Robert Williams has seen many trends come and go during his almost 18 years as owner of Roux’s Catering. One of the strangest may just be a new trend in employers waiting to hold holiday parties until January.
“I’ve got many clients who are doing parties, as odd as this might sound, in January,” Williams said. “People are less stressed out and you get over the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but really it kind of started with a lack of availability. Dates get booked so quickly. There are only so many places in Augusta, so you figure there are a lot more people wanting to do parties than there are venue space.”
It makes sense. The staff at Roux’s will begin party prep almost as soon as they get back from the Thanksgiving holidays. In fact, their first holiday party is the Wednesday after Turkey Day, and Williams says they’re almost fully booked for the entire month of December.
“We’re about booked to capacity now,” he said. “Our weekends are really full, but we still have some space during the week.”
The decision to delay office Christmas parties, however, makes sense for employers on another level as well.
“It’s another fiscal year, you have venue rentals that are at off-season rates and we can be a little more aggressive with our pricing because it’s a slow month for us in January,” Williams explained. “So oftentimes it’s a better buying opportunity for these folks who are looking to do a lesser expensive option.”
And though the economy is on the upswing, Williams says many employers are looking to save.
“You know, last year was probably most like what previous years had been before the financial collapse. It felt as much like a normal year used to feel like since any year since 2008,” he said. “This year, I guess because of the sequesters and the cuts and the fiscal cliff talk, I’ve seen some corporations pull back a little bit. There’s not as much entertaining this year as there was last year.”
As a business owner himself, Williams can certainly understand those who feel the need not go all out on a holiday party, especially in companies that have had to cut back on staff. Still, he says, it’s the gesture that the employees appreciate more than anything
“I get that dynamic, but I also realize how important those types of gatherings are for the morale of those folks who do still work for you,” he said. “I think it’s an important thing for folks to at least recognize and say, ‘I value your service enough that, you know, this is a holiday party as a thank you for all you’ve done.’ Because, over the course of a year, there are very few opportunities to do that and a holiday party is one of those things that a lot of people just expect. Employees really do appreciate that level of thankfulness and they miss it when its not there.”
Fortunately for budget-conscious employers, Roux’s has a variety of options that will help everyone get in that Christmas spirit. In addition to a catered affair at the Marbury Center that Williams owns (a venue that was renovated last spring with new paint, new flooring and more), employers can have lunch, either hot lunches of boxed ones, brought to the office.
“I have a lot of a lot of corporate clients who used to do a full-blown Christmas party who are now doing things in the office,” Williams said of his increasingly popular lunch options. “Maybe a drop off or just an office luncheon versus having bands and doing all those things. So there certainly are ways to still have some sort of holiday program that’s not a budget buster.”
Also good for employers is the fact that most lunch orders only require 48 hours notice. The same is true for Roux’s Get and Go menu, a service in which Williams and his staff offer some of their most popular dishes, from Carolina Crab au Gratin and the Now Famous Cheese Ring to Thai Chicken Sticks with Peanut Dipping Sauce and desserts, for pick up.
“We have a lot of things that are ready to go for pick up, either trayed or I’ll have some people who will buy stuff in bulk and do it on their own platters and their own chafing dishes,” he said. “I think it’s another great option for an affordable way to entertain during the holidays.”
This kind of innovative thinking is one reason Roux’s has been in business for as long as it has, but Williams doesn’t save all his great ideas for the holidays. Throughout the year, he studies the food business, constantly looking for new and creative ways to prepare and present the dishes that his clients know and love.
“So with the passion I have for food I’m constantly reading books and magazines to come up with new ideas,” he said. “I go to this catering conference and we always get so many ideas from that. We just try and stay on top of what the food trends are and try and come up with creative ways of either updating some of the options we have or making a new way of presenting it or a unique way of serving it.”
Mini versions of larger dishes have become very popular in the past few years, but Roux’s doesn’t limit them just to pulled pork sliders (although that is definitely a customer favorite). Pecan pie served in mini Mason jars is a newer popular item, and a recent wedding gave the Roux’s staff yet another great idea.
“We had a groom and chocolate chips cookies were his favorite thing, so we did warm chocolate chip cookies with little shot glasses of milk,” he said. “Then we started doing little donut shots: an iced coffee shot with a glazed donut on top. Those are ways to have fun with food and try and tailor it around someone’s specific wants or needs.”
Innovative ideas, tailoring menus to fit clients’ needs and beginning with great food: these are all reasons that Roux’s has been as successful as it has been for as long as it has been. But there are a few other elements that Williams thinks have been just as important to his success.
“I think it’s because we may just try harder,” he said. “We care more and try harder. I think that’s got to be the difference for us. There’s a bunch great caterers in Augusta and I’ll be the first to admit that; I don’t want anybody to think that we think we’re the absolute best at what we do. It’s just what we do for a living and I genuinely love what I do. I think you have to love what you do to be in this business.”
Roux’s Catering at the Marbury Center
1244 Jones Street, Augusta