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Paula Kraft

Tastefully Yours

Paula Kraft, founder and President of Atlanta, GA-based Tastefully Yours Catering.

Eliminating Catering Stress

oes planning a catering request cause you to totally stress out? When something causes us stress, we naturally put it on a back burner and save it to last, right?

When you are responsible for ordering catering, what exactly causes the stress for you? Is it not knowing details of the order, the uncertainty of what might change, having to make that decision yourself and guessing as to the likes and dislikes of the passengers and crew, or the costs associated with it? Are you pulled into so many directions and are forced to prioritize tasks and this falls to the bottom of the list?

I can think of dozens of reasons to hold off and put the catering fulfillment task to the bottom of the list, but that will only increase your stress level. I am by no means a psychologist, I can’t council you except as a caterer who has spent well over 30 years taking catering orders, teaching aviation professionals in all fields how to place a catering order and working through hundreds upon hundreds of stressed out individuals who were responsible for the catering requests.

Catering is the ultimate make it or break it for the perfect flight. I have heard repeatedly from pilots, schedulers and third crew members that the pilot can bounce the passengers down the runway, experience turbulence, have departure and landing delays - and all is forgiven if the catering is wonderful. But a bad catering experience will overpower the perfect landing, perfect weather, perfect crew, perfect flight and turn it into the worst nightmare flight ever experienced by the passengers. No wonder there is a lot of stress associated with catering requests and getting them right!

I am here to the rescue! I want to share with you some of the tricks I have learned and shared over the years on eliminating the catering stress for your flight.

Make a Plan

The biggest - the number one thing to do - Make a Plan… this is key! The catering plan has a lot of moving parts and you have to be on top of your game to plug in all the parts in the right places to create the perfect catering experience. Here are a few pointers to help.

Be realistic about what you can prepare. If you have a short flight, no matter what your passengers want you can’t serve a 6-8 course meal to 15 people in 45m minutes. Even under the best of circumstances, this is a challenge. On board an aircraft it is even more difficult and short of throwing the food down on the table on your way down the isle and picking it up on your return back just as your passengers are taking their first bite, you risk destroying the food service experience. Keep it simple. If your passengers expect a show stopper style of meal presentation, then plan meals accordingly by having the first course pre-plated and ready to serve immediately, then plate the next course from a preplanned “kit” . . . all the pieces packed bulk by type, sauces in squeezie bottles or simply but elegantly to be placed quickly on the plate.

Try to limit plating to 5 steps or hand moves: #1.sauce down; #2. protein down; #3. vegetable down; #4 second element down; #5 final garnish down. This is part of your Plan.

Create a budget, if there is one, before planning your menu. The sky’s the limit with an unlimited budget, but if a caviar course is on the wish list, the budget must allow for it. Sure, I can get cheap caviar for you, but it is not something I would want to put in front of my guests and then face their complaints as to why this “stuff” tastes like “#*%!!“.

If the budget is limited and a caviar service is not in the budget, then the caviar can be a garnish on a canapé, or other dish rather than a course all to its own. There is a very big difference in price by varying the way it is served, thus making caviar fit into a box lunch budget.

Know your space limitations. Every aircraft is different, different storage spaces, different reheating equipment (which may or may not be working for this flight). I suggest if you fly or manage a certain aircraft, you take the time to make a list in your phone or iPad of all the equipment on board. Take a photo of it, measure the interior dimensions, measure your chiller drawers, the cabinets and number of shelves available for catering supplies . . . so that when you order, you can be very specific on the space you have to stow items before and during the flight.

This would determine if you request food bulk which takes much less space or plattererd and plated, which takes more space. Also note how much trash space you can accommodate - Yup, even the trash. If you have an abundance of trash that doesn’t fit, or is smelly (because you ordered a nice fish and sauce in a domed lid box lunch rather than bulk or even plated), how can you seal it and hold it until you can offload it. This is where the packaging you request comes into play. Imagine a flight over the pond with stinky fish in the trash?

Preassemble, organize in advance - make kits. Package all the pieces separately in Ziploc bags to make a salad, different omelets, dessert kits so all the pieces to make an incredible presentation are all together to save time and space . . . both storage and plating space.

Equipment limitations are often forgotten in the overall plan. If you fly with a third crew member, who will be heating and plating a multicourse meal, are there enough dishes on board? Has each portion of the meal been pre-assigned a piece of service ware so dish cleaning is not necessary during the meal to complete the service? How about the number and type of each utensil? Serving soup and you have no spoons? Or . . . shall you say to the passengers . . . sorry, save and lick your fork clean so you can use it for the next course. Imagine the looks you will get for that one. Plan number and type of dishes and silverware needed.

Be creative in the use of dishes if you need to

But make sure you have planned for that use before you plan your catering order. Here is a catering tidbit of information:

For 1 hour of cocktail and hors d’ouvre service, a passenger will generally soil 4-5 beverage napkins, require about ½ pound of ice (more is used to chill bottle of beverages and mixers), and will eat 8-12 pieces of food with 1-2 cocktails.

There is no need to over- order; the more items you order; the less of each item is needed. Six passengers on board does not mean you need to order six fruit trays, six vegetable trays, six sandwich trays and six cookie trays. Save some money and cut down on the amount of your order.

Know diet restrictions in advance. Have a back-up plan for the pop-up surprise statement: ”Oh, I am allergic to” . . . . or” I hate” . . . . or “Oh, by the way” the children will be flying with us today.

