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A Course in Catering

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

By Shannon Wilder

These days, an increasing number of Georgia restaurateurs are adding catering to their menus as a way to bring in much-needed additional revenue.

As with any new business venture, there are challenges and concerns along the way. Fortunately, restaurant owners in the Peach state who are ready to make the leap can get expert advice from catering industry leaders such as Patrick Cuccaro, general manager of Affairs to Remember and past chair of the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA).

Cuccaro and the Affairs to Remember team have hosted the GRA’s four-hour catering boot camp at the firm’s Atlanta location three times a year for the last four years. How great is the demand? According to Cuccaro, the boot camp has been sold out – with a wait list – each and every time it’s been offered. The four-hour sessions are offered free to GRA members.

Embrace the Changing Landscape

Catering in 2013, Cuccaro says, is a far cry from the white-clothed banquet tables and sterno-fueled chafing dishes of yesteryear. And keeping up with trends in entertaining is crucial to a new caterer’s success.

“Catering is like haute couture,” Cuccaro says. “What’s hot today is not tomorrow. If we become stale, it is at our peril. In off-premise catering, we’ve witnessed the transformation of catered events from merely “feeding people” to sophisticated entertainment and social interaction. As recently as a decade ago it was acceptable to roll out a few exciting new food ideas every year. Today, that just won’t fly. We create several hundred new dishes a year. We must continually reinvent the customer experience.”

Those restaurants that have already embraced the seasonal/locally grown movement will have a leg up when it comes to opening a catering operation. One of the biggest trends Cuccaro says he’s seen of late is a willingness of catering clients to embrace seasonal menu items – even if it means not knowing exactly what’s going to be on the menu until the very last minute.

To support that trend, Affairs to Remember has established its own garden. The effort not only provides outstanding raw product for the firm’s menu items, it also supports a greater commitment to sustainability. The food goes full circle, Cuccaro says, explaining that Affairs purchases uses its own organic material as compost in the garden.

Perfect the Food

The centerpiece of any catering operation is, of course, the food. And regardless of size, any catering operation has to have a grasp of how well food will travel.  Testing new dishes, like Cuccaro describes above, is only half the battle. A dish may work wonderfully well in the restaurant, where it only has to go from kitchen to table. The journey to the venue is often quite a different story.

“We call it road worthiness,” says Cuccaro. “Catering is an art and a science. Every single new food that you introduce must pass several litmus tests.”

Those include how the food survives the trip, and how well it stands up to sitting in limbo between the time it arrives and the time it reaches a plate.

“If a food hasn’t been tested properly,” he says, “the likelihood of failure is exponentially higher. We spend hours analyzing our roadworthiness, as must all successful caterers.”

Focus on the Basics

Newly minted caterers make mistakes on the operational front as well. What’s the worst from Cuccaro’s point of view? “Deciding to go into catering without enough skin in the game. Trial and error is not a business plan – it is a brand killer.”

Too often, restaurateurs risk their reputation on an ill-thought-out attempt to add a few dollars to the bottom line. “Imagine serving your restaurant’s signature steak to 150 guests at a private, hosted event, “ he says. “Just when the steaks are perfectly cooked, the best man unexpectedly launches into a round of toasts. That beautiful signature steak that was perfect a mere 15 minutes ago is now a gray hockey puck.

“Do you think these guests, who are eating your hockey puck for free, will become paying future customers? Doubtful. This happens all the time. Brand destruction for the sake of incremental catering revenue is not a pretty sight.”

At the other end of the spectrum, he says, the most common errors for caterers who’ve been in the business for a while include food safety infractions, unprofitable pricing and failure to grow the infrastructure to meet volume demands.

A Winning Strategy

With almost four decades under its belt, Affairs to Remember has borne witness to a sea change in the industry, says Cuccaro. Catering has shifted from merely serving food to providing a memorable experience from start to finish, and Affairs to Remember has risen to the challenge. As proof, the firm was awarded the 2013 Best-Caterer-in-the-South ACE Award at the recent Catersource Conference & Tradeshow in Las Vegas.

The ACE Award for the South Region is selected from entries from 12 states, including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

Of winning the award, Cuccaro said it was a special honor, adding, “It’s a pleasure just to practice our art and craft. To be recognized for doing so is the icing on our cake.”


Atlanta Community Food Bank

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Founded in 1979, the Atlanta Community Food Bank currently distributes almost 2 million pounds of food and other donated grocery items each month to more than 800 nonprofit partner agencies in 38 counties in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Distributing these donations to low-income Georgians, our partner agencies provide dynamic links between the local community, the Food Bank and our supporters.

In addition to our core business of food distribution, the Food Bank has a number of projects that help build community including The Atlanta Prosperity Campaign, Atlanta’s Table, Community Gardens, Hunger 101, Hunger Walk/Run, Kids In Need, and the Product Rescue Center.


Southern Foodways Alliance

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South in order to preserve, promote, and chronicle the south’s culinary standard. The SFA is a member-supported organization of more than 800 people. Chefs and academics, writers and eaters: all are active participants. For more information contact the Southern Foodways Alliance, 662-915-5993 or email


Slow Food

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. For more information visit


James Beard Foundation

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The James Beard Foundation is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in New York City dedicated to celebrating, preserving, and nurturing America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence. For more information contact

Credit: The Reynolds Group, Inc.
Caption: Chefs plating their course at the Atlanta James Beard dinner

Credit: The Reynolds Group, Inc.
Caption: Chefs Jeremy Lieb, Arnaud Berthelier, Joel Antunes, Kevin Rathbun, Kathryn King and Anne Quatrano at the Atlanta James Beard dinner.


International Association of Culinary Professionals

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) is a not-for-profit professional organization providing continuing education and development for its members who are engaged in the areas of culinary education, communication or the preparation of food and drink.


Chefs Collaborative

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Chefs Collaborative is a growing community of chefs, farmers, fishers, educators, and food lovers is dedicated to promoting sustainable cuisine. For more information contact or call 617-236-5200.


American Institute of Wine and Food

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The American Institute of Wine Food is a non-profit organization founded by Julia Child, Robert Mondavi, Richard Graff and others in 1981 to advance the understanding, appreciation and quality of what we eat and drink. For additional information, please email Gena Berry or call 404-255-6298.


United Culinary Chef Association

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The United Culinary Chef Association (UCCA) is a non-profit organization devoted to improving the appreciation and understanding of foodservice careers, providing a means to exchange ideas and present fun and relaxing activities. UCCA exists to give its members a strong circle offering friendship, camaraderie and an enjoyable atmosphere away from their stressful daily environment.


American Culinary Federation – Atlanta Chefs Association Inc

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

ACF Atlanta logo

Founded in 1929, the ACF is a professional, not-for-profit organization for chefs and cooks. Its principle goal is to promote a professional image of American chef’s worldwide through education among culinarians at all levels, from apprentices to the most accomplished certified master chefs of the culinary arts.

The ACF Atlanta Chefs Association Inc organizes and participates in several events during the year. ACF offers certification for all chefs, cooks and bakers. For more information, visit

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