Billie Jean


Couldn’t nail down when or why it started, all I know is for well over a decade I’ve texted Billie Jean to my daughter every time it plays at a wedding. Sorry Michael, may your tortured soul rest in peace but Billie Jean is a stupid song. Nevertheless and without exception, Billie Jean has played at every wedding since the ritual started.

I know a thing or two about weddings, they’ve paid my bills for 30 years. How many since Billie Jean texts began is tough to say, truth is I can’t even remember how many this summer, a conservative estimate might be 200 Billie Jeans. Each text represents 10-12 hours of sweat and toil sprinkled with shenanigans and drama worthy of screenplays.

The magnitude of Billie Jean was lost until quite recently, muddied by focus and work load it never crossed my mind Billie Jean represented a brief respite. Billie Jean texts mean dinner is over, coffee and dessert served, cake cut, kitchen staff cleaning up, truck being loaded and a push to strip tables. Billie Jean lets me breath. Only 3-4 hours to go, time to crack the whip, think about signing out staff, write a few words of my report.

Every so often I mention to staff Billie Jean plays at every wedding.They don’t believe me. Just wait I say, Billie Jean hasn’t let me down yet. If I were a smarty pants I’d blither it used to be Lady In Red or Red Red Wine, all that would do is age me. For the record, Uptown Funk is poised to become the next Billie Jean.

Don’t Think That Cake Will Serve 50


Myself and two staff, 50 guests, corporate golf tournament/Canada Day BBQ at a golf course.Tight timeline for set-up, no problem, not our first hustle. Buffet dinner of salmon, flank steak, Caesar salad, pasta salad, cut melon slices and cookies to open at 6:15. Chips and salsa on each table, bar open and notified guests would arrive in small groups relative to their tee-off times. Tournament prizes to be awarded after dinner, followed by our staff cutting/serving a Canada Day cake provided by client. Running a bit late due to venue not having tables/chairs in place – no big deal. Sorted it out and opened buffet to 20 guests at 6:30. Twenty guests, 20 pieces of salmon and half the beef, gone in the blink of an eye.

Silly me for assuming budget conscious client mentioned to invited guests free dinner was a choice of, not both proteins.Never mind that for the same price of salmon and steak, each and every one of them could stuff their belly with 2 burgers and grilled corn. Nope, they were adamant and customized the menu – 40 salmon fillets, 37 portions of beef (Why 37 is beyond me ) 40 portions of Caesar and pasta salads. This is supposed to feed 50 people? As always, our kitchen sent 4-5 extra goodwill portions of both proteins – drop in the bucket, this was an all you can eat pig fest.

We were in trouble. While not my responsibility to slap buffet hands, disgust left no choice but to shame ignorant second helping morons into waiting until first plates had a run at the buffet. Now client is in my face, angrily demanding to know why we didn’t hold dinner till 7. “We’re going to run out of food!” she shrieks, followed by “everyone is supposed to give you a ticket for choice of salmon or beef”. Excuse me, what ticket? Do you see mention of tickets in your contract because I don’t. Did you tell guests it wasn’t all you can eat? Do they realize how little food you ordered? Is your contract different than mine? Mine clearly states dinner at 6:15 and protein tickets are news to me.

Never mind. Client is beyond reason, demanding a refund, calling me a disgrace for cheating them.In the middle of all this my bartender interrupts – “What’s with these tickets? People keep asking if it’s for a free drink.” OMG!  A dozen guests go hungry, not so much as a cookie crumb left on the buffet, time to move on. I suggest we cut their cake.

How I managed to keep it together, calmly saying “don’t think that cake will serve 50” is beyond me. A team of comedy writers couldn’t script a more suitable punchline. Riveted, I watched as client ripped plastic cover off the naked 10 inch angel food cake, stunned by futile attempts to jab a small paper Canadian flag into the hard plastic center.

“Can you buy us a cake? We’ll stall tournament awards while you go for a cake”. Holy crap! How would you like to pay for it? I’ll send my chef for  cake when we sort out payment. Client agreed to put cake receipt total on her credit card. Chef made good time, back with what he could find in just over 20 minutes, a smallish slab cake and second small layer cake.  Client forgot about the stall. Awards over, only a dozen or so guests remaining. “That’s too much cake, I’m not paying for it” client announces. Oh yes you are!

Happy Canada Day

 

Notes Can Be Broken


Age is a state of mind, or so I thought until 57 years kicked me in the ass this week. Work has always been physical, I credit on the job activity with keeping me healthy, it never occurred to me I could be broken.

The enormity of off site catering is difficult to explain. We can’t run to a shelf for equipment, everything we need is loaded into a truck, loaded out when we’re done. On arrival rented tables, chairs, glassware, ice, plates, cutlery and ovens wait for distribution. Roll out tables, set them and place chairs. Build bars, kitchen and buffets. Four hours of hard labour under our belts before the first guest arrives if we’re lucky, a frenzied hour and a half if we’re in deep shit. We build, adapt and improvise spectacular parties without complaint. Guests remember the meal and libations, nobody cares about logistics.