As much as possible have dry pantry items that can be created to cover these passengers needs. Order pieces isolated so that you do not cross contaminate foods. Try to plan so that the top allergens (fish, shellfish, tree nuts, ground nuts, milk, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat/gluten and other regional top allergens such as sesame and celery) can be avoided from occurring in every dish. Be sure to request an ingredient list from your food sources “just in case”. Have a child friendly activity hidden away in the pantry to occupy the children on board or a pantry item that can be turned into a child friendly menu. You have to think outside the box here . . . 

Sorry, I must digress here. One important factor for those of you who are always in the air and on the road - remember to consider your health. You have the added stress, exhaustion, sleepless nights in your lifestyle and it is important to request nutrient dense foods and loads of wholesome food - fruits vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, sees, herb and spices.  By consuming these foods as part of your daily food intake, you will help your body reduce stress, enable your digestive system to work better and provide you more energy. (Remember to add an exercise routine when on you are on the ground and also in the air).

Make a Serving Schedule- a time line. If foods are being heated or served chilled, then it is very important to make sure that all hot foods are ready at the same time for plating. If the potatoes aren’t ready when you plate the meat and sauce, then that will cool off before the rest of the ingredients are hot. Make a note in revesre of the serving time of what goes in the oven or microwave and when. Countdown 20 minutes before serving meat in oven, 15 minutes before vegetables in, 8 minutes before sauce in, 2 minutes before rice in microwave etc. There is nothing worse than food served lukewarm (not to mention Unsafe!).

Plan for mistakes. Yes we all make them. The difference is that a pro with a plan has a back-up floating around in their head or in the pantry. What if the sauce evaporates or burns, the meat overcooks for whatever reason, how are you going to fix it? A sauce packet from the pantry, a little wine or even water into the meat, making a “stew” of the meal pieces using the sauce as broth may be your quick fix.

Prepare your menu card in advance or on your iPad ready to print at the hotel. If changes occur or mistakes happen the iPad can be the menu they review with last minute changes made. Remember to use proper menu format or forgo this option during flight. All part of the Plan.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Bounce your ideas off a caterer or food source. Record menus that work for you on your aircraft and build a library. I have one client who serves the same menu each year to a group that the company takes on an annual trip. Her planning is done as she simply sends me the menu each year off her iPad, changing the number of passengers, date and time. Over the years she has adjusted the packaging and portions based on what worked for her. We add or delete one or more items to keep it fresh.

Keep a file of plans and menus that work for your aircraft, your passengers, and your crew and repeat them simply by adjusting those plans to regional spices, flavors and seasonal variations. For example, if your passengers always want assorted sandwiches to be served, vary their style - deli sandwiches, button roll sandwiches, Panini sandwiches, tea sandwiches, French Bread sandwiches, triangle sandwiches, mini sandwiches, add assorted chutneys, salsas, tapenades or spreads for variety. Serve their favorite roast beef, but, by changing the sauces that roast beef can be presented dozens of ways so it doesn’t become boring.

Although catering can be a daunting task, take a deep breath, relax and prepare you plan, and run ideas by your favorite catering sources. You'll do fine!


Tastefully Yours

About Paula Kraft . . .

Paula Kraft is the founding partner of the DaVinci Inflight Training Institute located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the founder/president of Tastefully Yours Catering, an aviation specific caterer, located in Atlanta, Georgia for over 35 years.

Paula is active with many aviation and catering-related groups including the International Caterers Association, the International Inflight Food Service Association and is a board member of Women in Corporate Aviation. She is the past chair of the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee Caterer’s Working Group for 15 years perfecting unique catering training sessions for NBAA conferences and events. Currently, she serves on the NBAA Flight Attendant Advisory Committee and is a member of the Training and Safety Subcommittee. Paula was a founding member of the Steering committee for the creation of a European Flight Attendant Committee and conference and serves as a subject matter expert to the board of International Standard for Business Aircraft Handlers (IS-BAH).

After founding Tastefully Yours Catering, she has been offering culinary and food safety related training to the general aviation community. With a strong dedication to improving catering safety, risk mitigation and safe food handling, she developed and introduced the concept of “catering safety management systems”. As a certified food safety instructor, Paula offers catering SMS and culinary classes for all aviation professionals.

Paula’s first-hand experience, business acumen, research, and relationships make her an industry expert - one which allows her to share information that will help raise the professional training level for flight attendants today that will reduce the risk of food-related concerns tomorrow.

click to visit DaVinci Training Institute

From Paula . . .

I have coordinated training programs and clinics for NBAA and EBAA conference attendees for over 10 years, created mentoring programs for caterers and flight attendants to broaden their aviation culinary skills, and to assist them in adapting to the unique challenges and constraints found in catering for general aviation. I recognize the need for training and have worked closely with flight departments, flight crews, schedulers and customer service reps at the FBOs to ensure that catering specific training provides information and skills necessary to reduce risk while assisting them in their job duties that include safe food handling, catering security, accurate transmission of food orders, and safe food production, packaging and delivery.

I fell into aviation catering quite by accident. I was the in-house caterer and bakery supplier for Macy’s department stores in Atlanta when catering was ordered for a Macy’s customer which was soon to change my life. After the client enjoyed the catering provided, I was summoned to the client’s corporate office to provide several of the items delivered through Macy’s to the executive dining room. Within a week, I was providing food for the flight department and my first order was for the President of a foreign country (as I was too be told soon after).

So, here I am, some 35 years later, still loving every minute of every day in aviation catering.

Got a question?

Paula welcomes your comments, questions or feedback
BlueSky Business Aviation News | 7th December 2017 | Issue #442

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