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12 Secrets of Caterers

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Whether they’re working at a wedding, birthday party, or corporate event, caterers do more than simply cook food and serve drinks. They also devise menus, shop for ingredients, plate the food, and clean up everyone else’s messes. We spoke to several caterers to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like being responsible for the most important part of any event: the refreshments.

1. THEY DON’T MAKE EVERYTHING FROM SCRATCH.

Depending on the size of the event, caterers may be responsible for feeding and serving anywhere from 5 to 5000 people. For big events, caterers simply don’t have the time to make everything from scratch. So don’t be surprised if you see a caterer using store-bought items such as sauces, tapenades, or cookies. Caterers may also use other kitchen shortcuts such as powdered (rather than whole) eggs—a hack that can save time, hassle, and money.

2. THEY’RE PROBABLY TYPE A PERSONALITIES.

Wedding caterer Jerry Baker tells Entrepreneur that catering is a stressful job that requires long hours and difficult work. “There are very few businesses that have as much pressure to perform on time as a wedding caterer. You have to be very type A to succeed at a high level,” he says. Baker also emphasizes that caterers need to be flexible and willing to do any task that’s required of them. “Sometimes I'm the fastest prep cook we have and I'm chopping vegetables, and sometimes I'm hauling trash at 2 a.m. after 15 hours on my feet in order to help us get out [of the venue],” he says.

3. THEY’RE VERY AWARE OF TEMPERATURES.

Temperature is always a concern for caterers, whether they’re using ice to keep food chilled before serving it or ensuring that entrees are served hot. To control the temperature of foods, most caterers travel to events with bags of ice, multiple coolers, and portable burners. And to come up with a suitable menu for an event, caterers must carefully consider whether the event will be outdoors or indoors and plan accordingly to avoid food contamination (think mayonnaise that sits outside in the sun for hours).

4. THEY NEED TO BE GOOD AT MATH.

If a party has a guest list of 75 people, how many bread rolls, cheese cubes, forks, napkins, and ice cubes should a caterer bring? Having too few items can be disastrous, but having too many can be a waste of money. As New Jersey-based caterer Cheri Scolari explains to Good Housekeeping, most people overestimate how much food their guests will eat. But caterers follow a few time-tested rules of thumb for getting the amount of food and drink just right. “We usually say that a half pan of salads or entrees can serve 10 to 12 people,” Scolari says. As for drinks, most caterers plan to serve roughly one drink per person per hour.

5. OFFSITE WORK CAN BE A BIG CHALLENGE.

Tanya Gurrieri of Salthouse Catering in Charleston, South Carolina tells mental_floss that being an off-premise caterer (as opposed to one who works for a specific venue) is particularly challenging, because of the ever-changing environments in which they work. “We might be smiling on the outside and crying on the inside,” she says. For each new event, caterers must set up kitchens in unfamiliar spaces and work within the venue's power, lighting, and equipment constraints. And because both client and caterer have high expectations for the food and service, caterers can face tremendous pressure to pull off every event smoothly. “Folks don’t care that they’re sitting under a tent in the middle of a field—they expect their dinner to be served promptly and perfectly,” Gurrieri says.

6. FOOD AND DRINKS ARE JUST THE BEGINNING.

Caterers can go beyond cooking and serving food. Some provide clients with plates, bowls, cups, utensils, napkins, tablecloths, and decorations, as well as rented tents, canopies, and chairs. According to Jasmine Williams of farm-to-table catering business A Fork Full of Earth, some caterers are food-focused while others are more all-encompassing. “We are a ‘food-focused' catering company, so we do mostly food, and then refer our clients out to our preferred network of subcontractors for their other needs,” she explains to mental_floss.

