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How to hire and train for a summer catering program

At the residential facilities Glendale Senior Dining serves, catered birthday and anniversary parties, summer barbecues and other private on- and off-site events give senior residents a convenient alternative to cooking themselves, Director of Business Development Todd Lindsay says. glendale senior dining catering

For these events, Glendale, which serves locations throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, will often tap employees from nearby units to take on catering events; and for weekend or summer engagements, it will reach out to the parent company’s school dining division for a few extra hands.

“We bring in two or three servers from another unit that’s right down the road,” Glendale President Jim Hecker says. “It’s extra money for them, and they’re all trained the same so they all know what they’re doing. We just match it up to fit.”

Staffing can be a particular challenge for off-season catering in a university setting, but Aaron Kielbasa, assistant director of dining services for catering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says his team has found there are usually enough full-time dining workers and part-time student support staff around even when classes aren’t in session.

It’s also a chance for employees to pick up or polish a different skill set. At Illinois, all summer residential dining staff who are supporting catering receive special training to learn the basics of formal dining or front-of-house service. At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, employees at dining units that slow down in the summer also have an opportunity to be trained in catering. Regular residential dining staffers who are interested in pitching in for summer conferences and events are asked to write a letter explaining why they want to make the seasonal transition.

“We want it to be a learning opportunity; we don’t just want to all of a sudden tell them they’re going to work catering over the summer,” says Peter Testory, Wisconsin’s director of dining and culinary services. “And we typically have a lot of staff who want to get that experience. It’s a completely different type of service; sometimes it may be a completely different style of food. You’re dealing with a different clientele at that point that expects an elevated level of service.”  

With that elevated level of service come elevated labor costs, but the higher price point per head, and elements such as full bar service at weddings and other summer events, tend to offset that spike, Kielbasa says.

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