Having recently been called on to give a family member a hand with his catering business, I found myself serving up steak and cheese subs, grilled cheese sandwiches, sausage with bell peppers and several other offerings of “festival style foods”. I had worked at similar events in the past and figured I could offer some help ‘putting it out’.
As I was organizing my makeshift kitchen I thought about the many chefs and cooks I have heard discussing plans to open their own catering business. Financial independence, the freedom to make all of the decisions and the ability to “do it my way” are a great lure for the talented culinarian. The conventional thought is that you can set out on your own with a few chafing dishes and a collection of pans.
While the promise of an easy start up business seems appealing, the reality of operating even a small catering venue can be headaches, hang-ups and hardships. An experienced caterer knows that there are ‘dry spells’ around every corner as well as dates that are double and even triple booked. Balancing this ‘roller coaster’ type business is challenging but is the key to success in the catering industry. The number one reason that food service establishments fail is a lack of capital. Simply put, not saving enough money to survive the down times.
Starting a home based catering business
With the proper financial plan in place, your next considerations should be menu offerings and equipment. The tools you’ll need will be determined by the type of fare that’s offered. Whether it’s buffet foods, fine appetizers or a combination of both, it’s essential to have the proper equipment to be successful. An elegant reception requires refined utensils and serving trays, while a booth at a country fair needs far fewer amenities. Purchasing new equipment when ‘times are good’ will allow you to expand your offerings. Remember that a new grill or a portable fryer are investments that should return dividends.
The most challenging aspect in catering is finding clients. Keeping a steady cash flow to your business is the most vital element for prosperity. Establishing the style of catering you are equipped for will aid you in marketing your business. Their are many advertising mediums available for every occasion and event, many of which are free. Finding what is most beneficial to you and your business will produce business leads and connections.
George Washington Carver said “Learn to do common things uncommonly well.” – Add that to a friendly attitude, the ability to work effectively in a stressful environment and a business oriented focus, you’ll have all that you need to make your vision transpire
With the warmer weather of spring, the switch to lighter fare has begun. That change in dining habits translates to dinner offerings that are perceived as not so ‘heavy’. Dinner salads are the preferred choice of diner’s looking for fewer calories while still enjoying a satisfying meal.
It’s no surprise that ‘Entree Salads’ are on the top of the menu choices. The high demand for unique salad combinations has restaurants scrambling for new ideas to keep their salad menus fresh and trendy. Being able to mix and match so many different ingredients can only inspire the chef to create interesting flavor combinations along with texture variations.
With a little thought, you can add new items to your menu without having to make drastic changes. The traditional Greek Salad can be served as a dinner sized portion and crowned with a marinated lamb kabob. A Caprese Salad paired with Italian herbed grilled shrimp! Combining some of your restaurants center of the plate items with salad offerings is a great way to keep your menu seasonally up to date.
The hottest trend in salads today is an idea that’s been around for decades. The taco salad is a Mexican inspired dish which first appeared in America in the 1960s. It is traditionally served as a fried flour tortilla shell stuffed with shredded iceberg lettuce and topped with diced tomato, shredded Cheddar cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Add seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken for a hearty Mexican inspired dish.
Today, with the availability of such a wide range of ingredients, the taco salad is anything but traditional. Consider a crispy fried tortilla shell filled with mixed mesclun greens and topped with buffalo fried chicken and gorgonzola cheese crumbles, or strips of your favorite fish, battered, deep-fried and topped with your creamy house dressing and shredded cheddar cheese.
These delicious edible ‘bowls’ are easy to make and are versatile enough that you can add a new special for them everyday. With a little practice you can learn to make your bowls different shapes. Experiment with fry baskets and similar tools to find what different styles you can create. Achieve a signature salad by developing a one-of-a-kind dish that your customers will only be able to find at your restaurant. This will keep them coming back for more while earning you top dollar!!
With Valentines Day’s passing, restaurant managers and chefs need to focus on the next big dining occasion. St Patricks Day is the next feast on the menu, and Corned beef and cabbage tops the bill of fare.
While it’s not traditional in Ireland, corned beef is what most Americans prepare for St. Patrick’s Day feasts. Despite Ireland being a major beef producer during colonial times, most Irish did not regularly consume corned beef. This was due to the fact that the beef cattle were owned by the British colonists and not by the Irish , and that most, if not all, of the corned beef was exported. The majority of Irish that resided in Ireland at the time maintained a diet of mainly dairy and pork.
