

Pepper and salt more so, absorbs moisture which causes the contents to cake up and not shake out – so the salt and pepper needs to be replaced at least once a quarter. In locations more humid and closer to the ocean — you need to refresh the contents more often.

Soak all the shakers to loosen all the accumulations and then pass the shakers and the tops thru the dishwasher for a good cleaning.

Make sure the shakers and tops are completely dry, before refilling.

Now is a good time to make sure the holes are clear, as sometimes pepper grains become lodged in the shaker top holes.

Polish the tops of the shakers. A soft polishing cloth composed of a cotton flour sack works really well.

Bed, Bath and Beyond is a good source if you don’t have some. http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?SKU=14667172. There are several other good uses for the cotton polishing cloths which I will cover in another blog post.

Fill Up

Start with clean hands.

Place two grains of dry uncooked rice to the salt shakers to absorb moisture.

A large wide mouth squeeze bottle or small mouth funnel with a teaspoon will make filling the shakers faster. Avoid over filling and leave some room at the top for the contents to shift when the shaker is turned over and shaken. Having a ½ sheet or hotel pan to collect the overflows and helps keep the work area clean.

Size Does Matter

What ever ground black pepper you decide on must fit thru the holes on the shaker top.

Get some samples from your suppliers to taste and test to see that the ground black pepper passes thru the shaker top holes.

A good supplier will ask what type and size grind you are looking for. Usually pepper grinds are classified or based on passing thru a shifting mesh.

Mesh is a term that refers to the number of openings per linear inch in a sifting screen. A fine grind, such as a 30/60 mesh, would sift through a screen with 30 openings per inch, but would stay atop a smaller screen of 60 openings per inch.

Coarse dustless grind: 20/30 mesh, many people prefer this grind of pepper to the shaker grind; the slightly larger-sized grind seems to have a little stronger flavor, yet it will still fit through a standard pepper shaker hole. Be sure and check though.

Dustless grind: 30/60 mesh; is a very popular ground black pepper.

Here’s a great example from Penzeys Spices.

http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeysgroundblackpepper.html

Transporting Salt And Pepper Shakers To And From Off Premise Events

Depending upon the number of guests in attendance determines the amount of shakers needed – remember budget two each for each table. Look back at your event guest counts and sort the events into size groups say 20-60, 50-120, 200, 250, 300, etc.

Standardize on the shaker packing sizes. If you send an extra here and there, it’s OK. This will allow you to pack the shakers in advance, therefore not having to count them each time you go to an event. You just grab a box(s) based on the guest count and go!

Get rid of the cardboard boxes. They get wet, soggy, trashed and if the shaker inside turns sideways or over — you have salt and pepper all over.

Salt & Pepper Transport Containers

Get some airtight food storage containers like those found at organize.com (http://www.organize.com/lolofostcosh.html). These are great for transporting the shakers to and from events.

Label the containers “Table Salt and Pepper Shakers” and the name of your catering company. Why “Table?” Because special interactive station-buffets set ups will be using a different types of finishing or flavored salts and peppers and you really don’t want table salt and pepper — so the “Table” designation avoids the confusion and embarrassment later.

Maintenance

The salt and pepper shakers need to be inspected after each event and made ready for the next usage. This falls under side work and is a great way to fill time for staff waiting around for the next assignment or in between pickups and deliveries.

A few minutes of inspection, top off and cleaning and polishing gets you already for the next event.

Summary…

Seems like a lot of attention to salt and pepper shakers.

Yes, however we were surprised first by the response from the serving staff and then from guests who noticed the attention to details and for making this small aspect of service better, than before.

Hold on to your aprons,

In The Bag!

“Man that’s the biggest lunch bag I ever saw.”

The voice came from a disheveled looking guy. He was leaning against the wall as
an effort to keep it from falling down. 

“It’s not all lunch. The rest is some things that we might need — so today’s event is a success!” I replied with a smile.

“You probably were an Eagle Scout too.” He says after taking a long drag on a cigarette.

I replied, “Matter of fact — I still am. Like a Marine, you always are. Being prepared — doesn’t get old — it doesn’t fall out of fashion. Sometimes I never touch what’s in the bag of tricks. Other days, I’m in the bag a lot. It depends — I just like being prepared.” 

