Restaurant Guide of KC™ - Kansas City Food + Travel Blog

I Made It Happen . . .Not, I Made It

Whether you’re a great home chef or not, for many of us there comes the time when we say, “Enough!  I can’t (won’t) (don’t want to) do it this time (anymore) (ever again)!  The “it” refers to making the food for a large, or even small, gathering.  Whether it’s a full scale celebration for 60 or an intimate dinner for four, people today are reaching for different solutions – ones that used to only be called catering.

There seems to be some confusion about the various options available, or who does what, when, and how.  As a consumer and potential “party planner,” in the broadest sense of the word, there are some things you need to know about catering.

First, we are talking only about events not held in the hotel, restaurant, or site where the food originates.  It may be in your home, a space you have rented, a park, or someplace you’ve talked the owner into accommodating you and 89 of your closest friends.

Second, the categories.  There are basically three.  There’s full-fledged catering, when you typically meet with the caterer (although we’re seeing this partially migrate to the internet and “live chat” there and of course, the phone – which for large do’s, we don’t recommend) who will provide a meal, drinks, plates, glasses, service ware, servers, maybe a chef, the whole nine yards.  Music, a wood dance floor, flowers, decorations of all kinds, even a tent are optional.   Within this category, there are many permutations, but largely this is a one-shop stop where everything comes to you ready to go.  This is the easiest for you (after you choose the caterer and then choose what you want to eat) and usually the most expensive.

There are many excellent caterers in town. One is Brancato’s, in business since 1942.  Their array of services is complete – they even run a restaurant full time, Harvey House in Union Station.   Some caterers have minimums and maximums of people they will serve and that is one of the first questions you need to get answered, “Can you do a two hour wine reception for 10 people – or 1,000?

Before you call, have answers to these questions to make that initial phone call and then meeting efficient:
The basics like the date, number of people and children, hours, and location.  
Are you thinking buffet or plating?  Buffets are usually less expensive.
Is there a kitchen available for staging, warming, plating, cleaning?
What are the other services you think you might need?
What is your budget? Be prepared to share that.
A sushi boat at Saki Asian Restaurant 

The second category is catering done by a restaurant.  Lots of restaurants do this; some advertise heavily, others don’t.  Our chart (page 15) will help you here.  Kathy Done, in charge of special events at Webster House points out that full service catering fits in beautifully with the restaurant which has three large private rooms for events.  She and Director Keitha Kaminski and manager Darin Taylor all have extensive backgrounds in catering – and experience in that specific field is essential. -----That means, don’t hire a caterer for a wedding who doesn’t already have wedding experience! Catering allows restaurants to utilize staff and their skills more fully and catering also allows the restaurant to enhance revenue by the power of serving more people.   Some do want the party in their beautiful back yards, or in another venue, and some restaurants can provide everything a full-service caterer can.   

Restaurants also can be very creative in their offerings and often, usually, you really don’t have to do a thing.  Well, maybe supply your own serving dishes and tableware – if you want to.  Or, they’ll bring everything and we don’t mean paper plates and plastic forks.  It all depends on what you want.  For instance, looking for a full Mexican buffet?  Ixtapa up north or one of the Margarita’s or Ted’s Café Escondido can make you say olé.  And while you might not automatically think about catering in fresh seafood, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar can bring you (and serve should you wish) an old-fashioned crab boil or any number of other seafood delicacies – including oysters and a shucker for that party. 
Barbeque from Jack Stack

Waldo Pizza will set up pans of pasta or Buffalo wings or rib tips or a comprehensive pizza buffet complete with buckets of salads and one (more, please) of their delicious cakes almost anywhere, including parks, despite their challenging logistics.  Owner Phil Bourne says that, “People are sometimes surprised that we will offer a full catering service from set-up to serving to clean-up, serving great food at more reasonable prices than many other catering services offer – but we provide the same professionalism and attention to detail that our clients want.”  You’ll be surprised if you check out their “Party Pack” at their Lee’s Summit restaurant – but the number one event for Waldo Pizza?  Weddings.  

There’s another entire realm in this category you might not be aware of, one that offers a different experience.  Most of the food trucks around town will park at your event, whether it’s a home or somewhere else.  Or there’s Hereford House which will supply entire raw meat packages – or create steak or other meat meals from snacks to dinners with a dizzying array of options.  Em Chamas will bring a grill, grill-master and all supplies, including all the kinds of meat you desire, to your patio. You may choose buffet with a carving station or the full rodizio service. Smokehouse Bar-B-Que does something similar (sans gauchos).  Both will do everything and provide a grilling experience that you or your friends don’t have to agonize over – or overcook.

You might be startled to discover that catering from restaurants does not have to be for full meals or giant buffets.  For instance, suppose you want a sushi platter for eight people – or platters for 40. Bo Lings, Drunken Fish, Nara, and Saki can all provide such a show-stopper.  Or you just want pasta for 35 or 135 - Café Verona or Ricco’s are happy to oblige.  Kris Brentano, owner of Ricco’s, points out that this third category of caterer typically specializes in specific items and sometimes to specific markets.  She notes that her service of pasta and salad is mostly drop off, and her niche is supplying really good food at a very reasonable price – for school groups, ball teams or casual work events which have a restricted budget and big appetites.

Any or every part of the meal can be ordered ahead – and then you basically have two options: delivery or carryout (also called carry-out, takeout or take-out, takeaway (in England, Australia and New Zealand) or pickup or pick-up.  The difference in quantity you desire of course means you should call ahead and specify exactly what you want and when you will pick it up or have it delivered (usually for an additional fee or a minimum order).  

If you are picking up a large order, several restaurants have made it easier for you by designating a full counter and entrance and parking space and curbside delivery like Jack Stack Barbeque (and once they let me come before their opening time due to my schedule).  (They also offer 91 different venues for your consideration if you’re in the looking-for-a-place category as well as full service catering at any of them.) Bo Lings has curbside space (Plaza, Zona Rosa and City Market) and a special counter (everywhere) and the Lee’s Summit Waldo Pizza even has a pizza valet while their Broadway location has curbside availability.  

The French have a word we Americans need to incorporate or perhaps see more of: it’s “traiteur” which means in modern terms, a catering business dedicated to takeout food and banquet service.  It typically denotes beautiful food presentations as well.  Thank you Wiki (we do contribute).  The Collins French-English Dictionary and other sources first define it as delicatessen.  Not too common in KC, but the best place in town to see a good approximation of this concept in action is the French Market in Prairie Village.  Besides their daily takeout, here you can order lovely displays of many items from gougères (a savory cheese choux dough pastry) to  canard à l’orange (whole roasted duck, wild rice pilaf, orange bigarade sauce, accompanied by haricot verts) to macarons.  This is probably to-go food at its best.

Catering as we know it may have begun small back in 1778 with a ball celebrating the departure of British General William Howe in Philadelphia (we don’t think he was invited), but today it’s about a nine billion dollar business.  It continues to be an increasing part of many restaurants’ business, whether it’s full service, delivery, takeout or something in between.  That’s because more and more of us are ever so happy, and even proud, to say, “No, I didn’t make it. I made it happen.”  

Where to get Carryout or Catering


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