With the leftover Thanksgiving turkey barely finished, caterers’ calendars are already filling up for the holiday season.
“We like to say we party for a living, and we do that a great measure in December,” said Bill Rowe, owner of Blue Moon Caterers.
Slots are filling for one of the most frantic times of the year – the two weeks before Christmas – and caterers say it’s better to book early to get the date and caterer you want.
“There’s so many forehead slaps in that week before (Christmas),” Rowe said of last-minute calls.
“I will get calls two weeks into December asking to do something this Saturday and I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You’ll get that,” said Ben Arnold, owner of Corporate Caterers of Wichita.
To say the holidays are busy for caterers is an understatement.
From Dec. 1 to Dec. 22, Corporate Caterers will do the same sales as in January, February and March combined, Arnold said.
“I call it harvest,” Arnold said. “Coming from a farm family, you work morning, noon and night. … There’s always time to sleep in January.”
Two years ago, the company’s sales in December were less than the year before.
But last December, Arnold said, Corporate Caterers had record sales and number of events for a single day: $78,000 and 37 events.
To keep up with demand, Corporate Caterers adds about 27 employees to its current 147 during the holidays and rents two to four trucks on top of the nine it already owns.
“The adrenaline just carries you,” Arnold said. “You make it through an entire month with two, three mistakes out of hundreds of caterings, and you’re pretty pleased.”
Since the recession, Wichita caterers have seen a decrease in large business-oriented events.
“Before 2008 there were large corporate events,” Rowe said. “Mostly those have gone bye-bye.”
For area caterers, those larger events are being replaced by a greater number of smaller parties, especially in-home holiday parties, said Theresa Burckhard, catering director for Premier Catering.
“We’re getting more inquiries for home parties and smaller (events),” Burckhard said. “People are not spending quite as much money as elaborate corporate parties. People are more tight with their money, trying to get as much as they can for their dollar.”
“It’s not as bad as it was a few years ago, but it’s not as good as it can be,” she said. “It’s steady and we’ve got a positive outlook it’s going to be good next year.”
Ana Ryan, catering director for Two Brothers BBQ, 3750 N. Woodlawn, said that catering last year during the holidays was down, but projections are up for this year.
So far, catering for the entire year is up about 20 to 30 percent at all locations, she said.
The restaurant’s main item for the holidays is spiral sliced honey ham and it’s already taking orders for Christmas.
Ryan said she also has noted the change in business parties.
“Most of the companies are actually calling for the main course now,” Ryan said. “They want the main course, and then they’re doing potluck on the side orders, similar to actual family meals.”
But this year may be better, she said, with more corporate holiday parties booked than last year.
Caterers are also seeing an increase in hors d’oeuvres for events, instead of the more formal banquet-style holiday parties.
“The great parties are the more intimate (ones),” Rowe said. “My personal opinion is hors d’oeuvres events are much more social.”Bars and specialty cocktails are also holiday favorites for caterers and their customers.
At an upcoming event, Blue Moon Caterers will have specialty drinks called the Poinsettia and Reindeer Kiss.
“People are being festive and reflect that in their menus and events,” Rowe said.
“You have to be a little crazy to be in the events business,” Rowe said. “It’s brutal work, but so much fun.”