And those parties can be very large: At 27,000 square feet, Tavern on the Green can seat a total of 1,500 guests in its six dining rooms. With a tent in the parking lot, another 1,500 guests can enjoy a buffet, and with elegant touches such as chandeliers, “you wouldn't know you're in a tent,” says executive banquet chef Jack Kiggins. All told, Tavern on the Green produces 1,000 banquet functions a year serving 120,000 guests, Kiggins says. Banquets make up nearly half the Tavern's more than $35 million in annual revenue, he adds.
One of Tavern on the Green's biggest buffets is the annual “pasta party” the night before the New York City Marathon. Using 28 buffet lines, the restaurant serves from 14,000 to 16,000 people in four and a half hours.
On a smaller scale are the many events Tavern on the Green stages around shows at Lincoln Center, located just two blocks away. For a party last year celebrating the revival of “Oklahoma!,” Kiggins created a themed dinner for nearly 2,000 guests featuring seven dinner buffet stations and eight dessert stations.
Entrees keyed on a country theme, including barbecued baby back ribs and buttermilk fried chicken. But Kiggins' down-home recipes had a decidedly uptown spin — roasted Oklahoma filet of beef was accompanied by smoked tomato and onion chutney; country ham came with pineapple mango raisin chutney; and fried okra was complemented by a chipotle remoulade. The dessert buffets included fresh fruit, deep-dish pies, bread pudding with bourbon sauce, cheesecake, ice cream and toppings, peanut brittle, mini pecan pies and cookie platters.
Tavern on the Green's in-house florist dresses all buffet tables, and the restaurant has a good supply of silver and decor to add drama, Kiggins notes. But the buffet service staff are the true stars, with Kiggins often relying on the drama of ala minute preparations at blini, sushi and Peking duck stations. The dessert stations offer “the classics,” he says, such as bananas Foster and crÊpes suzette — “the things that people like to see.”
The signature of Kiggins' banquet food, he says, is that it isn't banquet food. “When you eat at our parties, it's as though you are eating in a restaurant,” he says. “The plates are garnished properly. We believe in attention to detail.”
For example, “We don't give you mashed potatoes, but gaufrette potatoes,” he says. “All plates are composed, as opposed to getting these guests out and the next party in.”
Despite the dizzying number of guests who move through Tavern on the Green, Kiggins strives to put his personal touch on events. “Clients can be apprehensive seeing we do as much business as we do,” he says. “But once I sit down with them and make them talk a bit, they walk away knowing my face, and it builds a relationship. We have to make our customers happy, or we will have a lot of enemies!”
Tavern on the Green, 212/873-4111