It’s a dilemma every boss faces at one time or another: The staff is fully engaged, racing toward an end-of-the-day deadline, but lunch is approaching. Letting everyone scatter for food will knock at least an hour and possibly more like two hours from the heart of the day. Keeping everyone nailed to their desks, even if you bring in some sandwiches and chips from the neighborhood deli, will give the impression that people are being punished for their hard work.
Faced with that lose-lose situation a few weeks ago, we opted for a middle ground, asking Tre Piani restaurant to bring in some salads, a few elegant entrees, and desserts that could be served buffet style, with a minimum of fuss (and time) expended by our workers, who could take their meals in our lunch area or carry it back with them to their desks. “Higher end food in a casual setting,” is what Tre Piani promises with its new “Tre Catering” program.
The food arrived with a minimum of fanfare, transported by two people from the restaurant and one cleverly packed food cart. In under 15 minutes the drab office lunch room was turned into an appetizing groaning board of food. The other promise was that, at the end of the day, we could just throw everything away. Uh oh, we thought, what about that silverware glistening under the fluorescent lights? Surely we would have to return that to the restaurant. No, that silverware is actually upscale (and sturdier than usual) plastic — throw it away when you’re done, along with the heavy-duty (but also plastic) serving tongs.
The food was beyond what any of us would have expected for an eat-in event. The selections reflected Tre Piani’s commitment to “slow food” and organic choices when possible. In addition to two kinds of pasta, penne and tortellini with pesto, the entrees included a beef tenderloin, eggplant parmesan, and chicken breast with polenta. The chicken was Griggstown Farm organic chicken. The mixed green salad was from a greenhouse in south Jersey.
The desserts included tiramisu, chocolate mousse, and a fresh fruit strudel. The last time we had participated in such a sumptuous in-office dining event was in the 1970s heyday of People magazine, when lavish catered dinners were the norm on weekly closing nights. The last time we saw such a spread was several weeks ago, viewing an episode of Mad Men, when the 1960s-era ad agency ordered in for its staff during an all-night effort to craft an ad campaign for American Airlines.
What do you pay for in-house feast of this sort? The Tre Piani menu assumes a minimum of 10 people and the cost can be as high as the number of choices offered. An arugula, tomato, and goat cheese salad costs $50 and will serve 8 to 12. Similar sized entrees range from breast of chicken picatta for $45 up to veal osso buco with lemon-scented tomato and white wine sauce served with saffron risotto for $160. Desserts range from a fresh cut fruit platter ($40) to a cannoli platter ($40) to a carrot cake with cream cheese icing ($75).
The greatest value is in the convenience. The only staff time devoted to the meal came at clean-up time. That could have been accomplished easily with items on the table being swept into one or two large trash bags. But not so quick. The leftovers were split out into take-home portions — no one wanted anything to go to waste. And after that one of our frugal staff was seen washing the serving utensils and the “silverware” — all too nice to be thrown away.
Tre Catering, Tre Piani Restaurant, 120 Rockingham Row, Princeton Forrestal Village. 609-452-1515. www.trepiani.com. Breakfast also available beginning at 8 a.m.