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OFTEN numbers speak for themselves. In her 28 years with Hyatt Regency, Pat Fabijanski, CMP, LES, has catered more than 80,000 events, which translates to nearly 3,000 functions and 160,000 meals a year. Her big break came when she took over as the catering manager of Hyatt Regency Chicago in 1980. Now she oversees a staff of 15 as the senior director of catering and convention services at the McCormick Place location, also in Chicago. Here she discusses her art degree, deveining shrimp and that 80,000th event.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What career did you aspire to when you were a kid?

PAT FABIJANSKI: I wanted to be an art director at a prestigious advertising agency until I was 21. At that time, a friend of the family, who was an art director of a very prestigious ad agency, delicately informed me that I did not have any talent in this area.

Q: How did you get into the business of hotel catering?

A: I had an aunt who worked for Marriott who thought my art degree could possibly translate well into the hotel business.

Q: How did your art degree prepare you for the hotel business?

A: A large portion of my job is to set the stage, so to speak. I design buffets and work with clients to develop a color palette to set the tone of an event. I also try to educate clients on how color can bring excitement, drama or calm to their event. Occasionally, I am called upon to work with other areas of the hotel and contribute minor decorating assistance and menu design.

Q: How did you become interested in catering specifically?

A: My mom was a consummate — my dad said “chronic” — entertainer. Every week we had at least three dinner parties. I was deveining shrimp with my brother's dissecting kit when I was 5. My brother eventually became an executive chef. When a neighbor was having a women's bridge party at her house and the caterer no-showed, I made Danish finger sandwiches and canapes for the party. So I guess I catered my first party when I was 8.

Q: Describe your 80,000th event.

A: My 80,000th event took place over a weekend in January. We had a large University of Chicago group in-house. I also had a small tasting for an annual banquet that we do in October. As I have become quite close with the planners of this fundraiser, I like to think of this event as my milestone. We sampled different entrees — black sesame-encrusted sea bass, seared chicken breast with apple-fennel stuffing, and filet mignon with a Pinot reduction that was “to die for.” (My client's quote.) As the group is quite health-conscious, my chef designed a magnificent vegetarian option with petite brunoise vegetables and pasta sheets. It was “very yummy.” (My quote.)

Whenever anyone mentions 80,000 events, I feel as though people are looking for my walker, but frankly it gives me enormous satisfaction to think of all the people that have had wonderful, memorable experiences at events that I have been involved in planning.

Q: What advice do you have for those starting out in the business?

A: You really have to love this business. My general manager, George Vizer, always says if you love what you do, you will never have to work another day in your life. It sounds cliched, but it has merit. I really do love my job! Additionally, it helps to be passionate about food and beverage as well.

Q: What challenges does hotel catering face?

A: There are so many other types of venues available for functions than there were 20 years ago.

Q: What do you know now that you wished you had learned sooner?

A: When one is prepared and has a great team, from world-class chefs to spectacular cuisine to a professional wait staff, things go beautifully. I am so fortunate to have all of those elements at Hyatt. I didn't need to worry as obsessively as I once did.

To reach the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, call 312/567-1234.

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