Holiday food: a reason to celebrate

Caterers offer tips for meeting your office holiday party budget without turning into Ebenezer Scrooge.

By Isaac Bonnell

The holidays are a time to get together with friends and family — and eat. And there’s no better place to share holiday sweets and all the guilt that comes with them than at the office.

Though the economy hasn’t offered much reason to celebrate during the past two holiday seasons, this year is looking brighter, especially for local caterers. Besides wedding season, the holidays are traditionally a busy time of year for caterers.

Tom Kilpatrick, owner of Hilltop Restaurant and Windows on the Bay Events, said he already has more events booked this year than last year.

“When I compare it to a year ago, I do see an up trend,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not all roses, but it’s definitely feeling positive.”

One trend that sticks out to Kilpatrick is the number of social events he is catering. While businesses are trimming the budget for their holiday parties, there has been a marked uptick in the number of individuals throwing their own parties, he said.

At Naturally Decadent Affairs, co-owner Nichole Ehman has seen a lot of businesses opting to host a lunchtime holiday party, rather than a dinner party, to save on costs. Plus, with items such as a build-your-own sandwich platter or a meat and cheese platter, there is less cleanup and they are almost certain to please everyone.

“A lot of the holiday parties are geared more toward items on the drop-off menu,” Ehman said. “And a lot of it is comfort foods that are a little bit cheaper to make but everybody still loves.”

In the past two years, Ehman said she has seen more people waiting to schedule their holiday parties, creating a last-minute rush. So to speed up the process, she drafted a 10-page “gourmet to go” menu with prices listed for every dish so people can better plan their meals to meet their budgets. Rather than having Ehman create a customized menu, many customers are calling in with their menus already picked out.

“In the old days we would write a menu for them and send it to them and wait for their response,” Ehman said. “Now our clients can just jump on the web and plan out the menu themselves and get exactly what they want.”

When it comes to meeting a budget for the company holiday party, Ehman said she has seen people getting creative with stretching the budget, from hosting the party at someone’s house to staffing the party themselves.

“People will do their own decorating or bring in their own bar staff so they can have a lot of good food on their menus,” she said. “You have to pick your battles: Would you rather spend more time on your centerpieces or have more food?”

Another option is to move the holiday party to January, said Jessica Gillis, who owns Ciao Thyme/In the Kitchen with her husband, Mataio.

“We have folks who call the day after their party to book next year. So if you want a specific date, you really have to call early,” Gillis said. “So if you are having a hard time finding a date, look at January. About mid-January is a great time to celebrate without all the stress of the holidays and there are more weekends available.”

For groups looking to do something different for their holiday party, Ciao Thyme offers hands-on cooking classes where groups of 20 people or fewer can learn how to prepare all of the tasty delicacies available at the party. For coworkers who often interact only at work, this is a way to have a team-building exercise of sorts and it encourages people to open up more, Gillis said.

“It’s a nice way to connect in another way outside of work,” she said.

Whatever you have planned for the holidays, don’t forget to have a good time.

“Our first suggestion is eat, drink and be merry,” Kilpatrick said. “The purpose of these parties is to get people together and share the holiday spirit.”

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