Surviving the Holidays with Liz Neumark

Surviving the Holidays with Liz Neumark

Cecilia Estreich Nov 25 , 2016

Liz Neumark is a force of nature.  As the founder and CEO of New York catering company, Great Performances, she set the gold standard in holiday event production.  We recently caught up with her to discuss her likes and dislikes, tips for maintaining serenity and that one time she catered a dinner for two at the top of The Statue Liberty.


Cecilia Estreich: How many parties does Great Performances cater during a typical holiday season?

Liz Neumark: No such thing as a typical season!  In the past 10 years we have seen enormous shifts in the party culture.  While some companies still have large scale events, we see a trend away from the good old mailroom to boardroom gatherings.   Companies look to incorporate their cultural values into events.  The party experience itself has become more interactive around hospitality as well as entertainment. 

How many parties?  On a busy day, we cater as many as 20. But, when we book a very significant event, we say no to additional parties so we can concentrate our energies.

CE: When did you cater your first holiday season event?  Who was the client?

LN: In the 1980’s we did the holiday parties for the NBA when they were a much smaller organization.  It was like a family event.  And it was quite something to watch them grow over the years until they needed a hotel destination.

CE: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned since then?

LN: When we started, caterers lost money year round and made money over the holiday season.  That has completely changed as the industry matured.  We need to be financially successful year round and develop a strong core business because when the economy tumbles, and it does, employee holiday parties are the first expenditures to get cut. 

CE: In your opinion, what is the perfect event size?

LN: I love the intimacy of a small dinner party of 10-20 people, but there is something spectacular about a mega-event with complex logistics that come together seamlessly.  A sweet spot for people really connecting is in the 200-250 range.  I mean, even for the best networkers, how many people can you talk to in a 3-hour window?

CE: What is your favorite venue in New York for an event?

LN: The Great Performances kitchen!  That’s where people get comfortable and really connect.  I think we all see it at home – everyone gathers in the kitchen! But our kitchen isn’t a commercially available spot, of course.  My life at GP is a blend of deep relationships with some of the most interesting cultural institutions, all of which have great event space.  Choosing would be like picking a favorite child.   I can’t!

CE: What are your top three favorite fall/winter ingredients?

LN: Brussels sprouts, late season greens, winter squash.

CE: What are your top three favorite passed hors d’oeuvres?

LN: Portabello Cannoli with Parmesan Reggiano and Chive, Burrata Peperonata Tart and Green Goddess Panisse

CE:  What are the top three most requested hors d’oeuvres at Great Performances?

LN: Mozzarella Cup with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Bar-b-que Short Ribs on Roasted Poblano on Stone Ground Grit Cake and Mini Chicken Taco

CE: What is the most lavish request you have ever gotten from a client?

LN: Outfitting our entire service staff in custom made dress ware with full hair and make-up stylists or maybe the champagne aerialiasts pouring upside down while suspended mid-air or a dinner for two at the Statue of Liberty!

CE: What is the strangest request you have ever gotten from a client?

LN: To turn the pat of butter into a logo creation or serving a multi-course hot meal out of a room the size of a postage stamp?! (Welcome to my world!)

CE: Is there a catering-world trend that you wish would go away?

LN: The obsession with celebrity chef food. 

CE: Any that you wish would come back?

Not multi-tasking every moment!  Personal notes and phone calls to talk about real food, real moments.

CE: Is there one event that stands out in your mind as the ultimate, most perfect holiday season party Great Performances has ever thrown?

LN: We did a Nutcracker theme party and had a flash mob of waiters dress up as the mice (masks and all), bringing out drinks and food to launch the festivities.  It was a fun and completely unexpected moment.  Everyone still talks about it.

CE: The most disastrous?

LN: My best disasters were not holiday time!  I will say though that a snowstorm on a busy day is quite the monkey wrench for our delivery fleet!

CE: Any words of advice for a young caterer trying to survive the holiday rush?

LN: This too shall pass!  The more you mess up, the more you will learn.  Take notes, review and try not to make the same mistake twice.

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