Behind the scenes: Successful catering events begin here

Author: Colleen O'Connor

From left, John Howard, John Negri, Mike Hartman, Leilani Webb and Terry Wheeler

Photo: From left, John Howard, John Negri, Mike Hartman, Leilani Webb and Terry Wheeler

John Negri began his 24-year career at Notre Dame in 1988. Starting as a service associate in Food Services, he washed dishes and mopped floors. Eight months after starting, he was promoted to a catering assistant position, putting together orders, doing set-ups for catered events and loading delivery trucks. Fifteen months later, he became a storekeeper for the South Dining Hall, responsible for, among other things, keeping track of expiration dates for food storage. In 1991, he was promoted to lead storekeeper, a position he still holds today.

What does the lead storekeeper do? A lot.

Negri provides all the equipment as well as canned, bottled and adult beverages for campus catering events. The equipment includes silverware, glassware, dishes, table linens, paper products and supplies, coffee pots, serving platters, drip pans, etc. Originally housed in the South Dining Hall, his operation was moved in 1998 to the lower level of the North Dining Hall.

Assisting Negri is his small, crosstrained staff of four. Mike Hartman is the coordinator of adult beverages, which are stocked weekly. John Howard and Terry Wheeler process the catering orders, which range from deliveries of paper products to served meals and buffets. Leilani Webb coordinates the nearly 15,000 pieces of silverware, separating knives, forks and spoons once they come out of the North Dining Hall dishwasher.

“My 24 years of experience have been great help in making decisions, but this is all about teamwork,” says Negri.

The day begins when orders are received from the Catering by Design Office. They are electronically inputted and then posted to a board for processing. Negri personally oversees and tracks every order, checking daily for any revisions. Twenty-five orders are average for a day, but during a busy week, it could be as many as 50 in a day.

Food Services Support Facility drivers deliver the equipment to its designated location. After an event is completed, the equipment is picked up by the Food Services Support Facility drivers and returned to the North Dining Hall, where it is washed and returned to the storeroom. Once back in the storeroom, Negri and his staff sort it out and reprocess it for the next function.

Large functions such as Junior Parents Weekend and Commencement require very detailed planning. A typical dinner on Junior Parents’ Weekend will require service for an average of 3,800 people. Alumni Reunion Weekend and Graduation are even more challenging, as there are multiple locations involved in the various Commencement and reunion activities. Just last month, in conjunction with the Blue-Gold Game, there were more than 173 catering events in the three days leading up to the game.

The hard part of so many events in a short period of time, he says, is keeping track of everything while managing rapid turnover.

Keeping track of the equipment is an undertaking in and of itself. Once a month, an inventory is taken of everything including more than 6,000 water glasses and china place settings. Of those, 3,500 to 4,000 of each are kept readily available at all times, plus another 1,000 sets of crystal glassware. “We even still have in storage the original pewter plates and pitchers that were used when the University first opened,” says Negri.

Asked what he likes best about his job, Negri replied, “The feeling of accomplishment I get at the end of the day, knowing I have met my short-term goals, plus the respect and support I get from management.”

In the fall of 2010, Negri severely injured his back in an automobile accident and was out for more than four months. “I had to learn to walk again.” But according to Negri, the accident changed his life and made him a better man. “My faith in Jesus is my driving force and gets me through stressful times and frustrating days."