The holidays mean many, many events for catering departments at universities around the country. Handling the season’s high demand for catering can be a challenge for operators, especially at those who are closely affiliated with a religion. At 10,500-student University of Dayton, in Ohio, the holidays are a very important time because of the university’s Catholic Marianist roots. Melissa Clark, event coordinator for catering services, says the campus works with its clients to celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in addition to Christmas.
“The holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for UD Catering Services,” Clark says. “We cater all different kinds of events, from luncheons and dinners to cocktail parties both on and off campus. We have a very dedicated staff of students and part-time employees who work hard to make each event special for our guests. Every year we publish a different holiday menu that our clients can choose seasonal favorites.”
Clark says that along with the traditional holiday fare, the department prepares special holiday items such as caramelized ripe plantains, apricot almond rugelach, potato latkes and mini sweet potato pies for special events.
“We have featured grilled duck breast with a mango glaze, chicken Boursin served with citrus orzo and fresh baked rome apples stuffed with marzipan, cranberries and raisins in a red wine syrup for dessert,” Clark says. “Our most popular beverage during the holidays is mulled apple cider with orange and ginger.”
The most popular holiday event for the department, according to Clark, is the university’s Christmas on Campus.
“This celebration was started in 1964 as a way for a small group of students to celebrate the holidays before they left campus for the winter break,” Clark says. “Today, almost three-fourths of the student body is involved in Christmas on Campus.”
For Christmas on Campus the university hosts children from different Dayton elementary schools, who are invited to play games, visit with Santa and enjoy decorations that Dayton students create.
“[The kids] drink hundreds of gallons of punch and hot chocolate, eat dozens and dozens of cookies and gaze at the beautiful Christmas-themed ice sculptures hand-carved by our talented chefs,” Clark says. “Last year’s sculptures included many children’s toys including a choo-choo train, Christmas bells, snowmen, gift boxes and a very large angel. COC is one of our favorite events on campus. It is a collaborative effort between the student committees, who work almost year-round in their planning, Dining Services and other departments on campus.”
Clark says one of the challenges during this busy time of year is that finals week for student employees falls during the busiest time for catering. Clark says that the department has to use temporary workers to help when student employees aren’t available during the holidays.
“Usually, we are able to get enough of the students to delay their departure after their finals to help us through the week,” she says. “Our advice to other operators facing similar busy holiday seasons is to plan ahead as much as possible for staffing, ordering and to avoid the last-minute rush. Keep everyone informed of work/schedule expectations. Keep everyone involved in developing special holiday menus and decorations and remember to make it fun.”
Another exciting event for the department is the UD Dining Services holiday party, says Clark, which is held on the last day of exam week before winter break. All dining employees are invited, along with a guest, and the catering team sets up different stations for the employees to enjoy.
“[We’ve set up stations like] a seafood station with smoked salmon, hundreds of jumbo shrimp and scallops cooked to order by our chefs. Other stations include a gourmet cheese and exotic fruit display, antipasto trays with different kinds of salads for those who want to make a meal out of it. We also feature a carving station with beef tenderloin, twice-baked new potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, oven-roasted vegetables and whole green beans almondine. The dessert station is everyone’s favorite with our always-popular chocolate fountain, dessert shots, specialty cakes and pies. If the weather has been cold enough, we are able to use some of the ice sculptures from Christmas on Campus to make it extra special for the Dining Services staff.”