Communication is difficult enough when placing a catering order, but what makes it even more challenging is when the person placing the catering order doesn’t speak the standard catering industry packaging terminology.
Working with flight attendants with catering concerns, I find that if they could communicate better with the caterer, they would get what they are envisioning, and would save money for their company. You read me right – Money! It is a simple, sure fire way to save. So what are these industry terminology magic words that will save money? The basics – bulk, bulk foil, bulk micro, plated, trayed, individual meal package, 1/3 foil, ½ foil. In the US we use numerous sizes of foils, but, as we get orders from international aircraft we hear terms like small foil, medium foil, large foil which plays havoc. How simple it would if we all talk the same language; how many fewer mistakes would the world of general aviation catering encounter?
Let’s get started with a little clarification.
From a caterer point of view . . .
A vessel made of natural or synthetic material that is generally woven. Only rarely do we provide a metal or some form of wire basket. If you are requesting a metal basket it will most likely require a shopping trip and additional expense. We fill these baskets with a variety of goodies from snacks to chocolates to crackers to fresh fruit – fruit that you can hold in your hand which is termed “hand fruit.” This eliminates the possibility of your large fruit basket arriving with whole pineapples, watermelons, red papayas and other whole melons.
All like items for a specific menu are packed separately in oven ready pans (bulk foil), microwave pans (bulk microwave), plastic deli containers or Ziploc’s (bulk Ziplocs). This is a great way to reduce catering costs because it saves on packaging (not to mention valuable galley storage space). This form of packaging requires the flight crew to do some assembly work when ready to serve, and the aircraft must have the dishes or trays to plate the food already in the galley. The other benefit of bulk packaging is that all meal components can be reheated in the best possible way independently of the other components; sauces will not be soaked into the proteins or pastas before the passenger or flight crew gets to eat them, and most importantly, the presentation is cleaner, and does not look like a leftover.
CPET/ Dual ovenable
This is something you are going to love. It is a container that works in either a microwave or oven. No need to worry whether this aircraft has a microwave or oven, or that there is too much food to cycle in and out of the oven to all be served hot at the same time, or that one of these galley pieces is out of service for this trip. For those flight departments who stock extra pans for the oven and for the microwave, you can reduce your inventory by two items and stock only one – a cost effective savings. But there is a negative that I must make you aware of; the lids are not typically oven usable or microwavable, and will require you to overwrap the container in cellophane or foil if a lid is needed for heating the food. The lid is politely referred to as a “dust cover” in the industry since its sole use is to keep foreign objects out of the food and make the pans stackable.
Plated can be provided on glass, china, plastic and even metal. This means that one portion is prepared and placed in a manner that it can be served to the passenger or flight crew. This portion is fully garnished and simply needs to be unwrapped and placed in front of the person to enjoy. This is the perfect solution for the short flight with only minutes to serve, for flights where the aircraft has a full load and one flight attendant must attend to everyone very quickly. This also works great for those flights where there is no flight crew member in the back of the aircraft, or where the passengers will be serving themselves.
Food can be presented on plastic, metal or china and glass. (by the way I refer to glass as something breakable, that you can see through, possibly in light colors, clear or opaque). This packaging is done for one or more passengers or even crew to share food from the same tray. It is sometimes referred to in a restaurant as family style eating. Now this is where it gets tricky and will save you some money. The trays should match up with the seating configuration of the aircraft. One tray might be for the two facing club chairs; one tray might be for the four club chairs, and one might be for a single club or sofa seating using a single tray table. I regularly caution those ordering trays that it is not necessary to order trays for the total number of passengers. Say for example, you have ordered a fruit tray, a crudité tray, and a sandwich tray with a side condiment tray and cookies for dessert. There is no room for all of this food on the table and it is unlikely the people will eat everything in front of them unless possibly they are on a very long flight and plan to eat the entire way. Research studies show that on average people will eat about eight pieces of pick-up bite size food in one to two hours as a snack and with bite size tapas as a meal will eat 18 – 20 pieces. So let’s think about it – an average fruit tray will contain 8-10 ounces per person, a crudité tray for presentation will have about the same, and the sandwich tray can have 1 sandwich, 1 ½ sandwiches, or up to 2 per person all at variable filling weights. And the cookie tray generally will have 3 cookies per person (but how big are those cookies? Do you really want three?) So here is the cost saving tip – decrease the number of portions ordered overall knowing that you can’t consume all the food you order. Another solution is to combine the trays; order a sandwich and a side of crudité on one tray; cut the condiment tray in half as most people don’t eat this, and decrease the number of passengers on the fruit tray by 10% for 5 and under, and by 30% when you have 6 or more people. Wow! What a saving.
As I mentioned there are pans called small, medium and large foils but does anyone really know how many these pans will serve? Most caterers want to charge by the serving rather than by the pan. For proteins, canapés, and hors d’oeuvres, that is easy, just count the pieces, but what about vegetables and starches? So the other foils sizes 2” X 3” will hold 1-2 servings, a 5”X7” will hold 2-3 side servings or one complete meal (protein, starch and vegetable). But the problem with these pans is that they tend to be a fire hazard on the aircraft due to the paper lids that accompany them. To prevent this, always ask the caterer to place the lids on foil side up. The half pan will hold 10-12 side serving or 6-8 entrée servings, and this pan does have a foil lid.
So there you have it! It is time to save some money, have less waste, and actually get the food delivered in the type of equipment you need for a successful catering experience. So, as you or your catering company attempt to source some of these great packaging ideas, and want a cost effective company to work with . . . here is an inside tip . . . there is a brand new company debuting in early January who have catering supplies, aircraft china and glassware designed for the general aviation industry. Look out for them: www.myairware.com