Live music and theater draw big crowds -- hungry crowds -- every summer to the Wolf Trap performing arts center. While some patrons eat an early dinner and many pack their own suppers, dozens of spectators every night rely on picnics to go provided by Capital Restaurants Catering.
With orders for 200 to 250 picnics on a busy night, according to on-site manager Casey King, the catering crew has had to make a science out of picnicking. Experience has taught them a few things:
* Pick what you already know people like. When executive chef Bryan Yealy sat down to design the menu, he chose the most popular dishes from Capital Restaurants' menus. Roast pork from Georgetown's Old Glory restaurant is a take on its pulled pork. J. Paul's restaurant, also in Georgetown, contributed the steak salad.
* Make it packable. Old Glory's pulled pork wasn't practical for a cold picnic. So it became an easy-to-slice-and-carry pork loin. Fried chicken from Georgia Brown's in downtown Washington found a home as a southern fried chicken salad.
* Leave your ego at home -- don't overcompose the meal. This is a picnic, not a five-course tasting menu. Last year, Yealy's dinners were "complete," with sides and desserts. "I assumed people would want the sweet potato cheesecake with the fried chicken," says Yealy. This year, sides and desserts are sold a la carte. Give your guests a choice of desserts and two or three sides to tempt them.
* Picnics aren't the time for calorie counting. The least popular entrees, reports King, are the vegetarian selections. The most requested dessert is the Key lime pie. The runaway bestseller is the southern fried chicken salad.
* Age matters. King has watched young crowds and older crowds, and he's spotted a pattern: Younger people go for the sandwiches and wraps, while older crowds prefer the entrees. Looking for equilibrium? Yealy has the answer: "Everyone wants the entree salads, period. They're just as popular in a picnic as they are in the restaurant."
-- Stephanie Witt Sedgwick