Catering 101




If you are reading this article, then you have probably been surprised and disappointed by a catering order or two in your day. It can be difficult to stay focused when that happens and time is of the essence so usually this involves a quick call to the caterer and some spirited conversation. Even more often it simply involves muttering and ranting on social media about how things turned out so badly.


Catering mishaps are usually a two-way street and like any good relationship; good communication is the key to getting things the way you want them. You must first have a very clear understanding of what you want, how you want it and what your specifications and limitations are. You must then communicate all of this clearly and concisely to your catering partner who is working with a clean slate. Good information can make their job and yours a lot easier.


  1. Building The Order: The Foundation

Before you even think about the food, know your aircraft. Even if you are a contract crewmember you can ask the pilots ahead of the time for this information. Some important points that will influence your order:


  • Seating configuration
  • Oven/Microwave/Chilling capacity and shelf sizes
  • Storage space
  • Prep method anticipated for each item


  1. Talking to “Hal”

Now you are ready to clearly articulate exactly what you want based on the above specifications. Imagine you are talking to a computer. The result you get will only be as good as the information you give. The caterer has a vast number of packaging choices and presentation options. They won’t know what you want and what you are picturing unless you tell them. Here’s an example:

You look at the menu and see a great cold seafood platter for an appetizer and then think you will follow it up with a Caesar salad and grilled wild salmon with roasted vegetables and mushroom risotto. It’s all on their menu so you think you can just order it right? With some detail work, you can make sure that dinner arrives at your aircraft in good shape in a form that makes it easy for you to serve quickly in flight and reheat effectively. Try adding some more information:


  • Seafood platter to serve 12 divided onto 3 glass platters to serve 4 each
  • Caesar salad to serve 12 packaged bulk. Lettuce washed, wrapped in paper towel in Ziploc. Caesar, Balsamic, and Olive oil dressings bulk board in screw top containers clearly labeled.
  • Grilled wild salmon to serve 12 bulk board in oven containers to fit oven of ____ dimensions (or specify oven container size.)
  • Mushroom risotto to serve 12-bulk board in oven container to fit above oven (You may choose microwave for this and give size specs)
  • Roasted Vegetables bulk board in oven container to fit above oven.


The point is to tell them what kind of container you want so you aren’t changing things on the plane because you didn’t think ahead or foods surprised you in the wrong kind of container or the wrong size for your aircraft. That is time consuming and messy. You also aren’t surprised by a soggy Caesar salad arriving pre-assembled or one giant Seafood platter that you can’t stow anywhere and you have two or three seating groups on your aircraft. Also remember to bulk order for 1-3 more than you are planning on in case an extra passenger or two shows up or portions aren’t what you expected.


  1. Pulling It All Together

Now that they know exactly what you want, spell out how you want to see it when it arrives. This can make your job so much easier and just makes sense. You went over the type of containers you wanted each item in when you told the caterer what you wanted. Be sure to remind them to clearly label each container indicating contents, heating time and temperature.

If you are ordering multiple meals, make it clear that you want each in a separate box, clearly marked. Always keep safe food handling guidelines in mind when discussing packing. Be sure to mention that you want the food delivered chilled below 40 degrees. If you are on an extended mission and have limited chilling capacity, have food that will be used later packed layered with ice sheets or on dry ice, sealed and clearly marked. The safe storage time for food above 40 degrees is only four hours.


  1. Other Considerations

Add in any other items you need at this point. Crew meals, flowers, stock items (milk, lemons, limes, etc.) and specialty items. Use a checklist to make sure you never forget to cover these items.


  1. Write, Call, Write

This is the order of communication. Always. If the company does not list an email address to send your written request, call and get one. Never depend on the spoken word. Send an email with your detailed catering order in list form with the following information at the top:


  • Name, email, phone, hotel, room #
  • Tail #, Trip #, aircraft type, FBO, FBO address and phone, hangar
  • Delivery date
  • Delivery time (2 hours prior plus traffic etc.)


  1. List each item you want in what container
  2. Packaging instructions
  3. Request written confirmation with pricing


Upon receipt of written confirmation, call and discuss each line item to confirm complete understanding of order. If you don’t receive confirmation in a timely manner, call. Go over any details unique to this situation. Adjust delivery time for traffic or construction. Make sure there is a clear understanding of any allergies or special needs. This is the time to clear up any misunderstandings and establish your relationship.


As with any relationship, good communication is crucial. If you have carefully selected your caterer, you should get a good result if you put your share of effort into the relationship. They have all of the tools to help you shine, so give them what they need to do their job. It’s a lot like a good marriage, both parties have to try to make it work and communication is your best tool!




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