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Celebration Pavilions Bring Upscale Events Within Reach of Everyone
Nothing new under the sun?  Think Again.  This revolutionary new concept in banquet facilities is set to take off.

Summer 2002
By Martha Russis

At last, Michael Pecora has answered caterers’ prayers and given banquet customers a venue that has been out of reach to most except big spenders.

Pecora, a south Florida banquet developer, is about to launch Celebration Pavilions, a franchise banquet operation with a novel building and operational strategy.  Pecora bills it as the world’s first turnkey banquet facility.

Indeed, the building is designed for quick set-up.  It’s also designed to create sorely needed banquet and meeting space and put operators rapidly on the road to profitability.

“I have never seen anybody who is actually producing an inexpensive version of an expensive banquet facility,” says Michael Roman, president of Chicago-based CaterSource, a catering industry consultant.  “I have never seen that in all my 30 years of consulting in the industry so it is a very unique concept.”

Pecora’s idea is born out of his 30 years in the foodservice industry where he has concentrated on banquets and catering.  Fifteen years ago, he built Signature Gardens, a five-room, 70,000 square foot banquet facility in Miami.  In 1997, he added Signature Grand, a 17-room, 100,000 square foot banquet hall in Ft. Lauderdale.

After three years in the making, Pecora’s vision for Celebration Pavilions is close to reality.  He and Roman say they have had interest from all over the country.

Pecora is seeking land for a prototype site near the Signature Grand.  After the first one is built, he plans to offer franchise opportunities.

  

DON’T CALL IT A TENT

At first glance it somewhat resembles a huge, elegant tent but that’s where the similarity stops.

Celebration Pavilions is 9,553 square feet of interior space and built on a concrete slab.  An entry canopy gives another 2,489 square feet, creating a classy first impression for the rest of the building and spillover space for guests when the interior is full.

That tent look is achieved on the interior and exterior by using a stretch tension fabric fashioned into a curvilinear draped look.  It is thick, highly durable and the same fabric often used for industrial purposes such as airline hangars and government storage structures.

Stucco lines the building’s exterior walls and inside are finishing touches that give the facility it high-class appearance such as crystal chandeliers hanging from the banquet room’s 29-foot-high ceilings, wall-to-wall Oriental carpeting, and gold-leaf backed chairs.  Unlike a tent, unsightly utility lines are hidden in the building structure.

The banquet space is supported by seven custom-made steel structures surrounding the kitchen, office, restrooms and bridal suite.

The main attraction for operators is that this is not a bricks-and-mortar building that is out of reach financially.  It also takes a shorter time to get set up and running.

Pecora estimates building sites will need two to two-and-a-half acres and buildings will take between one to four months to erect after local site approval is granted.

“This is less expensive than building a traditional structure and has more benefits,” Pecora says.  “What we have done is taken these ubiquitous and austere tent structures and embellished them so they have all the features of a permanent building yet retaining the character of a tent.”

Pecora estimates buildings will cost between $1.5 to $1.6 million, excluding the land and site improvements such as plumbing and electric lines and landscaping.  Celebration Pavilions will set up the structure and kitchen.  Items such as flatware, china and chandeliers are also included.

 

PLEASE BE SEATED, DINNER IS SERVED

Traditional banquet preparation requires food to be dished on to plates at the time of service, but Celebration Pavilions will change that and reduce labor costs.

Before the event, fully-cooked, chilled food supplied by Cuisine Solutions is plated and held in coolers.  Close to serving time, it is put in Rational’s ClimaPlus computer-controlled cooking system that can steam and re-heat and even self-clean.  The smart, sophisticated oven takes into account density and moisture content so food heats equally.

Up to 120 plates can be heated every eight minutes with two ovens and when they come out, a thermal blanket keeps them warm until they are served.

Since many of the serving steps are eliminated with prepared food, a Celebration Pavilions kitchen can be run with one person working efficiently to prepare and heat an entire banquet.

“We can buy every single item from lettuce cut to hors d’ oeuvres and by pre-plating everything -- and in a chilled environment to preserve quality control --  we can heat everything with one person at one time,” Pecora says.

