WHEN IT COMES to presenting food for large groups, stations provide a fun, interactive alternative to passed hors d'oeuvre and plated meals. In this month's column, we look at two hotel catering departments that are pulling out all the stops with super stations.
According to Rick Vita, director of catering/conference services at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, New Orleans, stations are so popular at the hotel that “we try to do at least 50 percent of our food presentation in station form,” he says.
Stations are also a hit in Atlanta, says Hector Nunez, director of food and beverage at the Sheraton Atlanta. He points to the social aspect of stations, noting that they promote networking and socializing opportunities. “Planners are looking for at least one action station in any buffet meal room,” he says. “They have taken standard buffet menus and asked that the items be broken down into stations to allow guests to mingle about the space.”
Both Vita and Nunez agree that there is little doubt about the popularity of stations for large group events. They say that stations work best for groups of 100 to 150, for events ranging from holiday parties and weddings to corporate and private receptions.
Vita explains that people who come to New Orleans “like to have a little Cajun flair” in their food. In the Big Easy, that often means seafood, and lots of it. One of the most requested stations at the Royal Sonesta is the Louisiana seafood station, which overflows with such delicacies as boiled crab and crawfish, oysters on the half shell, oyster shooters and shrimp rémoulade served in martini glasses. A chef is on hand to prepare and dress crab cakes à la minute, which always captures the attention of guests. So does the scallop station, which features scallops on a spinach base and topped off with fried shoestring potatoes, all prepared on the spot by a chef, according to Vita.
In addition to seafood, the hotel also features a number of land-based offerings. Pasta stations are always a popular option, and the selection of fresh sauces, vegetables and herbs make for an especially eye-catching display. The Louisiana sausage station adds spice to the proceedings, while the deep-fried, Louisiana-style turkey offers a new twist on the classic carving station.
In Atlanta, the trend is toward “anything that involves a strong fragrance, eye-pleasing arrangements and activity,” Nunez says. “You can see the excitement when guests approach a room filled with the aroma of freshly prepared food.”
Seafood is also a favorite, with shrimp and lobster items heading the request list. Sushi is especially popular, and “having an authentic sushi chef [on hand] is much better than just having the sushi displayed by itself,” he explains. For high-end groups, Bellini and caviar stations “make a great statement about the group to their guests and are very well-received,” he adds.
With the trend for flavored cocktails still going strong, drink stations are also hot at the hotel, with martini and Scotch bars topping the list. “Displays of martini glasses with all the different bottles make a great visual,” Nunez says.
Royal Sonesta Hotel, New Orleans, 504/586-0300; Sheraton Atlanta, 404/659-6500