While this year may still look a little different than seasons past, caterers around the world are using innovation and safe catering practices to bring joy to this season’s celebrations! To get a caterer’s perspective on how to prepare and implement changes for this holiday season, the International Caterers Association spoke with Jamie Peterson, director of sales for Saz’s Hospitality Group in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Peterson’s team is prepping for a much more festive season than last year and was happy to share with us what her team was doing to get ready! Get ready for a little holiday season inspiration you can implement with your team.
What is the current situation with holiday bookings for the 2021 holiday season?
Holiday bookings started in August, as well as leads of all kinds, but with news of the Delta variant, they’ve slowed dramatically. Those who have booked haven’t canceled, luckily, but new bookings are slow to none. We just opened our fifth exclusive property this past May, and it’s seen the most holiday bookings, as it best suits smaller groups, which are the majority of the new inquiries.
How are you planning booked events while keeping COVID in mind?
Our COVID protocols require our staff to wear masks throughout the entire event. Options like hand-passed appetizers will each be in their own vessel, so guests will only be touching the item they are consuming. Our food stations are fully serviced. Our team builds guests’ plates for them, alleviating multiple guests touching utensils and the serving areas. We’ve been doing these types of things since the pandemic began, so we are well practiced—fortunately or unfortunately!
You have an 1,800-person event booked! Tell us about that.
We are already preparing for this exciting event with the day on hold for our entire staff. As I’m sure you know, there’s a little thing called a staffing shortage, so it will be all hands on deck!
Photo courtesy Saz's Catering
It’s not our first time doing this event, so we have a general idea of how it’ll go, which is helpful. Now it’s more about refreshing the menu with some new inspiration, all the while keeping safety in mind. Here are a few things from the menu:
Butler Passsed Selections
- Reindeer Croustade Shortbread Round | Mascarpone | Basil Mousse | Pomegranate Arils | Pomegranate Molasses | Cranberry Chutney
- Memphis Cubano Smoked Pork | Sliced Applewood Ham | Bread & Butter Pickle | Habanero Tomato Marmalade | Oaxaca Cheese | Dijon | Pretzel Roll
- Mini Duck Confit Tostada Crispy Tortilla | Duck Confit | Chorizo Mousseline | Ruby Onion Compote Puree | Sour Golden Raisin Salsa | Chipotle Oil | Micro Cilantro
These are just a couple of them; we’ll also have a seafood station, traditional carving station and more!
Photo courtesy Saz's Catering
Mac N Cheese Bar
Our chefs will sauté a variety of fresh ingredients to create signature mac n cheese creations.
- Classic Mac N Cheese Cavatappi | Classic Mac Sauce | Toasted Breadcrumbs | Shredded Cheddar
- Buffalo Chicken Mac N Cheese Cavatappi | Southwest Mac Sauce | Buffalo Chicken | Shredded Pepper Jack Lobster
- Mac N Cheese Cavatappi | Classic Mac Sauce | Lobster | Grated Parmesan | Toasted Breadcrumbs
Small Plate Italian Station
- Gnocchi & Lamb Ragout Braised Lamb | Brown Butter
- Mint Caviar Saltimbocca Chicken Breast | Prosciutto | Caponata | Sage | Marsala Wine Sauce
- Tortellini Three Cheese Tortellini | Balsamic Mushrooms | Pesto Cream
Last year, there was a trend of boxes with food to go. Do you see this happening again in 2021?
I think the state of the pandemic in a month or two will dictate this for 2021. We’ve done a ton of it since the pandemic began, and it continued through this summer. Now with fall here, corporate clients seem to be asking for fully serviced buffets with masked servers more than they are asking for boxed meals. Boxed meals are great for what they are, but there’s only so much you can do. But with a fully plated meal or fully serviced lunch, you are able to create a much more elevated and immersive experience!
What other catering or event trends do you see for the 2021 holiday season?
Sort of what I mentioned above as far as service—I see plated meals or fully serviced stations and hand passed apps. Family-style, however, seems to be making its entrance back to the scene, as was a service that completely vanished in the height of the pandemic. I love it, and I think it gives people a sense of community and close connection that we’ve been missing—work or personal. It’s communal, which is something we are all so desperate for this holiday season—to be together again!
You’ve got groups on both ends of the spectrum—those who are ready to gather and those who aren’t. Regardless, we are here for them and always keep the safety of everyone involved close to our planning minds and hospitality hearts.
What can caterers do now to prepare for the holiday season in terms of marketing, sales, menus?
Start marketing now if you haven’t already! We started seeing holiday inquiries earlier this year, and again, I think groups are just ready to have events again, celebrate our wins and be together. From a sales standpoint, you should be checking in with your clients and not waiting to hear from them. I’ve been doing this throughout the pandemic just to keep the connections alive.
Photo courtesy Saz's Catering
Menus should keep safety in mind and be ready to have those pandemic-friendly options! Boxed holiday meals, plated, stations, all of it. However, for those who want a pre-pandemic experience, if you are good with it, DO IT!
The conclusion? You must start preparing now for a fruitful holiday season.
This holiday season will be what you make it. As caterers still navigating the wild world of COVID-19, the key to success is thorough preparation. And that starts now! Get your marketing in order, design creative and trendy menus that keep safety in mind, and don’t let COVID get in the way of what can be a very profitable season for caterers worldwide.
For more information on how to join the ICA and to be notified of future catering industry webinars and education opportunities, visit internationalcaterers.org.