Why do people hire caterers instead of trying to do it themselves…or worse…getting a friend to do it? Well, there are many answers to that question, but The General thinks the most important answer of all is when you want your function to go smoothly and without incident. This is the time you call on foodservice professionals. It never ceases to amaze TG as to how many price driven calls we get. I can usually distinguish them when the prospective client starts out something like this…’How much is your food?’ This is a price-driven shopper. Such is the case of this past weekend with both elements in play.
Bass Pro Shops of Savannah wanted us to feed their two shifts of employees (150 people) the Saturday after Thanksgiving so the employees would stay on premises and not be delayed getting back to work as a result of the heavy traffic around the mall. Incidentally this weekend is one of the biggest weekends of the year for retail. They only had a $6.00 per person budget and in these situations TG always thinks about his reputation…wanting to make a decent showing, but not going into my pocket to do so. (Usually I back away from jobs like this, but it was something I wanted to do in the hopes of building a long-term relationship with them.)
Here is an ideal meal for a low-budget situation: chopped or pulled pork, chicken quarters (leg and thigh), cole slaw, green beans and buns. I even threw in a cake that had the Bass Pro Shops logo. This is the first time I have offered green beans on this type of a party (against the rantings of TLW). We were amazed at the results…they loved ’em. So, if you are in the mood to do a large batch of green beans, here is the recipe. I used 5 lb. frozen packs of green beans from Sam’s…this eliminated the ‘canned’ taste. I then used minced garlic and garlic pepper to season them. Using my turkey fryer, we boiled 15 pounds at a time. The green beans came into play for two reasons. First, they were much more cost efficient and also didn’t require the labor that our regular baked bean recipe calls for. Secondly, baked beans have a reputation for causing people to have flatulence (gas), and TG thought 150 sales people out on the floor expelling wonderful odors might not be appreciated! The chicken cost about 50 cents a pound and if there is such a thing as a nice complaint, some women mentioned the pieces were too large for them. The meal was very successful.
Now for the challenge…and this is why one should always hire a professional caterer. TLW and I pulled the pit and RV on site and I stayed the night as the pork smoked. All went smoothly until sometime in the middle of the night, I saw that the pit was no longer running. The pit is electricity dependent…and there was no juice!!! Needless to say, for the remaining part of the night and into the next day, we were able to regain our power sporadically. I then realized that the pit was unable to maintain a constant level of heat which is unusual. Our pit usually maintains within one degree of the desired heat…this was a problem with the propane. About 9:00 am, The General went into full crisis mode. In most competitions, propane is not allowed. A long time ago, the pit was altered so that it could cook without propane, simply with charcoal and wood and that is what I resorted to. Having done this hundreds of times, I pulled it off, by opening the line for the first shift at precisely 11:00 am as agreed in our contract.
Another issue we experienced was completely out of our control. Our ‘kitchen’ was set up in the parking lot. To get to the break room, we had to maneuver through receiving to the service elevator. Well, you guessed it. The service elevator broke down half way through the day. Just another ‘blip’ on our radar. Luckily the customer elevator worked…although it was not convenient to our location.
Here are a few important points to ponder, whether you are cooking at home or for a large group. The fewer people who know you are having a problem, the better off you are…because there is far less confusion. Never let the client know that you are experiencing difficulties (unless of course it is unavoidable). Usually, the only time you should open your mouth is to bite your nails! I would define a successful party, regardless of issues and things going wrong, by having a happy client – one who is unaware of what went on behind the scenes and that is precisely what happened Saturday.