During the late 1700′s and early 1800′s, the United States experienced a tidal-wave of Irish immigration. With beef brisket being considered a ‘meal of luxury’ back in their home country, corned beef became a staple in the Irish populations diet in America where it was inexpensive and plentiful. Thus the association with corned beef and St. Patrick’s day celebrations.
Not all of your restaurants patrons will like the heavily textured, full flavor of a traditional boiled corned beef dinner. Guinness battered fish and chips is a popular alternative for your guests to enjoy, and adding a ‘little bit of green’ to a meal can be as simple as attaching an Irish sounding name to any of your entrees.
Originally observed as a day to honor martyred Christians named Valentine, Saint Valentines Day has become a day to celebrate love and affection. The first written association of Valentines Day with romance was in 1382. Geoffry Chaucer penned a poem titled ‘Parlement Of Foules’.
He wrote, “For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”. This poem was written to commemorate the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. This was the beginning of the Valentines Day traditions that we practice today.
Dining out is one of the most popular ways to show your loved ones that they are dear to your heart. That means that the chef is going to be exceptionally busy right around the middle of February. Reservations are lined up for romantic dinners for two and happy family celebrations. There is extra prep work to be done and menu planning for such an important date is critical for success. There is little time left for any ‘personal plans’ and what little free time you have is usually spent resting up for the next day.
With all of the stress and craziness that goes on behind the scenes, busy chefs need to know they are loved too! So, How do you show that the chef in your life is special? Usually the first thing that a chef wants is ‘A day off to spend with their family’- (We posted this question on facebook and that was the most popular response!) – Other things that a chef might want for Valentine’s Day are a Trivet with a Valentines motif or a Heart Shaped Casserole.
Chef’s love to cook and when it comes to making a special dish for that special someone, a Valentine Cookbook would offer a wide selection of romantic dinner ideas. A new set of pans would make preparation a breeze and a top notch dessert plate would wrap up your intimate dinner with elegant style.
Rarely does the person in charge of the kitchen get the opportunity to dine out at their favorite restaurant. So after the tables are cleared, the guests have departed and the chef finally gets his long anticipated day off from the busy kitchen, treat them to what they really want most of all – a friendly restaurant and some quality time with the ones they love!
When I was a little Chef I always wanted a Little Cook Kitchen Tool Kit , that’s how I knew i wanted to be a chef. Everyone else knew I wanted to be a chef too because one year I got a Toys for Chefs book. (I didn’t ask for that!) I would have much rather had a Mario Batali Wind Up Chef or an all in one kitchen from Educo .
But, now that i am a grown up chef I need big chef presents. One thing that I saw and I think that I would use all the time is Stainless Steel Soap . This cool chef gadget gets rid of the smell of garlic and onions from my hands, and you know how my wife doesn’t like that. Also I saw a really cool Whimsical Watch which would help out in the kitchen, timing is such an important part of my job. Another thing that caught my eye were these Chef’s Knives Sterling Silver Cufflinks , I do like chef jewelry .
There are a few other things on my chef’s Christmas list. I do have that “high tech chef” side of me, so a brand new Kindle reader would be a great way to start a cookbook library for myself without sacrificing too much space. MasterCook software is a super convenient way to store and manage my own recipes so that is a must have item for me this year and I could probably use a 2GB Sub Sandwich Flash Drive .
It wouldn’t be Christmas without something “Christmasy” under the tree. I was thinking that we should probably get the 2010 Hallmark Keepsake Ornament , or even a wintery kind of sweatshirt, you know, one that a chef would like! It would keep me warm in the morning when I head off to the kitchen.
Well if I haven’t been as ‘nice’ as I should have been, then i guess just a pair ofnice chef pants , and perhaps a Hell’s Kitchen Style Chef Jacket or two are always things that a chef needs.
Thanks for listening and I’ll try to be a nicer chef this year.
I need more Pots & Pans
*****CHEF STOCKING STUFFER – SHELLFISH STEAMER BAGS
Two often overlooked issues in the restaurant businesss are sexual harassment and bullyism.
Often an employee may be afraid to speak up against a bully or predator for fear of reprisal. Having a dual policy, covering bullying and sexual harassment, in place for your restaurant or any workplace is not only good sense but it may also be the law.
Knowing your states requirements and enforcing a written policy will serve as protection in the event that your establishment becomes involved in any legal proceedings.
Bullying has come to the forefront of social awareness in recent years. It can ‘bring down’ the entire staff leading to slower production times, a lower quality of product and eventually fewer customers.
‘Playful banter’ and harmless flirting have always been prevalent in a fast paced restaurant environment, but learning to recognize when the behavior has become uncomfortable for others is key to curbing unwanted and unwelcomed consequences.
