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Catering manager balances her plate of duties

When the Celtics order sandwiches from Bakers’ Best, they like them “just so,” said Ann MacDougall, the Needham catering company’s corporate productions manager. The peanut butter has to be spread on both sides of the bread, not just one side; the tuna is a special, healthier mix that includes lots of celery. Since MacDougall is in charge of coordinating all catering deliveries, both social and corporate, from start to finish, including these Celtics sandwich platters, she’s accustomed to making sure that the food is exactly what the client orders, whether it’s for power forward Kevin Garnett and his teammates, or for a local holiday party.

According to the National Restaurant Association, catering is one of the fastest-growing segments of the restaurant industry, but a day in the life of a catering employee like MacDougall can be, as they say, a hard slog. The business is seasonal – MacDougall just finished one of the busiest times of the year at Bakers’ Best – requiring long days to not just prepare the food, but also to transport it to the site and coordinate amenities such as linen, flatware, glassware, and even portable toilets.

MacDougall starts her day between 3:30 and 4 a.m. to “expediate” breakfast deliveries, the terminology she uses to describe food prep, packing, and delivery. “I’m constantly checking and double checking: Are there condiments? Drinks? Did they want the lettuce on the side?” There is a half-hour window to get the food to the customer in time, and with 15 drivers, inevitably, someone sleeps through their alarm clock or a car doesn’t start. “Just when you think you’ve heard every excuse in the book, you hear a new one,” said MacDougall, who, when needed, has other staff members pitch in to fill gaps.

Q: You need to get more than 100 different types of sandwiches out the door by 6 a.m. Ever have nightmares about this?

A: Oh yes, when I was working crazy hours a few years ago, my youngest daughter came in the room. I was sitting up asleep, and she said I was babbling about sandwich platters. “Where are the platters?” I asked.

Q: On some days, you have 30-40 breakfasts to get out the door. How do you brew all the coffee for these?

A: When I first come into work, I start brewing and pouring coffee. We have four industrial size percolators that are huge industrial machines. Each handles six gallons of coffee. We pour the coffee into portable containers that we call ‘Joes,’ and usually go through 60-70 Joes-to-go a day.

Q: You’re in charge of quality control. What’s the difference between a good and bad sandwich?

A: We try to make each sandwich consistently excellent. Nothing should be slopping off the side and there should be an equal amount of ingredients, whether sliced turkey or chicken salad, so you don’t eat a corner of the sandwich and just get a piece of lettuce.

Q: When you work all day with food, do you have any motivation to come home and cook again for your family?

A: I love to cook but I just don’t seem to have the time to do it. I usually prepare a dish like lasagna or shepherd’s pie that will last the whole week. My husband could eat the same thing every night. Thank god he isn’t picky.

Q: On a normal day, your alarm goes off at 2:45 a.m. and you’re at work by 3:30. What’s your secret to waking up?

A: There is no secret. When the alarm goes off, I just get up. There’s no snoozing, because it makes you even more tired.

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