7. THEY’RE PREPARED FOR THINGS TO GO WRONG.

Although caterers generally know ahead of time what food they’ll be cooking and how many people they’ll be feeding, they’re always prepared for the unexpected. Whether a batch of biscuits gets burned in the oven, a glass pan shatters, or several guests are unexpectedly gluten-free, caterers can deal with surprises. “Nothing replaces having years of experience. Once you’ve seen things go wrong, you plan ahead to protect against it happening again,” Williams says. "The best thing you can do is have a mindful policy in place to correct the issue after it occurs."

8. THEY MAY USE YOU AS A TASTE TESTER.

If you insist on having yuca root pancakes or cotton candy Rice Krispies treats at your event, don’t expect your caterer to be in familiar territory. While most caterers are able to apply their culinary knowledge and skills to make a suitable version of any dish you request, they may not have any experience making more unusual recipes. That means your event might be the first time they serve a particular dish—but that shouldn’t be cause for concern if you trust your caterer’s experience and knowledge. Just be aware that you might be something of a guinea pig.

9. FOODBORNE ILLNESSES MAKE THEIR BUSINESS RISKY.

Due to food safety laws and the risks inherent in running a kitchen and serving food to strangers, catering isn’t a profession that most cooks enter on a whim. “Catering is in a high-risk category because you’re making something that’s being consumed by individuals and handled by multiple people,” Michelle Bomberger, an attorney who represents caterers, tells the National Federation of Independent Business. Although professional caterers needn’t necessarily attend culinary school, they must adhere to health and building codes, get a business license, pass local health department inspections, and buy insurance to cover food poisoning and kitchen fires.

10. THEY TRAVEL WITH GARBAGE BAGS GALORE.

While it’s not as glamorous as plating caviar-topped salmon or serving tuna tartare appetizers, garbage is an essential component of catering. Depending on the venue, some caterers may be off the hook for cleaning up the trash, but most caterers who work on-site at a home or event space need to deal with the dumpster.

For every ten people they serve, caterers plan to bring one large garbage bag. And to save time during an event, they line a few bags in each garbage can before the party starts.

11. FLUCTUATING FOOD PRICES CAN AFFECT THEM DEEPLY.

The USDA Economic Research Service expects grocery prices to rise between 0.5 and 1.5% in 2017. Stormy weather, droughts, and diseased crops are responsible for the higher prices of foods, particularly coconuts, olive oil, vanilla, and oranges. While a roughly 1% increase might not sound like much, fluctuating food prices can greatly impact a caterer’s bottom line, forcing them to raise the prices they charge or opt for less expensive ingredients. Zapher Dajani of The Abbey Catering says that he looks at food prices over the past three years to anticipate future inflation. “We also try to limit our proteins to enjoy huge economies of scale pricing discounts,” he tells mental_floss.

But some food price fluctuations are simply seasonal in nature—and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll cost you more. Kim Behnam, the event manager at San Diego-based catering company Toast, explains that she usually doesn’t increase prices on foods that cost more because they're out of season: “For example, if strawberries are not in season, then their prices will be more expensive. Since this is temporary, we don’t go to the trouble of increasing our prices.”

12. THEY LOVE THE ART OF FOOD AND SERVICE.

Whether they serve sophisticated dishes including flaked sea salt and truffle oil or put fun twists on homespun recipes, many caterers ultimately feel grateful to share their love of food and drinks with people. “We love the art of producing great food, and I personally love serving people,” Behnam says. Dajani echoes that sentiment, adding that food is usually the biggest, most important part of any special event: “We love how food is the element that brings everyone together for a memorable moment at the event.”

All photos via iStock.

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Eggo Came Up With 9 Perfect Recipes for Your Stranger Things Viewing Party
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As the return of Stranger Things draws near, you can expect to see fans break out their blonde wigs, hang up their Christmas lights, and play the Netflix show’s theme song on repeat. But Eggo knows the best way to celebrate the season two premiere on October 27 is with a menu featuring Eleven’s favorite snack. As Mashable reports, the brand has joined forces with Netflix to release a menu of gourmet waffle recipes to serve at your Stranger Things viewing party.