If you love lobster but you are a little squeamish about handling them, then stretchable mesh steaming bags are just what you’ll need. With a powerful ‘crusher claw’ and a quick ‘pincher claw’, a fiesty hard shelled Maine lobster can be intimidating to even a seasoned culinarian.
‘Calming’ a lobster can be easily done by inserting it into a mesh steamer bag and tying the end of the bag so that the lobsters legs, claws and tail are safely enclosed. When your lobster has finished cooking, simply cut the mesh clam boil bag away and serve with lobster crackers and drawn butter.
Enjoying a shore dinner with lobster, clams and shellfish can be messy and hard to coordinate. Being able to portion all of your seafood feast ingredients into separate bags not only allows you to ‘time’ your items that may have different cooking requirements, it also aids in quick and easy service when feeding large groups and gatherings.
If you are using an old fashioned dial faced scale, an immediate switch to a more current digital display scale is in order. This small investment can yield big savings at your restaurant or commercial kitchen.
Having accurate portions will cut food cost and insure that proper nutritional guidelines will be met when serving people with special dietary requirements.
A digital scale is preferred over the traditional (and outdated) dial faced scale. With the older type scales you have less accuracy than with the reliable digital versions.
The best scale that I have used in my commercial kitchen has been the Taylor TE32C electronic Scale with a 2 pound capacity. You have the option of weighing your product in ounces or kilograms. A large flat weighing surface shortens prep time gaining long term savings on labor and payroll costs.
The Taylor 32 ounce is compact and can run on a single 9 volt battery making it portable enough to use anywhere that precise portions are needed. An AC adapter is also provided for convenience and conservation of your scales battery power.
For larger receiving jobs I recommend the Taylor TR250SS Scale. This super duty scale has a high 250 pound limit. When dealing with potentially hundreds of pounds of product shortages, the savings can be huge. Imagine being shortchanged several pounds of product a day. That volume can add up to serious dollar savings for a restaurant.
Being exact when getting product in the delivery door is as important as serving a ‘well balanced’ plate. Investing in the proper weighing equipment today will result in short term savings tomorrow and over time can and will add up!
Traditionally, whole lobster is prepared by boiling or steaming, but lobster is as versatile as it is delicious. Fresh shucked
lobster meat can be added to nearly any classic dish to add a New England seafood twist.
Linguini with white clam sauce is still an all time favorite. Now add tender lobster claws and fresh Maine lobster tail, simmer it all together and toss it with linguini noodles. This dish is guaranteed to have the most dedicated lobster lover asking for more.
Fresh Maine lobster and tender fettuccine noodles tossed in a creamy parmesan alfredo sauce. Decadent and delicious, this dish will satisfy your guests that are craving Italian!
For an authentic stir fry dish, a wok is the must have tool. No other pan will give you the same “easy toss” performance that the well balanced wok will! Your favorite fresh garden vegetables along with tender lobster claws and fresh Maine lobster tail can be turned into a signature dish for your restaurant.
When you prepare a lazy lobster pie you’ll need to create a fresh bread stuffing, Whether you crave pier fresh sea scallops or if you prefer sweet baby shrimp, the seafood that you select to blend with your stuffing is as important as the lobster itself.
The lobster roll is the quintessential summertime treat. A traditional New England dish.
There are as many ways to prepare lobster as there are chefs and no matter how you pair your ingredients, lobster will always be a great indulgence.
High end steak houses are about to get higher. In a short year, boxed beef prices have risen to all time highs. The cost per pound on strip sirloin has more than doubled compared to this time last year.
Notably, Walmart’s advertising campaign has had a heavy focus on choice usda ‘grilling’ beef. I have seen several versions of ‘sirloin focused’ commercials, and I rarely watch television.
With a more than 300 Billion dollar share of the North American food retail business, could there be a connection between the soaring price of beef and Walmart trying to capture an even larger “piece of the pie”.
Walmarts supply chain and buying power are
enormous, and when they need to fill an unending demand, their effects on the market can be a hard hit for smaller independent restaurants and large chain operations.
The cattle industries explanation is that the size of this years herd is smaller than the previous year, but does a 2.1 % decline in the number of overall cattle justify a more than 100% increase on certain cuts of meat? Supply and demand forces seem to be at play here.
The beef industry may be pricing itself out of future dining trends. By making their product too costly to incorporate into everyday menus, chefs, managers and owners will increasingly turn to pork, chicken and other cost effective ‘center of the plate’ items.