Let’s say there’s someone who has the power of life and death over you, someone who — if they so desired — could roast you on a spit over hot coals while whipping you with a broom made of cholla shrubs. Or they could show you mercy and give you a sliver of dry toast to eat. The point is you have to do what your wife — or dad, boss, grandmother, guru, parole officer — says. Or else.
So when that Person’s cousin is getting married for the fourth time and Person has volunteered you to cook the rehearsal dinner because you once roasted a chicken without burning down the house, guess who has to figure out what and how to feed 35 people 2 weeks from now and three states away?
We’ve made up this completely theoretical and totally imaginary (honest!) scenario so that we can help others in need, specifically you readers out there who have been confused with human beings who (1) are competent and (2) care. It happens to the best of us.
Being accused of being competent can suck. But. If all that’s being asked of you is to cook more food than you’re capable of cooking in far less time than you need for a Highly Important Event, that’s not so bad. Imagine if you had to disarm a nuclear bomb you’re handcuffed to while fending off a deadly attack from a mute Japanese-American professional wrestler whose hat doubles as a razor sharp boomerang. Actually those two are pretty equivalent. The advantage of the second is you don’t sit for the after-cater review board. Also, maybe you get to keep the hat, after.
First things first. Can you afford to fake your death, board a tramp steamer to a remote part of the world, and start a new life as an ex-patriate alcoholic/cynic/shaman?
If the answer is no, you’re going to have to do some planning for this catering jobber you are saddled with. You need some basic information to plan ahead, including
·>What is the venue?
Since the person you’re catering for isn’t springing for a professional caterer (aka someone who knows wtf they’re doing) 99% of the time the venue is going to be somebody’s house or backyard, depending on the season. If you’re lucky the caterees will have booked a free picnic area at a local or state park (reveal: you’re not lucky).
· > How many people?
This is the most important piece of information you’ll need, since it determines everything else: how much food, drinks, and dranks; cutlery and place settings; equipment such as chafing dishes; how much time you’ll have to prepare; transportation; and so on. Needless to say you will either not have this information, or it will be wrong by an exponential amount. You’ll prepare a gourmet, formal sit down 6 course meal for 15 people, and be met by 150 ravenous guests. Or you’ll stay up for 72 hours straight making a dozen different appetizers in the hundreds and be serving them to 7 people and the mailman when she or he comes by.
· > What type of meal is expected (brunch, cocktail party, toga party, sit down dinner, buffet, first breakfast, second breakfast, and so on)?
You’d think this one would be impossible to mess up. How could the person you’re catering for not know what time of day this thing is going to happen? Obviously you’ve never heard of the infamous Cold Scrambled Egg Rehearsal Dinner of 1993. That one was served with an extra dollop of fiasco sauce, trust us.
· >The length of the event
Events always go long. This would be an opportunity for a football joke, if we knew anything about football. Or a sex joke, if we knew anything about sex. Football is a lot like sex, though. You’re just trying to get to the goal and somebody’s watching while eating snacks. Hmm. Never mind.
The thing about the menu is that once you come up with it, whoever is actually in charge of this whole thing is going to change it. So why not NOT come up with it? We suggest taking the host to a Costco and pointing inside. If they ask for something more specific, say you forgot your membership card.
See above. Actually, you’re going to need to find that card. But if you can’t find it, here are some suggestions of alternatives:
- Trader Joe’s for yogurt, cheese
- Aldi’s for beer, apparently
- Dollar Tree for snacks
- Safeway for some veggies.
- the Amish market guy at work for other veggies.
You could run around like the person going to all those places above, or you can do the one stop option. We don’t mean Stan’s Club or PriceCo, or Walspend. Those places are a hassle. So many choices, and that’s just the check out lines. No, there’s a better choice, one that’s closer, and that limits your options and keeps you from wasting your time on fruitless decision making. These wonders go by different names. Kwik-Stop. Sheetz. Wawa. The John Fenwick Service Plaza @ mile 5.40.
These gas station convenience stores have almost everything you need to cater any event. There are probably a dozen or so within a 3 miles radius of where you are right now. We don’t to tell you what to get there for your catering win. You already know what’s there. But here’s why this is a genius move. What do these stores carry? The things and food that people crave more than anything. They have to, because everyone stops there for either gasoline, or a restroom break or both. So, to make any money at all, the store has to entice people with something that they can’t resist. Whether it’s Trolli Sour Brite Sloths, Mrs. Freshley’s Birthday Cake Minidonuts, Aunt Butchie’s Cheesecake Cones, Golden Platter Chicken Waffle Bites, or something as classic and austere as Uncle Al’s Rock ‘N Roll Stage Planks, you are guaranteed catering success. Let’s put it another way. Anyone who doesn’t want pickle loaf on a ritz cracker shouldn’t be invited to any events.
Special Dietary Needs
Remember your cousin-in-law’s friend, Ruthie? You met her at the cousin’s labor day party 3 or 4 years ago. Ruthie was complaining about the GMO hot dogs, and gluten-rich cake, and non-vegan hot dogs. And her allergies to nuts, dairy and milk. You thought it was pretty funny how impossible and annoying Ruthie. “Allergic to nuts, huh? How do you live with yourself?” you said. Not out loud.
Alcohol is expensive. But delicious. The age-old conundrum. Unless you’ve been brewing it in your toilet, you’re going to need a budget. Failing that, you can always declare it an alcohol free event, which will guarantee that no one shows up, which actually solves a lot of your problems.
On the other hand, alcohol has certain advantages when it comes to catering. It lowers expectations. It makes stupid things seem worthwhile. And it fogs up the memory. So it’s a trade off. If you can spring for the requisite amount of discount ethanol, a couple packets of any kind of powdered drink, and bag of sugar, you’re on your way to a bug juice open bar where every other catering requirement for the evening can be pretty much optional. No one is going to remember.
We get it. You’re not a caterer. If you were, you wouldn’t be reading this blog, except to scoff at our lack of professional knowledge or expertise or knowledge.
Since none of this actually helped you cater this event, you’re going to have to face the fact that this thing isn’t going to go well. There are a couple ways to deal with this. You can get really drunk and soldier on, unconcerned and vomiting occasionally. Or you can have a panic attack and hide under your couch, refusing to answer your door or phone, until the thing is over. It’s really up to you. The world is your oyster, except no way do you have the budget for that. So the world is your Vienna sausage on a Saltine cracker. Or Live it up.