A minute later the wedding coordinator (The bride’s sorority sister from college) arrives and says distressed “The bride’s maid dress seam split. Do you know where I can get a needle and thread?” 

Reaching into my bag and handing her my sewing kit. “Here you go. Please return this when you are finished.”

“In business or in football, it takes a lot of unspectacular
preparation to produce spectacular results.”
                                                                                            — Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame Football Player

Things happen at events. The MOB (Mother of the Bride) wants to know if someone has aspirin, bobby and safety pins. Power out on a wall. Swinging door needs a stopper to hold it open. The client’s Vice President of Sales wants to hang a banner from the T-Bar Ceiling and has no idea how to. Photographer needs a “sun blind.” Equipment breaks. The “DJ” (a family friend) has no tape to safely secure cords or wires. You’ve heard all the stories before.

Often little things evolve into a big nuisances — the bar tender stung by a bee and is about to pass out. A can of Sterno gets knocked over and sets the table linen on fire.

I would not expect most servers or bartenders to take the time and assemble a magic bag. In Los Angeles, in most cases, servers can hand you their latest script faster than a band-aid.

Event leads and captains ought to make up their own bag. Then there are those few dedicated Special Forces type staff that will do it on their own. I either case building a bag is a very good investment!

Will it cost some money? Yes, not much.

Some off-premise catering companies may make this bag up for the staff. .. a smart move. Otherwise think of the bag as an investment — not just some expense. If you are the most reliable, problem solver staff member, chances are you will have more work. Oh yeah, check with your tax advisor about how you “might” be able to deduct the cost off taxes.

So the next questions are: What sort of tools need to be assembled?

Leatherman Multi Tool
Leatherman Super Tool 300

I always wear a Leatherman® tool on my belt when working events. It’s “function over fashion” statement. The Leatherman® tool is indispensable Swiss Army knife on steriods — a real work horse for off-premise catering. I reach for this trusty companion during events to cut, hold, fix, tighten loose screw, saw off branches in the way. Etch your name on the handle; otherwise it can grow legs when borrowed.

Bag of Tricks

Magic Bag of Tricks

 

“To be prepared is half the victory.”
                                                                                                              -Miguel de Cervantes

So what’s in the magic bag?

The large carrier is a Marshalltown (Mason) tools bag. It has pockets inside and outside, which makes for practicing “Mise en place;” Door stopper, work gloves, polishing cloth, etc, all have their own pocket. 

Some colleagues have opted for a “box dolly” a box on wheels. Use what ever functional container you like.

Inside the larger bag is smaller bags. I like the multipurpose document holder bags found at Home Depot. Smaller items go in the documents bags labeled; First Aid, Service, Tools, Staff, Misc. This makes it easier to sort and find things in a hurry. 

Depending on where you are — you may want or need modify the contents to deal with seasonal and local weather or environmental issues. The contents are not cast in stone. I usually find myself adding a new item or replacing something every so often.

Here’s the list of what’s in my magic bag.

