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How Caterers Keep 800,000 Visitors Fed During NAIAS

Approximately 19,000 soft pretzels will be sold during the massive event at Cobo Center

New Models Debut At North American International Auto Show
The Ford exhibit is shown at the 2018 North American International Auto Show January 16, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. More than 5,100 journalists from 61 countries attend the NAIAS each year. The show opens to the public January 20th and ends January 28th.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

January in downtown Detroit is synonymous with one thing: the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). During the two week period from January 14 through January 28, roughly 800,000 industry professionals, representatives from international press, and car enthusiasts will pour into Cobo Center to catch a glimpse of some of the new automotive technology and vehicles on display. And through it all, the building’s in-house catering company Centerplate is keeping visitors fed.

With an event as big as NAIAS, Centerplate starts preparing a year in advance. “Every year we create an auto show menu, so we’re already looking at the reactions from the client on the new menu items and how they like them,” says Shannon Chapman, a general manager for Centerplate who has helped supervise catering during NAIAS for the last eight years.

The company tries to offer catering menus that are on trend while also showcasing local purveyors such as Zingerman’s, Faygo, and Vernor’s. This year, for example, Cobo’s offerings will feature two new stands featuring macaroni and cheese and grilled cheeses. While the company employs its hourly staff locally, Centerplate also flies in temporary front-of-house and back-of-house catering managers for the NAIAS. “I’m already recruiting for next year,” Chapman says.

During the first half of the event, Centerplate primarily focuses on catering and then switches to retail sales during the public opening. For some catering staff the day can start as early as 3:30 a.m. and some employees can log up to 15 hours per day maintaining the food and beverage service during the event. “Our staff a lot of long days, but it’s exciting for us being in the business,” Chapman says.

Here’s a by-the-numbers breakdown of what it takes to cater Detroit’s biggest convention of the year:

  • Estimated Number of Dishes Served Throughout the Event: 170,000
  • Number of Beverage Served Throughout the Event: 330,000
  • Number of Bottled Waters Supplied: Roughly 25,000
  • Number of Soft Pretzels Served: Around 19,000
  • Number of Detroit-Style Pepperoni Pizza Slices Served: Around 16,000
  • Champagne Stocked for the Charity Preview: 100 cases (plus 300 cases of wine)
  • Food Service Staff on Site During Press Days: Nearly 700
  • Number of Front-of-House and Culinary Managers Flown in for NAIAS: 55 people from 20 states in the U.S. and Canada
  • Cumulative Hours Worked by Food and Beverage Staff During NAIAS: 40,000

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