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Special Events

Tools of the Trade: Get Staffed

Staffing agencies can help caterers and other event planners concentrate on events rather than personnel management. Depending on an event's needs, agencies can supplement existing staff or provide a full team of qualified professionals from executive chef to coat checker and everything in between.


Demand for staff can fluctuate dramatically by season. “Most people want to have parties during the nice weather,” says Mara Hasso, partner in Chicago-based Black Tie Staffing, which sends out most banquet servers, bartenders, cooks, chefs, coat checkers and utility workers during the Midwest's mild early autumn months. Some clients reserve agency staff for the entire month of September, Hasso says. She advises caterers to contact staffing agencies well in advance of planned events whenever possible.

Chicago's Service Is Us, which employs chefs, captains, coat checkers, bartenders and other service staff, regularly supplements staff for caterers who might otherwise have to turn away business during the high season. “During the past six or seven years, a lot of the industry has been moving toward supplemental staffing because it reduces their liability,” owner Todd Armbruster says. “During the slow times they're not obligated to pay unemployment or health and dental in a COBRA-type situation.”


Formal and non-traditional events often require supplemental staff to carry out complex duties or provide skills existing staff may not have. Armbruster points to sweep service, a current trend, as a style that might call for additional labor. “It's fascinating to watch. Almost everyone is served at the same time. At a table of 10, it would take five people to serve that table.”

Staffing agencies can also supply celebrity talent on call. Michael DiPieri, who co-owns New York-based Yipeee with wife Karen, says, “Many of our clients want an atypical event. They want to mix it up with themes built around special foods. For example, they might want hot chef Douglas Rodriguez of Chicama and Pipa [restaurants, New York] fame to come in and demonstrate his flair for preparing Nuevo Latino food.” In response, the DiPieris' four-year-old staffing and event-management agency has launched the “Celebrity Chef Alliance,” which supplies events with culinary help in the form of Manhattan's celebrated virtuosos.


By taking responsibility for no-show staff, agencies can help protect caterers from disaster on the day of the event. Stephen Plaché, president of Black Tie Event Services in Culver City, Calif., says 12 years of experience have helped him learn how to “plan for cars breaking down, people getting lost, people turning an ankle the morning of the event.” Plaché covers his bases — and his clients' — by preparing for the worst. “We generally send anywhere between 10 percent to 15 percent staff alternates to the event to see if there's anyone who doesn't show up. This gives us the reputation we have for being extremely reliable because we build in those alternate staff members.”

Plaché says protecting his clients is his top priority. Clients, though, need to protect themselves as well. “Caterers really expose themselves to a lot of liability if they don't have a staffing agency who has proper [insurance] coverage,” Plaché says.

His advice to clients is to select their agencies carefully. An agency insurance policy should include workers compensation, liquor liability and general liability, in case “one of the staff bumps into a million-dollar vase in a home.” Fees for well-prepared, properly insured agency staff may seem slightly higher than typical permanent staff wages, but, Plaché says, when you factor in training, insurance and other up-front costs, hiring agency staff “actually saves [caterers] a lot of money.”

RESOURCES: Black Tie Event Services, 310/337-9900; Black Tie Staffing, 773/774-7655; Service Is Us, 773/784-2225; Yipeee, 212/604-0777

For archived articles on staff and staffing agencies click on the following links:

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