For catorers who pride themselves on their own signature dishes, the kitchen also is furnished so they can cook from scratch.

A wide range of menu offerings are available for food prepared through the ClimaPlus method including stuffed chicken breasts, prime rib, New York strip steak and fish fillets.  It can be served either in American or Russian style service.

 

LABOR COSTS DETERMINE PROFIT

Celebration Pavilions is designed to be managed by two people and it’s who’s hired beyond that that largely determines profits.

Using a team approach, two full-time people can run the pavilion day-to-day.  Front-of-the-house operations will include mainly sales, administration and banquet operations.  The person in back will be responsible for banquet planning and producing and dishing out food.

Part-time labor can be used to accomplish tasks such as service, clean-up or doing dishes.  If a banquet is small enough or easily managed, little if no extra labor might be possible, thereby increasing operators’ profits.

In most cases, Celebration Pavilions will be hosting only one event at a time.  Pecora expects Celebration Pavilions to follow national trends with average size banquets between 150 to 175 guests.  The room has a 370 person maximum occupancy.

The food preparation method is the main reason why labor costs can be held down.  Since pre-cooked food is plated before the event and easily reheated, less help is needed to dish it out.

“The key to profitability here will be in holding down the labor or in applying labor when you actually have an event to do.” Roman says.

If banquets are of high quality and priced right, Pecora expects operators would each be able to make six-figure incomes.

 

MIDDLE AMERICA’S McBANQUET

Just about every off-premise caterer’s wish list includes, of course, an on-premise venue.  No more loading trucks and long drives.  But up until now, the multi-million dollar cost for a building has put that dream out of reach.

Pecora has several markets targeted for operators of Celebration Pavilions.  All are good fits because caterers desire permanent digs and there is a shortage of banquet and meeting space, he says.

Aside from mom and pop owners, other potential operators Pecora is aiming at include restaurants, golf courses, and institutions like hospitals, corporate campuses, universities and resort hotels.  He says these types of organizations are a good fit because they often realize the profitability of catering, have land for a facility, and are short on “meet and eat” space.

Roman agrees and also thinks Celebration Pavilions’ concept would work well in small markets where banquet space is scarce.

“There is so much opportunity here, it is scary,” Roman says.

Affluent customers used to be the only ones who could afford a lavish reception underneath an elegant tent, but Celebration Pavilions brings this opportunity to the masses.

Pecora envisions it as, “the McWeddings of the wedding industry for the big chunk of the vast middle market.”

With its elegant décor, one of Celebration Pavilions’ predominant event markets will be weddings and its price point targets middle-income couples.

In south Florida where the first facility will open, Pecora estimates prices around $50 a head including liquor.  In other areas of the country, the price would vary.  But in all markets, Celebration Pavilions aims to fill the niche for weddings in an exclusive, elegant setting without the ritzy price tag.

 

NOT YOUR TYPICAL FRANCHISE

Although Celebrations Pavilions will be classified as a franchise, Pecora knows very well  there are some things franchisees just hate: micromanagement and royalty fees.  He won’t demand either and deviates from the classic franchise model.

But one thing is available to franchisees: a wealth of expertise and advice in everything from marketing, to furnishing the facility, to maximizing revenues.

Pecora plans to educate operators about opportunities for extra income through ancillary services purchased for events such as photography and flowers.  Those services can represent nearly half the entire price for a wedding, but caterers seldom get a piece of that action.  They could through referral fees or by packaging services with the banquet facility such as entertainment, flowers or limos.

Pecora is also a pro at other tricks of the banquet trade and will pass them on.  That means everything from how to answer the phone when brides first call as a prospective customers to recognizing a client’s budget so appropriate food packages can be discussed and the sale closed.

Celebration Pavilions’ food preparation method differs from the majority of caterers.  Pecora plans to use that to advantage and eliminate the “mystery” behind what goes on in the kitchen by inviting customers in. “I want to take what is potentially a weakness and hide it in plain sight and show people exactly how we do it and let them sample it.  That alone will convince anybody,” he says.