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11. January 2012
Klaus Peter Kofler is one of the most cutting-edge and successful caterers of the city. He has arranged dinners for Angela Merkel and caused a stir with his pop-up restaurant Pret a Diner. After touring Munich, London and Frankfurt, the event will return to Berlin with appearances at Fashion Week and the Berlinale and a steady/temporary location at the alte Münze in Mitte. We spoke to KP Kofler about tradition, internationality and the groundrules for hosting a successful event.
The Kofler family business has been running since 1823 in Bad Homburg and was once the Kaiser's official caterer. What does tradition mean to you?
Let's start with the positive aspects: Tradition is heritage, and together, heritage and tradition shape the future. Our families' experiences help implement new things today as well as going about doing so in the right manner. The downside is that tradition brings many obligations with it. I was obligated to continue my parents' company. I reclined, which caused some resentment at first. Tensions have only been loosening up in the last couple of years. My family has realized that my ideas were leading to something. There's been some padding of the shoulders by my father.
How do you profit from a family business?
The name was well-known, it was a guarantee for good quality, a name you could trust. That helped me out in the beginning. The new company slogan “Culture in Food since 1823” shows that in times of extreme change, Kofler stands for continuity. So you can trust us with planning an event.
Can you fall back on existing networks?
It helps open certain doors. But it's not everything. The client base is too diverse. But I did learn that a good network of contacts is immensely important for a business to succeed.
How many employees work for Kofler?
Around 300. I don't know all of them by name, but I know most of their faces. We're proud of the fact that we have a very low fluctuation with our employees. We have people working in leading positions that have been there for ten years. We've doubled the number of employees since 2007.
What does Kofler offer?
Whether we're working with the Aserbaidshanian embassador or the Treehouse in Frankfurt – our main principle is Ladies and Gentlemen are serving Ladies and Gentlemen. For an innovative concept, you need a little more personality. The service team shouldn't be mute, they should be able to say things they might not be able to utter at a formal banquet. We are one of the few catering firms that have their own team of employees at every location that we train ourselves. We have two main criteria: The quality of the food and the quality of the waiting. If you have problems with one of these two, then your event will suffer.
How do you maintain an international standing?
Bad Homburg is a beautiful little town, but it's too small. This was always a controversial subject in family discussions. Why is it important to be in Berlin? We arrived here in June 2001, a little before September 11. It wasn't easy, since the first euphoria after the German reunification had already began to fade. But I did realize one thing very fast: If you come here from Frankfurt, then you're always regional. But if you're in Berlin, you're national. The media used to describe us as a “regional business”. Now we're a “national business.” The move to Berlin was a good move for us.
You had a grand appearance with the “Pret a Diner” pop-up restaurant in January of 2011. Was this your breakthrough in the capital?
It's interesting you'd see it that way. It's a very popular opinion that catering is a sort of public sampling for large masses of people. That's not an especially sexy image, it makes you think of airplane food. A dinner for the Queen of England or for Angela Merkel's inauguration ceremony – those are the champion league events of the business, but they're rarely acknowledged by the broader public. We only got on the public radar with Pret a Diner, which was, of course, very good for business. We met many new people, discovered exciting locations and got a couple of new orders from New York and Singapore.
Would something like Pret a Diner be imagineable in the Middle East?
Generally speaking, yes. But it takes a good network for Europeans to be able to plan events there. There are many places around the world where this might not be as complicated. Grave issues for an event like alcohol are more complex to handle there.
Are there groundrules for a successful event?
The location is the most important aspect. Then, you need to determine the number of guests and a concept – not just for the food but for the entertainment as well. The second aspect is the structure of the guests. Are you planning a private party or a party that should work businesswise? Whenever we plan big events in the south of France, we invite broad aquaintances to enable networking between friends. Germans will prefer to invite just a close circle of friends, that's just a mentality thing. In any case, you have to pay attention to the fact that every group you invite has an element of suspense, that you have interesting guests that will be able to communicate with one another.
How about a small family celebration or a more settled event? What should the host keep in mind?
If he's assigning seats, he should bear in mind that not everyone will find something to talk about for more than two hours. A dessert buffet is a good way to loosen things up towards the end, so there's an opportunity to speak to other people. Guests can tell if the party has been planned in a way that their individual requirements have been attended to beforehand. This doesn't mean just randomly spending a lot of money. It's more about the little things. Like if the event is set at a rather remote location, you should take care of transportation, have taxis or shuttles ready so people can get home. With private parties, toilets can be a problem. If you've only got two toilets, many of your guests will be waiting on line for most of the night.
How do you like to celebrate?
When it comes to dinner, I like to remember my grandfather's words: The simplest solution might not be the best solution, but the best things are always the simplest things. If you're planning a small event, I recommend not trying anything you've never done before – that will never work. I like to invite friends of business partners and just cook a small meal for them. Most of them will be surprised that I can actually cook. If you're a concert event manager, you don't necessarily need to be able to get up on stage and sing, but in our business, it doesn't hurt to know and understand how cooking works.
(Interview: Eva-Maria Hilker)
Kofler & Kompanie, Linkstraße 12, Berlin-Tiergarten, Tel. +49 30 259 28 90, www.koflerkompanie.com
Pret a diner „In the mix", 13.1. bis 29.2.2012, Alte Münze, Am Krögel 2, Berlin-Mitte, www.pretadiner.com
More event stories and party locations can be found in the Feste Feiern tip edition, collected by Hilker Berlin.