# Qnt Bag Item Notes
1 1 First Aid Kit, First Aid (See List) Things happen
2 2 Misc Apron, Short W/ Big Pockets Repetitive tasks tool pouch
3 8 Misc Bobby Pins Pull hair back
4 100′ Misc Cord, Clothesline 1/4″ Tying, hanging or lashing
5 1 Misc Finger Nail Clipper W/File Fix finger nails
6 50′ Misc Fishing Line, 30 Lb. Test Tying, hanging or lashing
7 10 Misc Gloves, Latex Clean up or handling food
8 4 Misc Lighter, Long Stem Lighting candles and canned heat
9 25 Misc Ties, Wire – Plastic Repair and secure 
10 100 Misc Rubber Bands Securing what ever
11 10 Misc Safety Pins – Various Sizes Just in case
12 1 Misc Scissors Cutting
13 1 Misc Scouring Pad, Cleaning 3M brand
14 1 Misc Sewing Kit, Small Repairs
15 1 Misc Soap, Dishwashing Small Washing dishes & hands
16 1 Misc Spray-Spitzer Bottle, Small Refreshing flowers
17 100′ Misc String – Mason Line Aligning, tying, hanging or lashing
18 20 Misc Table Linen (Cloth) Clips Securing table linens in the wind
19 1 Misc Library Wax Tub Secure things
20 50 Misc Pins, Long Stick Pinning decorations
21 12 Misc Clips, T Bar Hanging from T-Bar Ceiling
22 1 Prep Flashlight Seeing in the dark
23 1 Prep Headlight, Seeing in the dark
24 2 Prep Batteries, Flashlight Back up
25 2 Prep Batteries, headlight Back up
26 1 Prep Knife, Pocket Opening boxes, cutting things
27 1 Prep Note Pad 3 X 5 Writing notes and labeling
28 1 Prep Pen, Sharpie Black Labeling
29 1 Prep Pen, Sharpie Red Labeling
30 3 Prep Pens, Blue Writing
31 2 Prep Post It Notes – Pads, Large For temporary labeling
32 1 Prep Writing Pad Lined Write things down
33 8 Oz Prep Salt, Kosher Kitchen back up
34 2 Serving Opener, Paint Can Prying pans in chafing dishes
35 1 Serving Bottle Opener, Speed Style As needed
36 4 Serving Candles Emergency
37 4 Serving Cloths, Polishing Flour Bags Polish stem and flatware
38 2 Serving Cork Screw Open wine bottles
39 1 Serving Crummer Clear crumbs from tables
40 1 Serving Spatula, Heat Resistant Back up for cooking-serving
41 1 Serving Spoon, Serving – Slotted Back up for cooking-serving
42 1 Serving Spoon, Serving – Solid Back up for cooking-serving
43 1 Serving Tongs Back up for cooking-serving
44 1 Staff Mints, Breath Breath freshener
45 20 Staff Cough Drops Coughing staff
46 1 Staff Brush, Shoe Shine Last Minute Polish
47 2 Staff Razors, Disposable For staff not shaved
48 1 Staff Shaving Cream For staff not shaved
49 1 Staff Deodorant, Spray Freshening up
50 1 Staff Sun Screen, Spray Skin Protection
51 1 Staff Bug Spray Keeps the bugs off
52 1 Staff Lint Remover Roller Serving staff looks neat
53 1 Staff Pain Reliever, Advil Minor pain management
54 2 Staff Power Bars Back up energy supply
55 1 Tools Count Down Timer Reminder-special timing
56 1 Tools Crazy Glue, Tube Fix things and first aid – cuts
57 4 Tools Door Stop Hold open swinging doors
58 1 Tools Magnifying Glass Assist in removing slivers
59 1 Tools Pliers, Offset Fix or repair some things
60 1 Tools Screw Driver, Phillips Head Fixing-repairing
61 1 Tools Screw Driver, Flat Head Fixing-repairing
62 1 Tools Shims – Wooden – Pack Leveling
63 ! Tools Tape, Duck 2″ Roll Securing – hanging “bombproof”
64 1 Tools Tape, Masking 2″ Roll Securing hanging – closing boxes
65 1 Tools Tape, Clear 2″ Roll Securing runners -closing boxes
66 1 Tools Tape, Painters 1″ Roll Securing on delicate surfaces
67 1 Tools Wrench, Crescent 6″ Fixing things
68 1 Tools Crazy Glue, Tube Fixing things & finger cuts
69 2 Tools Gloves, Work – Pair Protect your hands
70 1 Tools Voltage Circuit Tester Check for working circuits
 
“I will prepare and someday my chance will come.”
                                                                                                                      — Abraham Lincoln

Hopefully you will build your own survival-success magic bag of tricks. The first time you show up with it many will laugh – just wait for them to come and ask you for your help.

BTW… Got a suggest about something that ought to be in the bag? Send me an email. 

First aid kit contents will be covered by another blog post. 

There’s another tote I take along and usually leave in the car, it contains 100’ and 25’ extensions cords, a 300 Watt “clampable” work light, more table clips, trash bags, 100’ of 3/8” rope, 2” wide tape and extra hand tools and jumper cables. 

Remember: Being prepared starts with a state of mind — a resourceful  “MacGyver” and “can do”  attitude. Having the right tools to help you survive and succeed will certainly help!