Funny thing is, my job is to ensure guests don’t care about logistics. I’m a Swiss Army Knife – sturdy, reliable, a tool for any situation. My strokes come from putting clients at ease and comradely moments when staff exhale silent acknowledgement of our work ethic. Before today thoughts of reaching physical limits capable of breaking me down were inconceivable.Now I face a sobering truth, Notes can be broken.

Seven day chronology of a shattered Notes – Last Friday was day one, a 300 person plated dinner under a tent on a sports field. Day two ran sixteen and a half hours, 265 guests on a rural estate for a quarter of a million dollar wedding. Fitbit equipped staff recorded walking over 25 kilometers back and forth from kitchen to party tents.At least the valets got golf carts, my staff operated on stoic determination.I don’t remember driving home at 5 am but won’t soon forget catatonic day 3 unable to get out of bed. Day four demanded 13 hours, the first 8 humping lunch deliveries all over town followed by a 250 guest reception. Day five’s plated dinner came with stairs, mere mortals might cry, we laughed at the irony. Yesterday was day six, 700 guests at an animation studio. 12 themed food stations spread over 4 floors. Routine day seven dawned without adrenaline, driving to work I wondered what was wrong with me. Denial stalled inevitable until a few hours ago when processing realities of the next two days off erupted in spontaneous tears.

Solace kindly reminded me how many staff half my age were broken this week. Thank you solace, point taken. Come Monday morning glue on  shattered edges will dry. My job is like childbirth – forget the pain and look forward to doing it again.

 

Annoyances and Bad Form


Time for my annual Christmas party ponder. A grumpy, exhausted caterer’s list of annoyances and bad form –

You failed to inform us “Sparky” is a very bad dog. You – executive of a major corporation hosting a Christmas party with your lovely wife. Never mind ridiculous expectations and timeline, we’ll make it fabulous. Pardon me? Sparky is snarling at my chef because he doesn’t like men wearing caps? Would you like a hair in your prime rib? Never mind. Oh, Sparky is hungry. You want my chef to feed him while carving the beef? Maybe you should feed Sparky and put him in another room. How silly of me, Sparky is much too precious. Just watch him beg for food as your guests awkwardly pretend Sparky isn’t drooling at their feet. Let me assure you – bad dogs are neither cute or entertaining, Sparky is a very bad dog.

Bad dogs have nothing on bad people. Being a reflection of his clueless environment, Sparky pales in comparison to blithering clunk-heads oblivious to their surroundings. You’re a guest at a company dinner – guests at 6 pm, passed appetizers and drinks for an hour, please be seated for dinner at 7 pm. Look around – this isn’t a restaurant, did you notice the kitchen we set up behind pipe and drape. Never mind, please be seated. Oh wait, you changed tables and now are making a scene because servers couldn’t find you to deliver a gluten free vegan meal? My sincerest apologies, if you would be so kind as to take your seat we’ll have you eating in no time.

Place setting jumpers and bad dogs pale next to passed appetizer garbage dumpers. Garbage dumpers catapult beyond canape lunges. Pushing guests aside to ensure first crack at a platter,  only embarrasses individuals oblivious to polite decorum. Taking an appetizer then depositing the pick, spoon or napkin back on the tray of canapes epitomizes bad form. Garbage dumping eclipses annoyance, forcing an immediate server about face to the kitchen. Clearly common sense eludes these geniuses – why should they care when a full platter returns to the kitchen for a scrub because their garbage prevents servers from feeding co-workers.

Baked Brie is not a pie. Yes, I see you put half a pound on your plate but no, I don’t have a fork. See the little knife for spreading it on sliced baguette? Notice scores of people politely waiting to spread a morsel of Brie on that bread? Is grumpiness trickling from corners of my forced smile? Fair enough, you probably haven’t seen a wheel of Brie large enough for fifty people – figure it out – I still don’t have a fork.

I’m sorry, your host didn’t order coffee. No, I don’t have any hot water with lemon. Can I make an exception for you? With all due respect please don’t confuse my good nature with perceived ability to pull a kettle out of my ass. I’m sure you’re lovely, mean well and truly desire a warm beverage – please look around, this isn’t a restaurant, there isn’t a pot of coffee in the back. This is the observation deck of an office tower – even if I could boil water, your host didn’t pay for hot beverage service. Can you understand my limitations, has it occurred to you one exception opens a can of worms I haven’t the staff, authority or inclination to deal with. Do you really think one exception ends with you, that none of 200 in this room will demand equal consideration? You don’t like my attitude, poor customer service? Take it up with your host – I don’t have a freaking kettle.

Why are you blocking our service area? Are you vacant, oblivious, gripped with self importance vast enough to deem it your right to stand where you damn well please? How many times have I politely asked you to step aside? Are you passive aggressive, amused by my servers struggling to maneuver around you, honestly this inconsiderate? Did you notice that one ton truck outside? What crosses your mind each time I ask you to move? Are you conscious of exhausted staff struggling with enormous loads, dolly after dolly of heavy equipment hauled outside, loaded on that truck? Silly me, of course you didn’t.

