NEW ORLEANS For the Tableau Conference, which took place from October 22 to 25, the Hyatt Regency New Orleans and its off-premise catering arm 1718 Catering & Events began its planning process about 18 months in advance, with a team of conference meeting planners and food and beverage consultants.
The 1718 team, led by executive chef Yvan Didelot, director of events Melanie Walent, and director of food and beverage James Kratofil, was tasked with serving authentic New Orleans fare at venues around the city, including the Sugar Mill, Club 44, and Champion Square, the site of the conference’s largest event called “Data Night Out.” (Tableau, a software company based in Seattle, hosts this data- and analytics-focused conference every year.)
1718 was one of two caterers that handled the event, which served more 10,000 attendees. (The conference hosted more than 18,000 people total.) That meant regional cuisine in massive amounts—2,250 pounds of jambalaya, 4,350 pounds of shrimp, 1,350 pounds of corn, 1,350 pounds of potatoes, 3,200 pounds of grits, and 12,000 hush puppies for dishes such as shrimp and grits, alligator and grits, and a Cajun shrimp boil.
In total, the team produced more than 65,000 portions of food and over 40,000 drinks for the Data Night Out event. To meet the demand, Hyatt brought in chefs and food and beverage managers from properties around the country, including the Hyatt Regency Key West and Hyatt Regency Dallas, to lend a hand. Here, the 1718 team describes in detail how they tackled this large-scale event.
18 Months: Preliminary Site Visit
Tableau’s consultants interview us as a potential caterer for its largest event, Data Night Out. We provided a tasting, allowing them to see what we were able to produce. It was also an opportunity for them to inform us of what the event was about. They shared their vision of what their expectations were for the night, expectations of the caterer, and the special “surprises” for the attendees at previous Data Night Out events.
This is their grand event for their annual conference, which their attendees look forward to every year. They like to surprise and delight the attendees with things that they may have never seen before or that have a New Orleans twist to it. The food had to be user friendly and easy to eat on the go; minimal utensils to be used; packaging had to be creative and eco-friendly; beverages were to be fun and unique.
12 Months: 2017 Tableau Conference in Vegas
Prospective catering companies were given the chance to attend the 2017 conference and experience this fascinating event firsthand. Although neither the Hyatt nor 1718 were able to attend this event, the team was able to collect history directly from the group for the 2018 preparation.
9 Months: Expectations Meeting
1718 and the Hyatt team met with the Tableau Conference team and partners to finalize expectations as well as the vision of the event, Data Night Out. It was important for our team to understand how the night would evolve, the amount of food stations with food quantities required, and more. Tableau emphasized that menu items were to be indicative of the city of New Orleans. It was requested that all items were to be eaten on the go, with minimum use of utensils. This meeting gave us an overall view of the expectations and requirements, enabling our team to strategically execute as a caterer.
8 Months: Planning the Menu
During this time frame, we began to explore the actual items for the event menu. It was important for us to determine which actual food items we could produce for 10,000 people without sacrificing the quality and flavor of the dish. Some of the local cuisine chosen for the tasting included alligator sausage and grits, chicken and waffles, and smoked pulled chicken with macaroni and cheese.
At this time, we were able to get creative with desserts such as our king cake and bananas Foster push pops, while still upholding the New Orleans tradition of a Cajun shrimp boil. From a beverage component, Tableau wanted to incorporate a to-go component with some of our authentic New Orleans cocktails. We then played off the “geaux cup” concept and created “geaux” bags. [Geaux is pronounced “go” in Cajun-French.] The clients loved it. Eventually, it evolved into a frozen pomegranate vodka and lemonade. Keeping up with the newest food and beverage trends, we took notice of the Monkey Shoulder Shaker Truck, a one-off unique twist that I knew the clients would love.
6 to 7 Months: Taste of Approval
After selecting the initial menu items, it was time for the taste of approval. This was the first of multiple tastings where the clients came in and each of our chefs walked them through the vision of their station and what it would look like the night of the event. Our first tasting included the eight different stations we proposed with more than 20 menu items to sample. Ten clients experienced the stations and evaluated each dish giving their feedback.
This was also an opportunity for our team to get our hands on additional event details of the conference such as their high care for the environment. The vessels in which were to serve our dishes were to be as eco-friendly as possible. We also presented our take on the local NOLA beverages and showcased the “geaux bag” beverage.
3 to 4 Months: Mapping Out Production
Finalized the tastings with all suggested changes. 1718 and Hyatt culinary teams began to create the production schedules and flow charts for the finalized menu. This included everything from precise timing on preparing and plating of 65,000 menu items in a 24-hour timeframe to the amount of grits to be ordered. Our team began to order the necessary paper products and plan for initial food orders. Stewarding department began to develop the equipment list, including sheet pans, hot boxes, and things of that nature.
1 Month: Staffing Up
Coordinated with food and beverage planner, clients, venue, and destination management company on logistics, load-in/load-out, etc. Fine-tuned numbers for food and beverage and tracking delivery dates for all equipment, paper products, and more. In-person meeting to refine details and continue to adjust beverage recipes, etc. Identifying staffing needs by station, front and back of house. We also solidified the task force crew necessary from the culinary and front-of-house standpoint, inviting chefs and managers from an array of Hyatt hotels, including Park Hyatt Chicago, Andaz Napa, Hyatt Regency Phoenix, Hyatt Regency Long Beach, and more.
1 Week: Buy 25,000 Cans of Beer
Conducted “pre-con” with food and beverage planning team to walk through banquet event orders, agenda, timeline, menus, station set-up, and more; began batching and freezing the geaux bags; finalized the 25,000-can beer order with the distributor.
3 Days: Prep Work
Cooking and prep work began, along with constant venue walk-through; began staging the product/equipment by food booth to ensure we had all the pertinent pieces for a successful event; daily meetings with key leadership to discuss fine details.
1 Day: Uniforms Ready
Placement of the Monkey Shoulder Shaker truck—a key showcase in the square; uniforms organized and pressed for the 300-plus associates working the event and ready to be distributed to staff; deliveries, set-up, culinary production, and rental trucks moved into the venue, and started receiving deliveries to the venue; culinary in full production and batching the cocktails.
Day Of: “Geaux” Time
Whirlwind of movement setting up the stations, arrival of staff, and having food moved into the venue. The event ended at 11 p.m. and we were back in the hotel at 2:30 a.m., with all of our equipment and supplies in place for a full day of events at the hotel for the next group.