Hold on to your aprons,

The Audition

“Excuse me, who is the caterer for this event?”

The words came from a woman who was dressed to the nines… accessorized with a pearl necklace and a Prada clutch.

The simple request is one of those “loaded” questions around catering.

This is the point where staff usually cringes and wonders what happened? Who or what is messed up? A spill perhaps? Was the wrong entree’ served? You know the drill, right?

Next this lady says,”The food is incredible and the service is some of the best — I have ever seen. Do you have a Business card.”

This is how guests are supposed to react!

Remember: There is always someone attending every event that is watching.

The “watchers” as I call them, look closely at the serving staff, bar tenders, the cooks and chef, valet staff, the band, the DJ, the florist, the set up and clean up crews —  everyone.

Watchers pay close attention to details; the what, and how you perform as a team — that’s part of a company. How the staff interacts among themselves? Does the staff give each other high fives, hugs and smiles or smirks and rolled eyes? Is there cohesive team work or orphans wandering around loose “texting,” talking on cell phones or chain-smoking and whining?

Watchers observe staff interacting with other guests. Can servers answer basic questions about the food being served?

Guests like to know what kind of spice is in the food and is it hot? Some times they want to know about nuts. Growing numbers of people are allergic to nuts. There’s nothing like a guest experiencing anaphylactic shock during cocktails to put a damper on an event.

Often guest will ask will ask, “What is that?” Pointing to the garnish. The serving staff needs to be be prepared and comfortable to answer the questions with poise and confidence. Once I was summoned to a table where the guest asked me to lean down and whisper, “Are the little black balls in the sauce mouse dropping?” I replied, “No Madam those little balls are imported capers from Sicily — packed in sea salt and sautéed in extra virgin oil and then added to the beurre blanc sauce. They are different from the usual capers we see.” She then replied ” Just checking — that’s what I thought.”

Guests want to know the origin (Domestic or Imported) of ingredients (Local, Organic, or Best Source). This is a good time to impress upon the guest the good quality and acknowledge the careful consideration given by the event planner and the Chef.

The more the staff informs guests of what the food and beverages are, makes the event experience more memorable and comfortable. After events guests like to brag to their friends they enjoyed unique cheese from France and one of a kind olive oil from Italy, grass-fed beef, or free range chicken or hand-made tortillas and Mojitos with fresh picked mint.

Does the staff say, “Excuse me, Please and Thank you?” when talking with the guests?

Then there’s reacting to situations; such as cleaning up dropped and spilled drinks and food. How are directions given to the restroom? Do bar tenders use a fresh glass for new drinks and pour beer into glasses? Did the Valet open and close doors. Don’t forget, “Little things make a big difference.”

Watchers sometimes ask about working with the staff. They’ll tell you that it looks like the staff is having fun. Give them a business card and direct them to call the office for an interview, and encourage them to enjoy the event.

Often watchers are people in the hospitality industry. They like to “talk shop” or tell you about when they worked in catering back in the day. These watchers can be very critical of the performance and often are the most supportive and appreciative of good service.

All these scenarios are excellent opportunities to make friends and potentially book some future business!

Some watchers are looking to see if they ought to recommend your catering operation to friends and colleagues or even hire your company for their own upcoming event. It might be in a few weeks, it might be in three months, or even a year from away. You never know.

One of Roy’s Rules; “Every event, is an audition for another event.”

If you handle the audition correctly, this will be your biggest source of new business. The sales process will be smooth because the potential client has already seen you in action. I have seen hundred’s of parties and events booked with a caterer just because of a strong endorsement with no tasting or bidding among competitors involved either.

How do you know when the audition is going well?

The guests and watchers tell the staff and managers that they are doing great work. Most guests really do enjoy outstanding service and random acts of kindness. Some will express their appreciation with words, others with tips, and some will put a good word in for you somewhere down the line.

Staff always needs to keep performing and looking for service opportunities. Management must praise and acknowledge publicly above average work. There’s no letting down at the end of the night either.

In another blog post, you’ll discover a “closed loop” trick that increases the odds for booking more new business. 

When you have an outstanding audition; the guests enjoy a great experience, the staffs feels good and usually makes better tips, plus management has another event booked. That’s a winning combination for everyone!

“Break a leg”