Food Station Specialization

Most b’nai mitzvah celebrations today feature a mix of buffet-style stations.
Most b’nai mitzvah celebrations today feature a mix of buffet-style stations.

“Something for everyone” seems to be the common refrain among caterers in 2015 in their
approach to preparing for bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Caterers in Baltimore often cook for several dozen parties per year, customizing the menu in such a way that attempts to meet the needs of each set of guests.

Owings Mills caterer Alan Weiss said in 25 years of business his bar and bat mitzvah clients have slowly transitioned from a preferred sit-down-style meal to one that is based around a series of specialized buffet-style food stations.

“They’re more upscale events, I think,” he said. “People are looking for things that are more elaborate.”

With 60 to 70 mitzvah celebrations every year, Weiss is one of the busier caterers in the area. His kosher menu has grown from three to 19 pages and gives families 20 different stations to choose from in planning their party.

“In terms of new things that we’re doing that are very upscale, we’re doing a skewer station,”
he said.

Weiss’ offerings include fajitas, sliders, a carving station and the recent addition of a 30-flavor cotton-candy machine he had shipped from Atlanta. He said this tends to be just as popular with adults as it is with kids.

“These are all kind of candies where we have a machine that lets you do one flavor after another,” he said.

But Weiss said the cotton-candy machine is not the only sign of a reversal between the palates of kids and adults.

“I always find when we do a kids’ station and we have boardwalk fries or sweet potato fries, the adults go up to that just as much [as the kids],” he said.

The location of the celebration may sometimes have a role in determining the type of food guests are in the mood for, as was the case with one bar mitzvah Weiss catered at a hotel near Camden Yards. The kids’ station featured traditional ballpark foods such as miniature hot dogs and burger sliders.

“When we opened the kids’ station, maybe because it was close to Camden Yards, the adults were going up to that,” he said.

Weiss recalled a recent event he catered in Potomac with 90 kids, many of whom elected to gorge on delicacies from the adult stations.

“A lot of functions have 70, 80, 90 kids, and we just did one where 25 of them were vegetarians and that just blew my mind,” he said.

Weiss said he is flexible when it comes to specializing a menu for a certain group even within the bounds of kosher laws.

“There’s really nothing that you cannot do in kosher these days except for shellfish, pork and ham,” he said.

Most mitzvah celebrations Weiss caters average $75 per person, and many decide to have them in synagogues as opposed to hotels in order to reduce costs. But he said spaces in synagogues are just as flexible.

“You can take any room in any synagogue and re-create it and do anything you want to do,” he said.

Weiss may be a master of culinary specialization when it comes to catering, but Nancy Sachs, director of Pikesville’s Simply Elegant Catering, has also tried to tailor her menu to trends she has observed in kids’ appetites.

“As far as the food, I have to say that the food has been stations and very much vegetarian menus,” she said.

Sachs pointed to one celebration where eggs were served at the kids’ station and omelets were offered to adults, but a quarter of the kids went for the latter. She thinks kids today have been exposed to more diversity, leading to the development of an advanced palate.

“I think the kids have traveled so much more, and I think the adults don’t get the opportunity to eat the kids’ food like the hot dogs and the mozzarella sticks,” she said.

For bar and bat mitzvah families that vex over what type of food to serve at their child’s party, an easier task may be finding a caterer for the post-service Kiddush lunch. This tends to substantially lower than the price of the party, and caterers such as Mark Horowitz of Suburban House Deli try to keep things simple with the food offerings. His catering menu closely follows the one in his restaurant, consisting of a variety of deli meats, salads and other traditional Jewish delicacies such as blintzes and kugels.

“It’s a very simple clean affair,” he said. “It’s the kind of food that you can imagine when they put the food out on both sides of the table and see a lot of people in a short amount of time. It’s like a food island.”

Horowitz said these lunches generally run between $15 and $25 per person, but this can vary
depending on the needs of the family.

“The cost factor can range depending if people want table cloths or alcohol,” he said.

Horowitz said while he has catered events for up to 400 people, most are under 100, and he
does not cater bar and bat mitzvah parties.

“When it comes to the bar mitzvah stuff we leave that up to the big boys,” he said.


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