July 18, 2005

Remind me why I do this?

I catered a wedding on Saturday that kicked my ass.

Regular readers of this blog know that it's very rare for me to bitch about my clients or my workers, but this is one time I'm making an exception.

There were lots and LOTS of rather significant catastrophes.

The parking shuttle guys were not professionals, (just family, I guess) and told my 3 Kitchen Assistants they had to move their cars. They took so long that my 3 girls were out of the kitchen for about 45 minutes, so in effect, I lost almost TWO HOURS of kitchen time. The woman I hired to act as the "hostess" (since they had no wedding coordinator) had a hard time keeping people out of the kitchen. There were unsupervised children all over the place. There was one woman who kept coming in the kitchen and trying to do stuff in the sink. a small, two-basin, residential sink. there wasn't room for four of us to work in the first place, so for her to come to that sink to wash her hands, rinse out the baby bottles, and all this other stuff that could have been done at the wet bar, was a big P.I.T.A.

All but one of my servers was late, even though I warned them about beach traffic, and that the home was 3 miles up a very twisty canyon road. I phoned each of them the night before to remind them of the traffic and the parking situation. Futile.

One of my kitchen workers screwed up a dish so bad I had to take it off the menu. She should have known better. She's the only one of the three who'd gone to culinary school, and I gave her explicit written instructions (soak the noodles for 10 minutes) that she didn't follow (she soaked them for over 30 and they turned into glue). what was I supposed to do? Then she undercooked the carrots and overcooked the broccoli. Not that it mattered, as you'll read below... but it's MY name on the truck and MY reputation. **SIGH**

The guests ate the appetizers as if they weren't getting dinner, then they ate dinner like they never saw appetizers. When the cake was served, I put TWO slices (one of each kind) on each plate, and 1/2 cup of fresh berries, plus i set out a gallon-sized bowl of EXTRA berries, and they ate it ALL.

Anyway... I estimated 6oz of protein per person, plus enough rice and veggies for decent portions. My buffet was DECIMATED by the time the last two tables got up because the guests at tables 2-10 were greedy. I watched them through the window, and THE PLATES WERE PILED HIGH. I saw four slices of pork per plate, plus three chicken breast strips, plus a big chunk of salmon. (the good stuff: wild-caught king salmon at $17/lb, at the client's request) After table 12 got up, I got nervous. I began to serve the guests the proteins myself, to keep the portion sizes down. It was like a prison chow line, but better dressed.

I didn't run out of food, but it got close! And I've NEVER run out of food before. It's a caterer's worst nightmare. I told the Mother of the Bride (M.O.B.) that the guests ate like linebackers! They ate more food than the time when I catered a buffet dinner for a sports agent (think Jerry McGuire) and he had all these gigantic professional basketball players at his house for a party. Wow, those guys ate, but these wedding guests gave them a run for their money!

At least the good thing was that my servers said they weren't throwing much food out, they were bringing back empty plates! They loved my food!! (I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wished they didn't love it quite so much! I was getting really nervous!)

OH.... and the schedule! if you hire me as a professional, and you ask me to cater the party, please understand that I am going to stick to my schedule and if you spontaneously change it without telling me, you screw everything up. For example, the ceremony was to start at 5pm. More than half the guests hadn't even arrived yet. The MOB asked me to push the schedule back. I said no problem. (everything was ready and waiting in the cambros & chafers except for the stir-fry, which turns to slime when it sits) The ceremony finally started at 5:45, but nobody had told me they were going to begin! I heard the music and looked out the window. The bride was already on the podium thing. The wedding ceremony was to have lasted 30 minutes, so I scheduled my servers for their 30-minute break at that point. It would have been perfect, the staff-meal food was hot & ready for them, and they began eating. I had just been telling them to please only take 30 minutes, because as soon as the ceremony was over, the apps had to get passed.

SUDDENLY I HEAR APPLAUSE.... and realize that the ceremony took less than 15 minutes. shit shit shit! The MOB explained later that they were running so late they omitted stuff and rushed the ceremony. I told her that the food wasn't plattered yet, i was counting on at least another 15 minutes. She shrugged her shoulders. I was rather upset...Not to mention that my servers were unable to take their break during that time.

I can't even talk about it anymore. The whole thing was a nightmare. My heart is racing just remembering it. I was alternating between being tears and frantically trying to get food out to the buffet. I raised my voice only once, to the father of the bride, because he was the one coordinating the shuttles and I told him that the servers were going to show up and he said that as soon as they did, he'd go out to the parking lot to pick them up. I knew from the loss of my Kitchen Assistants that it would take 30 minutes, which I couldn't afford. I needed them there at 3pm to pour drinks and open wine and set tables. I couldn't get through to him that there were FIVE people coming from that lot, and that his car would only fit THREE of them, and he'd have to make two trips, so couldn't he just send someone to go there and wait for them, preferably someone with an SUV that would fit 5 people plus the driver. Worse was that the hostess I hired was supposed to be dealing with him. Not me. I was supposed to be cooking, not scheduling transportation... but I knew that I'd be the one to blame if things went poorly.

Gratefully, the MOB said that she loved the food, that she thought my servers were polite and friendly, and told me that she was really happy with everything. I guess that's all I can ask for.

I hadn't sat down all day, and my feet were numb. Also, I hadn't eaten. So instead of going home at 1am, I went to Denny's and had a grilled cheese sandwich, buffalo strips and some hot herbal tea. I chatted with the manager and my server and marveled at the efficient little thing they had going behind the counter. It was such an incredible luxury to have someone serve me food instead of the other way around. I managed to keep it together & drive myself home at 2am. Sunday was a blur of snacks and naps. Today I feel like a human again. But just barely!

Last thing I ate or drank: Quaker 100% natural granola, straight from the box.

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  1. Well, this isn't your usual kind of gig; you usually run well-planned, fairly small events. This was a poorly-planned, large envent that showed the value of having professionals run an event from beginning to end, not cheaping out on parking.

    And it also shows the value of, you know, communicating with the people who you've hired to do your events. It's important to tell them what's going on to, you know, actaully make sure that your guests get served. I can't believe they didn't keep you up to date on schedule changes, that's just crazy.

    At least they didn't make you clean up trash you didn't bring.

  2. I can deal with a postponement, that's fine, and understandable. When the client takes my advice, I remind them that Los Angeles culture is not punctual. She should have told people to arrive at 4pm, and assumed they won't show up until nearly 5pm.

    Anyway, I had everything in the cambro (they're special thermos-style boxes that keep hot food hot for up to 4 hours) and so that was ok. I was just annoyed that she rushed other parts of the event without consulting me or telling me. I'd have made other adjustments to my schedule. I'm grateful my servers understood it wasn't my fault.

    Oh, and funny you should mention the garbage thing. As we were cleaning up -- and we really cleaned everything up quite well -- the F.O.B. asked me what I was going to do about the empty beer and wine bottles. I think he expected me to take them away! I told him, "You should probably put those out with your recycling, dont you think?" Besides everything, I wasn't going to load up my truck with hundreds of empty beer, wine and champagne bottles so they didn't have to deal with recycling. Amazing.

  3. You poor thing! I empathize with you, even though there is no way on earth I could even part-way know what Saturday was like. I'm very glad that most of your events have more respectful clients getting in your way! :)

  4. wow
    That is CRAZY! Glad you feel like a person finaly.

  5. Wow. As I said last night on the phone, there is only so much you can do and sometimes even that falls apart. At least it is done and you can move on. Still laughing that you went to Denny's though!

  6. What kind of truck do you have?


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