The lineup includes nine creative takes on Eggo waffles, each one named after an episode from the new season. The menu kicks off with “MADMAX,” a spin on chicken and waffles served with maple syrup and Sriracha. As the season progresses, pairings alternate between sweet (like “Will the Wise,” featuring ice cream and hot fudge) and savory (like “Trick or Treat, Freak,” a waffle version of a BLT). Check out the full menu below with directions from the experts at Eggo.

EPISODE 1: "MADMAX"

Eggo recipe.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha
1 deli hot chicken tender

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

3. Place warm chicken tender on top of waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 2: "TRICK OR TREAT, FREAK"

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiched between two waffles

4 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
2 lettuce leaves
4 thin tomato slices
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
8 slices turkey bacon, crisp-cooked and drained
3 tablespoons blue cheese salad dressing

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

2. Top two of the waffles with lettuce and tomato slices. Sprinkle with pepper. Top with bacon. Drizzle with salad dressing. Add remaining waffles. Cut each into halves. Serve immediately.

EPISODE 3: "THE POLLYWOG"

Eggo recipe.

1 1/2 cups vanilla ice cream, divided
3/4 cup strawberry ice cream
3 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles or Kellogg’s Eggo Chocolatey Chip waffles
1 Banana, sliced
3 Strawberries, sliced
2 cups frozen reduced-fat, non-dairy whipped dessert topping, thawed
Assorted small candies (optional)
Gold-colored decorator’s sugar or edible glitter (optional)

1. Place vanilla and strawberry ice cream in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes until slightly softened.

2. Meanwhile, on large piece of parchment paper or wax paper, trace 4 1/2-inch circles. Place paper on baking sheet. Working quickly, spoon 3/4 cup of the vanilla ice cream onto one circle. Flatten into a 1/2-inch-thick, 4 1/2-inch-diameter disk. Repeat with remaining vanilla ice cream and strawberry ice cream, making disks. Lightly cover with wax paper and freeze at least two hours or until firm.

3. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions. Cool. Leave one waffle whole. Cut remaining waffles into quarters.

4. Remove paper from ice cream disks. Top with one of the vanilla ice cream disks and four waffle quarters, leaving a small space between pieces. Top with vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces (always arrange waffle quarters so they align with waffle quarters on lower layers). Add the remaining vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces. Top with strawberry ice cream disk and the remaining four waffle quarters. Wrap in plastic wrap. Gently press down on the stack. Freeze at least 3 hours or until firm.

5. Remove waffle stack from freezer. Remove plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Mound with whipped topping. Decorate with candies and gold sugar (if desired).

6. To serve, cut into four pieces, cutting between waffle quarters.

TIP: To easily form ice cream disks, place a 4 1/2-inch round cookie cutter on parchment or wax paper on baking sheet. Place ice cream inside of cookie cutter and smooth into solid disk. Remove cookie cutter and repeat for remaining ice cream disks. Freeze as directed above.

EPISODE 4: "WILL THE WISE"

Eggo waffle.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon hot fudge ice cream topping
1/3 cup vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon caramel ice cream topping
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon dry roasted peanuts

1. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Heat fudge ice cream topping according to package directions.

2. Scoop ice cream onto center of waffle.

3. Drizzle with fudge and caramel toppings. Add whipped cream. Sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 5: "DIG DUG"

Eggo waffle.

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
3 tablespoons orange-colored decorator’s sugar
6 oblong chewy fruit-flavored green candies or 2 small green gumdrops, cut into 6 pieces

1. In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, pumpkin, powdered sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or until firm enough to shape.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

3. Place orange-colored sugar in a small bowl. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, shape about 2 tablespoons of cream cheese mixture into pumpkin shape. Roll in orange sugar. Place on one waffle. Repeat with remaining cream cheese mixture, sugar and waffles.

4. Press green candy into each cream cheese ball for pumpkin stem. Serve with spreaders or knives to spread cream cheese mixture over waffles.

EPISODE 6: "THE SPY"

Eggo waffles.

