Catering special events like high end parties, celebrity events, backstage buffets, or movie production shoots can be intimidating, so Tin Hut BBQ and Aloha Gourmet Food Trucks Hawaii founder Frank Diaz partnered with Philadelphia area event planner and entertaining expert Renee Patrone to share some of their top tips for handling that next VIP event (or any high-end client) like a pro.
Tip 1 – Diaz suggests always remembering who you are working for. In back-stage or celebrity-centered events the primary client is the agent, promoter, or producer who hired you, and typically they have a picture in mind as to how they see the set up or décor. They also have in mind the order of how they want things served. As an example, they may want salad at the beginning of the serving line along with rolls or other items to break up the traditional set up.
Diaz, who has catered private celebrity events backstage at Honolulu’s Neal S. Blaisdell Center Concert Hall, special events like Stan Lee’s recent visit to Hawaii, and production shoots including the filming of the movie Aloha, says, “Seasoned promoters will typically know their clients well, and while a chef may have a certain idea in mind, if the client has a different idea, the client gets what they want…they pay the bill, so they are entitled to that level of servitude.”
Tip 2 – Know the goals. Find out what you client wants to accomplish. Are there must-haves for the menu? Are you providing flowers, wait-staff, a bar? How long do they want you for ? How many people will you be serving? You want to get off on the right foot when you present your budget or event proposal by showing that you listen and can deliver what your client wants. Patrone, who has helped clients nationwide make their event dreams and vision a beautiful reality sums it up this way, “Our job is to make [you, the client] look good while eliminating your stress.”
Tip 3 – Develop a relationship with the client long before the venue kicks off. “Get to know your client’s (and their clients’) likes/dislikes and accommodate them as best as you can.” Diaz suggests. Listen to their ideas and incorporate them if possible. Make time to let them sample your dishes — or at least a key dish — in advance so they can approve it or make further recommendations.
Tip 4 – Presentation is everything. Set the buffet and/or plate the food so that it is as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate. Be sure you have enough. You know folks are happy when they come back for seconds, so be sure to plan for seconds and even for to-go boxes. (Hint: Always have mini aluminum catering tins available, Diaz recommends.)
Tip 5 – Regardless of how casual the setting is, keep it real. No aluminum on the line for a VIP event. Use real pans, real chaffing dishes, real flatware and real plates. “Serve drinks, even water, Patrone adds, in real glassware — it makes all the difference.” Bring labels (Diaz likes to use mini blackboards and colored chalk) so that the client doesn’t have to guess what is in the pan.
Tip 6 – Be on Time and be involved. “There is no acceptable excuse for being late. None,” Diaz says. Be involved with the event. If you are working with a partner or assistant, be sure that you both know all the details — and be sure that your client is aware of this. You want to reflect complete confidence, coordination, and synchronization. Know your venue and plan out the logistics ahead of time. Carefully note where you’ll be parking, how you’ll transport your supplies to the staging area, and know exactly what supplies you’ll need to bring.
Tip 7 – Make it personal. “Pull in some personalized flair – whether it’s a social occasion or a corporate event,” Patrone suggests, who’s go-tos include:
- personalized colored cocktail napkins
- Colored straws
- A color theme/vibe for linens and flowers
Those details matter, Patrone says. After handling high-end weddings, corporate parties, and grand-scale events like the National Constitution Center’s Glitter City Gala New Year’s Eve Party in Philadelphia, Patrone found that clients continued requesting to work with her, even calling for hands-on assistance with hosting smaller events in their homes, which is how her newest venture Party Host Helpers got started.
Tip 8 – Sweet and simple. “Provide a dessert that is delicious and easy to eat,” Patrone adds. Mini cupcakes, delectable cookies, refreshing water ice or shave ice, and fun finger foods like chocolate covered fruits or pretzels are good choices. Having a bar? Provide a few drinks that are crowd friendly and easy to serve, she recommends like sangria — always a party-pleaser!
Tip 9– Don’t cut corners on service. People will remember poor service, especially at a VIP event. Find a way to cut food costs before you cut labor if it means compromising excellent customer service.
About Renee Patrone
Renee’s love for parties and socializing began at a very young age (three, to be exact) and based on those early experiences throughout childhood and early adulthood, she came to realize that the art of entertaining is not just the planning, preparing and hosting … it’s about enjoying your guests! Renee has spent the last 12 years helping clients nationwide, ranging from brides to corporations, to make their event dreams and vision a beautiful reality through her full-service event planning business, Events by Renee. After large affairs like the National Constitution Center’s Glitter City Gala New Year’s Eve Party in Philadelphia, which Patrone handled for several years running, clients wanted to continue working with Renee and often needed hands-on assistance with hosting smaller events at home. It seemed like a natural next-step, and Party Host Helpers was born!
About Frank Diaz
Growing up on the mainland and throughout his extensive military career, Tin Hut BBQ founder Frank Diaz dreamed about one day starting his own barbeque business. That dream became reality when, after relocating to Hawaii, he launched his first food truck and catering business, Tin Hut BBQ. As he expanded into a brick and mortar kiosk and his fleet of trucks grew, Diaz launched Aloha Gourmet Food Trucks Hawaii, partnering with fellow mobile cuisine entrepreneurs from the best food trucks in Hawaii including Aloha Plate, the champions of Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race (season#4), Biztro On Wheels, Baja Tacos, Olay’s Thai Express, and Wurst-Wagen.