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

Holiday Pitfalls

ave you ever had catering go wrong? I think everyone has - and it is not something you want to live through more than once if possible.

As the holidays approach, you must be attuned to some difficulties you may encounter. You are responsible for providing what your clients want to be served on board for their flight and what your crews are going to require no matter what the circumstances.

Am I right? You order sushi and sashimi because they want it, and you work with the catering source to make sure the food has ice packs on it so that it remains very cold during transportation and holding (at least I hope you do!). You are the magician, the miracle worker, when it comes to sourcing what each flight requires.

As we enter into one of the longest and most varied holiday seasons the world celebrates, with cultural differences galore, let me take a minute to mention some of 

the Holiday Catering challenges you may encounter during December and into the first week of January.

Because our catering sources are varied and not held to any required standards for opening times or for menu choices, and because they too have to deal with their vendors and changes in their routine, you might want to be prepared to do a little more advance planning. I know it's hard - well, actually exceptionally hard - to get your passengers and flight crews to plan well in advance of a flight when many trips are planned last minute. Here are a few things you might want to check out with your regular vendors, and plan a working agreement as to how they can fulfill your expectations.

The biggest change might be the hours of operation for your catering sources. Those of you ordering from restaurants may find that they are closed or booked with holiday parties and can’t take care of your last minute requests. Your caterers may also be doing parties for the holidays and can’t fulfill a one box lunch order at the last minute. Your catering sources may be producing a holiday menu that is different from the normal production. There may be a holiday menu, but it may have limited selections.

Tastefully Yours will be offering our regular menu, but will also have available many of my family’s seasonal holiday favorites. We prepare them every year so we can feel the connection to our heritage and our family. [Forgive me as I tend to get mushy around the holidays. It is all about family, friends, celebration of life and work, and passing along the traditions to those following in our footsteps. I want my grandchildren to know the joy of giving and doing for others. I believe I can teach and share this even with
those I employ. I counted up the time I spend at work and home only to discover I spend more time at work than ay home in a given week, so if your think about it, my coworkers are my family].

All catering sources are different and have different holiday procedures. This might require you to be flexible with catering that is needed as soon as possible. Your passenger may want beef tips in a burgundy sauce over spätzle, but the catering source is preparing for an event serving beef filet mignon stuffed with a lobster tails, oven roasted heirloom fingerling potatoes and a morel cream sauce. But your passenger really wants beef tips in one hour. You may need to give him the filet and placate him. In this case, not a bad swap, but what if it is ham, or turkey or duck? An advance warning of possible changes in the selection when taking the order from the administrative assistant might be a good idea. It totally changes their expectation, and, if you secure their request, you're a hero!

The catering sources' vendor availability might also change. For us, we will be challenged to receive fresh fish the day before, the day of and the day after the holiday because our HACCP approved supplier will be closed. But, I then have to ask, just how fresh will the fish be for a few days following or at least until they have sold all the fresh fish in house prior to the holiday so I will not recommend a fresh caught and cut fish, but rather rely on fish that was sold frozen. Because of the holiday, a supply of a
given product might also run short or even become depleted - especially in remote locations. With our modern age of expecting and receiving what we want and when, we must be prepared for the supply chain to be interrupted during the holidays and our normal expectations may not be met.

Have you ever noticed the increased traffic we experience during the entire holiday season? I have, and over the years have come to allow almost 50% more time for the same delivery as a non- holiday time. Don’t cut those deliveries close, and allow plenty of time. If you decide to leave the aircraft and run to the market, be sure to allow plenty of time. Double what you expect. Better yet, see if one of the CSRs might run the errand for you or do it one the way to the aircraft.

Weather may also play into the holiday challenges, just as it might during the winter storm season. I have a suggestion that might help with the lack of catering available for you. There are numerous shelf staple items that can be prepared and placed on board the aircraft, stowed away in a cubby until you encounter a last minute challenge. It is my belief that something is better than nothing, especially when you have hungry folks on board.

Image courtesy Torn Ranch, Petaluma CA.

Not only can your local catering source prepare, but also you can purchase pre-made gift sets of dried fruits and nuts, varied popcorns, crackers and cheese trays that do not require refrigeration. There are both savory and sweet options, but imagine having one stowed on board, and when the catering requested is either not what anyone can eat or wants, what a hero you might be by pulling a gift basket for the passengers out of thin air for their enjoyment! Now it is a gift, not catering. Sorry crew you might be dining from the snack drawer on this leg!

Alcohol can be challenging as well. What if you need a bottle of Cristol champagne for a midnight New Years eve flight. Some markets are only sold a limited number based on the sales that store has over the year with that particular distributor, and they may be sold out. This may be something you order now from your key market cities for those passengers known to enjoy some of the specialty spirits, for the just- in- case moment. You buy it, and the catering source holds it with your name on it for your next request. And what goes better with champagne than chocolate-
dipped long stem strawberries, foie gras, duck confit, canapés, lobster and other delicacies. For that New Years celebration, what will you plan ahead to have on hand for your flight? Don’t forget the catering source’s holiday parties; they are generally a great place to fall back on when there is short notice and you need something special. Ask what they are preparing for their parties.

Christmas and other religious holiday celebrations vary from country to country and may affect closure times and days, and menu options available. Many of you will have crews flying the actual holiday. They are away from their home and their family. If you plan it right, and work hand in hand with your catering sources, you can make sure that they have a selection of holiday choices for your crew meals. And who said a crew meal couldn’t also suffice for the passengers in a pinch? We will deep fry a few turkeys and brown sugar glaze some fresh ham to have on hand for our crews over the holiday. And then we get to create the leftover into some awesome meals and soups for later.

Check with your catering sources and ask what their regional favorites for the holiday are. What are they known for, what do they love to prepare, what is native to their region for the holiday? This is a chance to try something new. If you want to bring the holiday on board you can request a simple Christmas cookie tray instead of a standard cookie tray, a Bûche de Noël instead of a slice of cake, a crème de menthe pie instead of another flavor.

A word of caution here . . . if you do not want a holiday garnish or other holiday addition due to religious reasons, please consider it as serious as an allergy. No one wants to be offended or upset, whether a passenger or flight crew, but, without knowledge it may be an innocent mistake on behalf of the catering source, and an angry nightmare for the passenger. For example…starting Thanksgiving day we add a mini candy cane to each boxed meal. This is also a time when different flowers and greenery find their way onto trays and platter. Alert your crews that poinsettias are NOT edible and should not come in contact with the food, dieffenbachia is a green leaf with light green to yellow specks on it and this too is NOT edible. It numbs your vocal cords so you can’t speak temporarily. Definitely not something you want your crews to encounter when they need to communicate with air traffic control.

The holiday season can be a challenging endeavor to fulfill your passenger and flight crews requests, and it will be successful if you plan ahead. Don’t be caught off guard; don’t be surprised when you call and your catering sources are closed; don’t be surprised with delivery problems. Back those times up a bit. Warn your flight crews about NON EDIBLE plants and flowers used to garnish; be aware of your passengers’ holiday expectations, and you will be fine.

We, as your catering sources want perfection as much as you do; we want you to shine. We want to be your superstar catering source! It will require teamwork and focused planning in advance . . . together.


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 | 30th November 2017 | Issue #441

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