Huh


Never assume a client appreciation cocktail reception hosted by a wealthy cosmetic dentist is going to be dull. Swanky venue, meticulous client, ice sculpture, money no object floral arrangements and enough food to feed an army. What could possibly go wrong? We’re on our game, everything on time and in place, staff graciously passing breathtaking canapes, copious platters of stationed cheese, antipasto and charcuterie artfully woven along the spine of a central table.

Wait a minute, what’s wrong with you people? See that tiny plate on the table, small plate means small bite. No one invited you to dinner, why are you behaving like this is your last meal? Congratulations on a new set of teeth, but I’m begging you, show some self respect. Forty minutes into a three hour reception, we’re out of food – oh crap! Time to inform client, ease concerns and dispatch a chef to secure reinforcements. Momentary lapses in unabashed consumption ripple through the crowd. One of my servers reports guests ate all the garnish on his platter. WTF!

Thirty minutes later two behemoth platters of deli meat and cheese hit the table, my chef sets a timer – gone in 22 minutes. Now client wants more dessert, politely drawing the line I decline and head back to the kitchen. Along the way a guest asks for a moment of my time.”What’s your favorite colour?” she asks, clearly surprised when I answer “green”. “Oh my, don’t know if I have green” she mumbles while digging in her purse. Now she’s holding one of my hands in hers, pressing a cellophane wrapped cross in the other and declaring “close enough”.

What’s happening, please let go of my hand! A missionary you say, made this cross yourself, sent 100,000 crosses to Haiti after the earthquake?  Please let go of my hand! Propriety kept me from calling bat shit on 100,000 Haitian crosses, I heard myself say “that was a kind gesture”. Thanking her for the gift relaxed her hand long enough to remove mine from her clutches.

Never let it be said that mine is a predictable profession.

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Pondering A Life Of Hospitality


Recently a client asked if any one situation stood out in my hospitality career. Hmm, that’s a loaded question.

There was the groom who begged for a make-up miracle to conceal his black eye. Pimps don’t care if it’s your wedding day – any man who slinks out between nuptials and reception to bang a hooker and refuses to pay, deserves more than a black eye.

Standing between drunks and free flowing alcohol is a barrel of laughs – “I thought they gassed all the Jews” stands out as one way to guarantee a call to security is handled promptly.

Being hired to manage a “birthday party”, arrive to find a Bris, explain politely we could have provided a loaf of bread to “break” had they bothered to ask, negotiate compromise with the Rabbi (technically ceremonial “breaking” of sliced bread for the spinach dip fulfills ritual requirements, right? ) Post party clean-up – realize the coffee cup in my hand contains blood soaked gauze and foreskin.

Applying red nail polish to a bowl of raw chicken feet (Metallica dressing room), assuring Neil Diamond I would fire any staff who made eye contact with him. Asked to deliver a bottle of Jack Daniels (won’t say whose dressing room) moments after they trotted in a sheep on a leash. Jack in hand, walked in on rock star performing a sex act with said sheep. Brushing lint off Elton John’s jacket. Giving Robert Plant a stern piece of my mind for ignoring tour protocol regarding production company approval of any additional expenses. His “sorry ma’am” still rings in my ears.

Joe Cocker wearing nothing but boxer shorts, mesmerized by imperfections of his vulnerable shell, I set dinner on a table. He strikes up a conversation, for 30 effortless minutes we discuss the cosmos. Myself, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt and Sarah McLachlan post show in a dark, empty arena – four ladies talking until the wee hours of morning. B.B. King holding court after his show, not a “meet and greet”, nothing formal, seems he just felt like hanging around. An hour passes, another, it’s after 1 am when he calls me over – “Darlin, I could really use some BBQ chips”.  He takes my hand, presses something into the palm and holds on for a peculiarly long time. He lets go, I open my hand to find a 14K gold pendant commemorating B.B. King’s final tour.

Menstrual calamities – cutting out red stained section of hysterical brides’ wedding dress, fashioning faux lace from white tissue paper, hand stitching in place with 10 minutes to spare before she walked down the aisle. Young Asian women with limited English, “help” drew my attention to blood running down both legs from crotch length spandex to 4 inch stilettos. Couldn’t find a feminine product but offered a jug of warm water and 2 clean bar rags. “You clean” she replied. “Wash your own legs” is universal in any language, she shrugged as I led her out the back door to tidy up in our cargo van. Hunched over, wobbling on stilettos, she used one cloth to wash, stuffed the other in her panties, ran back inside, jumped on stage to sing a karaoke rendition of Lady Gaga, I Was Born This Way.

Work is why I’m fearless, the reason my then teenage son once declared “Mom, you’re the MOST” (Master Of Small Talk). Amusement, satisfaction and unusual strokes knock without invitation. Truth be told, the stand out situation of hospitality life is recognizing the moment adrenalin flips a switch at “go time”. Unfazed, daunted, hesitant or perturbed, go time is my time to shine.

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18 Minutes


Today my world wears a badge embossed with “18 minutes”, a private honour reserved for individuals who share my profession. 18 minutes is the stuff of legend, an accomplishment of mythic proportion meaningless to all but a team of elite lunatics brave enough to prove it can be done.

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So why does 18 minutes have me beaming with pride? Last night with two teams of five servers we served 180 guests the main course of a plated dinner in 18 minutes. I’m talking flawless execution, no screw-ups or dead plates returned to the kitchen for “they ordered beef not salmon”. It was 18 minutes of perfection, feathers in the cap of our existence, testament to the power of professional satisfaction. If there were a catering Olympics, my team would be standing on a podium collecting a gold medal. 18 minutes is why I get out of bed in the morning.

 

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.

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