Special Events

Guest Room: What Counts in Catering

It's been the same story for the last 30 years. High-profile clients hosting high-profile events turn to New York's Glorious Food for catering. The company's portfolio includes Ronald Reagan's 1985 inaugural luncheon, the 1986 reopening of the Statue of Liberty and countless museum galas.

Despite the glittering press his company receives, Sean Driscoll — partner in Glorious Food with Jean Claude Nedelec — sticks to a simple course. Here he tells Special Events Magazine what matters and what doesn't.

Special Events Magazine: Glorious Food has been a premier catering firm for 30 years. How do you keep your edge and cachet?

Sean Driscoll: I guess our clients feel that they are very confident with us. We have their trust. We have about five account executives who are constantly relating back and forth with the client. It's a dialogue that just keeps going.

Q: How does your business break down?

A: Corporate is about 85 percent and the rest is social. It's just shaken out that way. When you have the social and private business, you end up getting the corporate. It's very high-end. We do about $7 million to $8 million in food sales annually. We have about 70 on staff full-time and 500 freelance waiters and waitresses.

Q: Do you ever turn business away?

A: Yes, once in a while we will turn down an event. [But] most people who call Glorious Food know it's what they want.

Q: What are the biggest changes you've seen in the catering business in the last five years?

A: In New York City, there is always competition. New York is the center of the universe. It's staying ahead of the game. Nothing has really changed in five, 10, 15, 20 years — you have got to deliver the product.

Q: Many caterers are adding “event planner” to their business cards. How do you see your role?

A: We do as much as the client wants us to do. We're basically a foodservice organization. If the moment is right, we will do decor. Sometimes we contract it out and sometimes we do it ourselves.

Q: With publications such as In Style focusing on special events, it seems that some event professionals are turning into celebrities. Do you agree?

A: We do have a name and reputation to live up to. But I don't like to put myself out there.

Q: Have you felt any chill from recent bad news about the economy?

A: Not yet. Things have to open, and we're doing the openings … the New York City Ballet, the annual Botanical Garden gala, corporate dinners at the Metropolitan Museum.

Q: What is the role of catering at fund-raisers?

A: You have to make the evening run as smoothly as possible, without any kind of pain. Sometimes it's $5,000 a couple to sit down. The food has got to be terrific; it's part of the marketing tools for that evening.

Q: What trends do you see in catering menus?

A: Trends are not what catering is all about. It's about the theme that the [event] committee has decided to make that evening. They are not calling us because “Asian food is in.” That's much more a restaurant thing. Catering is not so imitative.

Q: Have the tastes of your clients changed over the years?

A: Their palate is broader; it's a more sophisticated client.

Q: As special events continue to grow as an industry, do you ever feel pressure from the competition?

A: There is always competition. Competition keeps you honest and humble! You've just got to get out and do the best job possible. People pay a lot of money, and they expect a lot.

Glorious Food can be reached at 212/628-2320.

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