Terrified of hosting? There's a full cast of supporting characters--waiters, parking attendants, bartenders--available for hire. And when all else fails, there are catering firms that can serve up anything from hot dogs to haute cuisine
Today, caterers are more likely called event designers or party coordinators, and some are capable of offering meals competitive with those of Southern California's better restaurants.
Food, presented in a glorious way in perfectly appointed surroundings, is complemented by a cornucopia of other services formerly available only from the concierges of world-class hotels.
The most versatile firms do everything, by providing valet parking, food preparation and service, photographers, limousines, floral arrangements or entire landscapes, entertainment and security. One company even specializes in draining swimming pools and erecting platforms over the void to expand a yard's usable space.
"We handle all of it," says Mary Micucci, of Along Came Mary in Los Angeles. "The night of the party, all you have to do is be there."
Sounds great, but a host/hostess pays a premium for companies, such as Micucci's, to completely take the pressure out of planning, preparing and presiding over an event. This type of service, though, is increasingly in demand regardless of the final cost.
"My business has, basically, doubled each year," says Andrea Bell, who founded her company, the upscale L.A. Celebrations, in 1983. "The clientele that can afford catering is, oh, a certain kind. You have, for lack of a better word, the yuppies--the two-income families where both wage earners are professionals. The wife or husband may be able to make a gourmet dinner, but neither can cook for 20, 40 or 80 people."
Bell goes to great lengths to prepare authentic dishes for her clients, eschewing any and all short cuts. L.A. Celebrations will spend days, for example, making a veal stock. Says Bell: "I have not even done the same menu twice."
Along with the elegant, there is also the excitement generated by caterers specializing in ethnic cuisines. One of the more spectacular episodes recently featured a party orchestrated by the New Otani Hotel & Gardens where sushi, a most challenging and perishable selection, was provided for 5,000 people--at an event 20 miles from the hotel's kitchens.
On a different but equally impressive scale, the Chinese Village in Los Angeles regularly recreates an authentic 10-course Mandarin meal for two at an un-Beijing price of $300. The company will also bring along its Szechuan chef to spice things up if an all-Mandarin menu doesn't pack enough sizzle.
The old neighborhood hall has also been relegated an antique as corporate and private customers demand settings as enticing as the menus.
Park Avenue Gourmet Catering in Orange controls its own expansive picnics grounds. The firm operates two customed-designed park areas in Irvine; one a Mexican village and the other a Polynesian-like setting. Both come complete with ponds and amphitheaters.
"We like to put a little flair into a party," says Mark Boyce, Park Avenue's general manager.
In Garden Grove, the Mastroianni Family Enterprises, Ltd., may well epitomize catering's new encyclopedism.
"We own a (party equipment) rental company, a decorative-prop company, an entertainment company, a limousine company, a bakery, a laundry. We don't contract with anyone else (for special services)," said John Mastroianni from the firm's 35,000-square-foot facility. "The middle man is gone."
A representative list of the many catering and related firms serving Southern California follows.
Full-service companies that provide all components for an event including food, beverages, service personnel, floral arrangements, valet parking, security, etceteras.
Along Came Mary, 5265 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 90019; (213) 931- 9082. Founded by Mary Micucci, the firm works from a 6,000-square-foot facility where initial food preparations are made. Final cooking is always done at the event site. Will do small dinner parties, but these are costly. Minimum charge for all-inclusive, larger events with meal service begins at $25 a person. Cocktail parties with hors d'oeuvres and beverage service costs from $15 to $25 a person. The firm serves Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego Counties.
L.A. Celebrations, 1716 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, 90035; (213) 837- 8900. Emphasis is on elaborate, authentic food preparation, but firm can also coordinate entire events. All types of cuisine available, with contemporary presentations a speciality. Experienced in pool draining. Party fees start at $500. Firm serves Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego Counties.