3 frozen fully-cooked sausage links
2 tablespoons green bell pepper
2 tablespoons water
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha

1. In a small nonstick skillet, cook sausage links, bell pepper, and water, covered, over medium heat for five minutes. Remove pepper from skillet. Set aside. Continue cooking sausage, uncovered, about two minutes more or until browned, turning frequently.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

4. Arrange sausage pieces and pepper pieces on waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 7"

Eggo waffle.

6 cups canned pineapple slices, drained
1 tablespoon flaked coconut, toasted
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon macadamia nuts, chopped

1. Cut pineapple slices into four pieces.

2. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Place on serving plate. Top with coconut, pineapple slices, whipped cream, and macadamia nuts. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 8"

Eggo waffle.

6 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
1 tablespoon butter
3 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
6 thin slices Monterey Jack cheese or cheddar cheese (3 oz. total)
Ketchup or salsa (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper with a fork until well combined. Set aside.

2. Place frozen waffles in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for five minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet. Pour in egg mixture. Cook, over medium heat, until mixture begins to set on bottom and around edges. With spatula, lift and fold partially cooked eggs, allowing uncooked portions to flow underneath. Continue cooking and folding for two to three minutes or until egg mixture is cooked through.

4. Top waffles with egg mixture, crumbled bacon, and cheese slices. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F about one minute more or until cheese melts. Serve with ketchup or salsa (if desired).

"EPISODE 9"

Eggo waffle.

6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
6 slices mozzarella cheese or provolone cheese (6 oz. total)
24 slices pepperoni (about 2 oz. total)
1/3 cup pizza sauce

1. Place Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle waffles in single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 450°F for three minutes. Turn waffles over. Bake at 450°F for two minutes more.

2. Cut waffles into quarters. Return to baking sheet.

3. Cut cheese slices into pieces to fit on waffle quarters.

4. Top waffle quarters with cheese pieces, pepperoni slices and pizza sauce. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for three to four minutes or until cheese melts. Serve warm.

Making the full nine-course menu might take a lot of work, but then again, it’s probably healthy to plan some cooking projects to break up your binge-watching session. Once you're done burning through all those waffles (and episodes), Eggo has a few suggestions for what to do with the empty box. Accessories like an Eggo flashlight or a bloody tissue box sound like the perfect way to make your Stranger Things costume stand out at this year’s Halloween party.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

[h/t Mashable]

All images courtesy of Eggo.

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The Little-Known History of Fruit Roll-Ups
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David Kessler, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The thin sheets of “fruit treats” known as Fruit Roll-Ups have been a staple of supermarkets since 1983, when General Mills introduced the snack to satisfy the sweet tooth of kids everywhere. But as Thrillist writer Gabriella Gershenson recently discovered, the Fruit Roll-Up has an origin that goes much further back—all the way to the turn of the 20th century.

The small community of Syrian immigrants in New York City in the early 1900s didn’t have the packaging or marketing power of General Mills, but they had the novel idea of offering an apricot-sourced “fruit leather” they called amardeen. A grocery proprietor named George Shalhoub would import an apricot paste from Syria that came in massive sheets. At the request of customers, employees would snip off a slice and offer the floppy treat that was named after cowhide because it was so hard to chew.

Although Shalhoub’s business relocated to Brooklyn in the 1940s, the embryonic fruit sheet continued to thrive. George’s grandson, Louis, decided to sell crushed, dried apricots in individually packaged servings. The business later became known as Joray, which sold the first commercial fruit roll-up in 1960. When a trade publication detailed the family’s process in the early 1970s, it opened the floodgates for other companies to begin making the distinctive treat. Sunkist was an early player, but when General Mills put their considerable advertising power behind their Fruit Roll-Ups, they became synonymous with the sticky snack.

Joray is still in business, offering kosher roll-ups that rely more heavily on fruit than the more processed commercial version. But the companies have one important thing in common: They both have the sense not to refer to their product as “fruit leather.”

[h/t Thrillist]

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