While for most caterers the Christmas and New Year period presents an opportunity to make more money, this is not necessarily the case for contract caterers, says Artizian managing director Alison Robinson - "even though it is our busiest period".
In the two weeks before Christmas, Artizian staff served some 2,500 covers at Christmas lunches for its nine blue-chip contracts across London and the Home Counties. The most recent gain in the company's portfolio is due to begin in the next few weeks. "For us, it's all part of the service and is built into the budget," explains Robinson.
Extra work, no extra pay
Turnover for December was £132,000, and with Artizian operating on an annual fee agreed at the beginning of a contract, Robinson accepts there will be extra work to do around the Christmas period for no extra payment. "It's the norm within the industry," she explains.
Clients were more than happy with the service provided by Artizian, with one commenting: "It was the best yet, and certainly better than the outside events attended. It cost substantially less, but within the projected average of £17 per head, which included all costs - food, alcohol, labour and a gift for each customer."
The projected cost per head was similar across all the contracts, and most clients paid the full cost of their employees' Christmas lunches. The exceptions were Alfred Dunhill and Hitachi Data Systems, where the meal was only partly subsidised. Take-up at these two sites was 82%.
The aim was to move away from a traditional Christmas and make the whole experience more futuristic, to fit in with the beginning of a new millennium. Staff restaurants were decorated in blue and gold - the Artizian colours - with balloons, stars, moons and pots of golden twigs to replace the traditional Christmas tree.
While turkey was a must for the menus, devised by executive chef Simon Genduso, it was given a bit of a twist with the addition of a forcemeat herb roulade and a cranberry confit. Alternatively, customers could choose marinated hay-baked lamb with red berry jus or a feuillette of mushrooms with aubergine caviare and tarragon sauce.
Preceding this was a smoked salmon tartlet with chive crème fraîche and pickled cucumber, or roast root vegetable soup with thyme and cheese croûte. Dessert was a chocolate torte with white chocolate sauce or, for those preferring traditional fare, plum pudding with brandy sauce.
Extra casual staff were brought in to support existing staff members over the busy period, at a cost of £8,100. This contributed to an overall rise of 25% in labour costs for December.
Excluding the cost of casual labour, wages paid increased from £44,869 in November to £47,868 in December because staff were required to work extra hours at some contracts that were open over the Christmas and New Year period.