I’m tired – Christmas party season is over in a week. Like childbirth and tequila, destined to seem like a good idea the next time it rolls around.

t

 

 

 

 

Ponder a Day In My Life


For over 30 years the food and beverage industry has paid my bills. Years spent operating my own catering company, running back stage and suites at the stadium/arena, F&B management at a major hotel. The last 5 years, making parties fabulous for a major catering company. No two days alike, no two parties the same – I thrive on little more than “thank you” for a job well done.

Top dollar for exemplary service, attention to detail, problem solving and my undivided attention. So much more than food – we take success seriously. Bat shit expectations, unrealistic timelines, “little Miss know it all” executive assistants , hysterical brides, in your face hot heads – all walk away with smiles on their faces, skillfully dealt the appropriate measure of expertise and common sense.  Hospitality has taught me to more about Psychology than years of schooling ever could.

Much as I enjoy what I do, at times I shake my head in astonishment. Next time you’re at a party, think about a day in my life.

Take a look around – every table, chair, tablecloth, fork, candle, bar, morsel of food – came from someplace else. We began hours ago, loading trucks with heavy equipment. unloading and hauling it into place. We didn’t have time to whine over the blocked loading bay nobody bothered to tell us about – we had a party to pull off. Never letting on how monumentally behind schedule we were, finding a painfully arduous and slow load in – all with a smile on our face. Why should it be any of your concern the rented china, glassware and cutlery languished on the wrong floor of this one elevator building because the event rental people messed up. We’ll deal with them later, we have a party in an hour – get to work.

Tables set for 250 people, bar open, buffet ready to go, a free drink ticket each plus a bottle of red and white wine on every table – enjoy yourselves, the food is lovely – what a great way to end your conference. For the 40 Vegetarian and Vegan guests – don’t worry, we’ve prepared lovely meal options for your dining pleasure – please identify yourselves at the buffet and one of my staff will plate your dinner. Hold on a moment, I’m confused. You stipulated your lifestyle choice, we went out of our way to make sure you had a spectacular dining experience, but you were hedging your bet? The chicken and salmon look pretty good so you switch teams and load your plates with proteins meant for your associates? Didn’t cross your mind this might create a problem? Quick calculation as I eyeball the buffet line – only 10 “special meals” taken, 30 inconsiderate guests now scarfing down dinner meant for someone else – we made plenty of food but 30 lifestyle imposters has taken a toll. I wonder if you even noticed the tables still at the buffet line – did it cross your mind they might not be thrilled to eat your Vegan meal?

No I can’t “slip” you another bottle of wine – your host paid for 2 bottles per table and your free meal. This is the third time you’ve asked me, please stop embarrassing yourself. Time to go home now – the bar is closed, no I won’t make an exception. 25 tables to roll out, 250 chairs to stack, a one ton truck to fill, drive back to our headquarters, unload a one ton truck, write a report, and finally limp home.

I need my head examined – like childbirth, if able to remember the pain I’d never do it again. Miraculously, my mind resets, I wake up ready to take on the next party – a spring in my step and smile on my face.

 

No Problem


A few days ago I did a party for a repeat client; the thing is, last time this client requested a gluten free meal for herself – now she wants no onion, garlic, spinach or melon in anything. Gluten problem resolved, seemingly replaced by a new list of specific dietary restraints. No problem, we can make you a special meal. You’ve decided to make your party a back yard BBQ, ordered Greek and Potato salads to go with your hamburgers – we can accommodate your allergy request with a special meal. Wait – that would be reasonable. You want nobody to have onions or garlic, even though you just ordered a menu based on onions and garlic?  No problem – we can make your menu items without onions or garlic. Spinach and melon shouldn’t be an issue, you wisely left them off the menu.

What’s this? You want us to heat and artistically platter these frozen appetizers you bought at Costco? No problem – hope you don’t mind your dinner being half an hour late because your oven only has three racks and we have to cook the Nachos and Salmon you ordered. Excuse me, you do realize two of your frozen appetizers contain Spinach, and all of them have either onion or garlic? Never mind –  we’ll get right on it. Oh my goodness, why are you screaming? What went through your mind before traipsing across the garden in 4 inch heels? Settle down you’re making a scene, I’m moving fast as I can – please hand me your wine glass, I can’t pull you out of the soil unless your hands are free. Ah, there you go – no problem.

I’m sorry, we weren’t informed you would be an hour late. Dinner was from 6 – 8, I’m certain your host told you that on your invitation. If you wouldn’t mind waiting while we sweep up the wine glass your drunk co-worker just smashed on the patio it would be no problem to put a dinner together for you. You’re starving? No problem, the broken glass can wait.

I realize the ice cream is melting. You ordered ice and whipped cream for all these pies, your guests are too drunk to think pie.  It wouldn’t be a problem to put it in your freezer, and no I haven’t seen your deaf one eyed dog in the last few minutes. Why are you crying?  Oh; I understand – it’s been a tough day. Of course my bartender can stay later than scheduled – no problem.