Partying at $1,000-plus per guest
As the holiday season gains steam, are people in a celebratory mood?
“Yes, particularly if they’re Republicans!” quipped Bill Hansen last week after the GOP squeaked through a tight gubernatorial race in Florida and picked up a majority in the US Senate.
“There’s been a definite uptick in the economy,” said the principal of Bill Hansen Luxury Catering and Events. “Developers are developing, and they need events to draw in buyers.
“A huge portion of our market is international and national corporations that come to Miami on sales incentive trips and corporate convention,” he continued. “They’re not afraid to entertain more lavishly than they did a few years ago.”
Elegant weddings are a mainstay of Mr. Hansen’s business. “It’s a known fact that couples will get married regardless of the economy, but they are much more willing to spend now,” he said.
Nearly all of his wedding clients want a seated service rather than a buffet. “There is also a trend toward having a choice of entrees presented at the table,” he said. “Everyone gets to choose, and that drives up the cost. You need a few more servers and more food. You can estimate what guests will choose, but you need to have 50% more entrees than you would normally.”
A high-end wedding can cost $1,000 or more per guest, not including the cost of the venue, flowers, photographer, music, bridal gown and all of the other wedding expenses. Catering for a more modest event can be had for $200 per plate, said Mr. Hansen, who usually attends his events. “It’s not that I don’t trust my staff; I just want to be there.”
No longer are delicious food and attentive service the only things a caterer needs to provide. “The other huge change I see – not only for social but also for corporate events – is that everyone is looking for unique presentations.
“It’s not enough to put meat on a plate; you need to elevate it or garnish it with some special twist. Passed hors d’ oeuvres need to be presented in unusual vessels or on slabs of wood. It’s all about the presentation.”
Venues and service are crucial, he said.
“I’ll go on record as saying that I have a better knowledge of venues than anyone,” Mr. Hansen said. “Everyone wants a unique venue, and there are some wonderful ones out there.”
In addition to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and Villa Woodbine, he listed The Kampong, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the Deering Estate and the Miami Beach Botanical Garden as local favorites, also with the Alfred I. DuPont Building, and galleries like the Moore Building, and the Rubell Family Collection. Clubs like Mansion, Set and Cameo are hit corporate venues, he added. “Part of our service is to help clients find the perfect location.”
“Overall, we’re doing a lot more catering,” said Steven Perricone, owner and founder of Perricone’s Marketplace and Café, which includes a popular Italian restaurant in Brickell.
While Perricone’s has catered weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, it has carved out a special niche in corporate catering. Holiday lunches that law and other professional firms host in their offices or off site remain a strong part of the catering business.
“A lot of offices do this for their employees,” he said. Perricone’s also produces myriad events for client Braman Motors, he added.
But it’s not only the holidays that provide a boost, Mr. Perricone observed. “Art Basel is always an exciting time of year.” Throughout Miami Beach, the Design District, Wynwood and downtown, parties will spring up around the main fair itself and satellite events, he added.
“It’s a great time of year for Miami,” he said, “and wonderful exposure for the city.”
“Our holiday season starts now,” said Marilyn McSwiggan, principal of Lovables Inc. Within the next two weeks, her firm will cook, slice and serve about 200 turkey dinners with or without the side dishes to clients for their office lunches and parties.
After Thanksgiving, the holiday season is in full swing. Lovables has bookings from Dec. 3 to 24, mostly for office parties, though the company also does weddings and private gatherings.
“We’ve established a mid-range kind of business,” Ms. McSwiggan said. Clients are mostly firms throwing parties for customers and employees, or office buildings treating tenants to a holiday breakfast or lunch.
In the case of breakfast, guests enjoy carts with upscale coffees or lattes, omelet or exotic waffle stations, bacon, sausage, pastries and juice. Lunch is usually a variety of food and beverage stations.
For dinner parties, she said, she prefers to have a combination of appetizer buffet and passed hors d’oeuvres. “When you have 200 or so guests, you don’t want them to have to wait. They can help themselves” or wait until a server comes by.
“What we’re finding this year is that people want locally sourced meats and seafoods,” she added. Because of clients’ ecological concerns, she has abandoned Styrofoam in favor of disposables that can be recycled.
“This year we’re doing more ethnic buffets: Peruvian, Italian, Asian and Mexican are the top sellers.” She has also added more gluten-free items, including quinoa and spaghetti squash. Chalk boards adjacent to the items let those with food sensitivities know what’s in each dish.
“The popular décor for our buffets this year is all-natural,” Ms. McSwiggan said. The firm is using more burlap, silver, red and lime green to create a woodland look. That simplicity carries over to the menu. “People want food that is fun, that is different, that is light.” Instead of the chocolate fountain of yesteryear, desserts are gingerbread pudding, fruitcake, or mini dessert samplers.
The one exception seems to be churrasco. “We just did a wedding in Wynwood where we had potato latkes, salmon, beautiful carrot purees, and everybody went for the churrasco,” she said. “During the holidays, people are going to splurge and eat; it’s pretty much the only time they do.”