Think the Super Bowl is big? Imagine catering the parties that precede and follow the largest sporting event in America. That’s the task handed to Celeste Fierro, the senior vice president and co-founder of The ONE Group, parent company to STK, a growing, global chain of 11 steakhouses.
In the four days STK’s catering arm will be out in force in Houston, they expect to serve over 50,000 people, plate over 1,100 pounds of ribeye, 720 pounds of potatoes, and 900 pounds of pork—to start.
This is the fourth year STK, which has a reputation for being a comfortable haven for athletes and celebrities (they once catered a dinner party for Mariah Carey), has been called on to feed stadiums full of people during the nation’s premier sporting event.
“Listen, as soon it’s over you start planning for the next one,” Fierro says. “What city is it in? Where are we going and what are we going to do? Even before we know what we’re getting involved in, we will have already done the research of what city it’s in, what we need to do, what staffing companies we’re going to need to be using, and other behind-the-scenes work.”
STK’s off-site catering division, STK OUT, became a full-time operation in 2013. Since then, the company has developed a strategy that makes the improbable task of delivering a restaurant-quality experience off-site a reality.
How? Fierro and STK treat each catering event like the entire world is watching. In this example that just happens to be the case.
STK is feeding VIPs at On Location Experiences’ Super Bowl party on game day, and serving as the official food purveyor for VIP attendees of the DirecTV and Pepsi three-day concert series leading up to the contest between New England and Atlanta.
And with just 11 restaurants, it’s not as though STK can dip into a particularly deep well for support. Instead, it’s all about planning, preparation, and effort, Fierro says.
“Typically, I think a lot of people come, they do their job, and they leave,” Fierro says. “ But we’re here building relationships. Half of the clients who eat at our restaurants are at these events. We have to deliver that quality and consistent experience. It’s extremely important to us.”
It all starts with staffing. STK hired more than 800 local Houston employees to cover the event. They work exclusively with STK and don’t service other vendors. The group also flew in more than 40 STK staffers from across the U.S. That includes 10 executive chefs, servers, and marketing personnel, among other positions.
Fierro says the key isn’t to focus on sheer numbers. Yes, STK needs a small army to get this done, but they need to be well equipped if they’re going to pass as anything other than rent-for-hire employees.
Fierro has been in touch with the local staffing agency for seven months, vetting and making sure they were the right fit. Then, she divided the massive group into sections. For every 25 people or so, there’s a manager and perhaps two STK employees, whether that’s a server or a chef. Weeks ahead of the event, STK also heads down and trains the temporary hires.
“It’s contagious when they see my staff delivering that quality,” Fierro says. “Then they want to deliver that. People take pride in their work. Any city, this is their job and they want to do a good job. You just have to prep them. You have to communicate well. You have to prepare them well. And you have to have people there to show them how we do it.”
It’s the reason STK is able to deliver nearly 900 pounds of risotto, something you normally don’t see at an off-premise event. “Prepping is all about consistency,” Fierro adds.
There’s no question the stakes are high as well. Obviously, from a revenue standpoint, STK wants to be invited back for future Super Bowls and leave an impression on enough guests to garner additional high-profile business. Performing well on this stage also directs attention to the brand’s brick-and-mortar units.
“It’s great for us because it’s not only brand awareness but a lot of our customers come from all over the world come here to see the Super Bowl,” Fierro says. “And we’re all over the world, too.”
For people who are familiar with STK, to see the company shine under the spotlight is no surprise. The steakhouse pays as much attention to the experience as it does the menu.
“It’s not just about a great steak. It’s about the ambiance,” Fierro says. “The music in the background. Comfortable seating. We’re busy. You can meet people. There’s a lot that goes into that. I think that same vibe and that same experience that we’re delivering in our restaurant we’re delivering in our catering.”
“I think a big part of the reason we’re being hired for these events now is because we are bringing an elevated experience,” she continues. “We’re bringing a high-end restaurant that already has branding and already has value in to cater your event. It’s so important for us to deliver that. I think that’s why we’re doing well and why we’re in such a high demand.”