When a Basket of Dinner Rolls are All You Get

Banquet food preparation can be a tough gig. One must make enough but not too much or your profit ends up in the trash or in the bellies of staff. Plate counts are very important pieces of information and accuracy is what often determines money left in your pocket. Industry standard is to always add at least 10% to the last count received. Typical wisdom is that rarely do more people show up than RSVP and usually less actually make it to the event.

While I was working as a wedding photographer, I would usually talk to the couple about whether or not I was to have a meal provided. In 90 plus percent of the time, it was understood that they would be feeding me like everyone else. After being in the business for a time, I started telling couples not to include me in their meal count because I would happily eat a meal from someone who had RSVP’d but did not show. With the price of banquet food, I would be saving them a bit of money and perhaps they would remember that when it came time to tip me. A simple buffet might cost $18-$22 per person while a lovely sit down service with white linen and fancy place settings can easily cost $65 (2005) per plate or more. Of course, the more upscale the location and the more elaborate the menu, the higher per plate the cost will be.

One memorable event took place at the Queen Mary ocean liner in Long Beach, CA a number of years ago. It was not to be a very large event, if memory serves, perhaps 75 or 80 people. It may have been in the Victoria Room or perhaps the Board Room. Long communal tables were set up for the meal.

The DJ was someone I had worked with before. He did not like working the Queen Mary since he had to bring his extensive gear up to the banquet rooms via the convoluted and quite narrow service passages. Where one regular elevator might make it with all of his gear, the tiny crew elevators might need 2 or even 3 trips. On this night, the service elevators did not go to the level where he had to set up. I helped him lug his gear up a flight of stairs so he could be ready in time.

We watched as people who had not attended the wedding ceremony somehow still managed to show up for the food. At first, extra chairs were brought to squeeze in a few more guests at each table. Still more people showed up forcing staff to cram in extra tables to oblige with one table having to be set up outside the room on the open veranda. After the guests were served, I asked the wait captain to bring for plates for myself and John as agreed. We were told that we would have to share a plate since food was running out. While not exactly pleased with this, we could see that it was not the fault of the staff. Dinner guests just kept arriving.

Although there was no place to take a seat, we were finally presented with one plate, two forks, and two napkins. Unfortunately, before we could start consumption, the wait captain approached me and with eyes averted, took the plate from my hand to give to yet another newly arrived guest.

He did manage to find a basket of rolls and a plate of butter which was our only repast at the venue.

I have worked well over 500 weddings and that was a unique experience. There are other wedding tales involving food which may show up here from time to time. For instance, there was a wedding at a large Las Vegas property where an argument with the wait captain almost got me banned from working at the hotel. My life has been an interesting one.

There are times when a basket of dinner rolls are all you get.


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