The Rules of Catering

There are two dates in the caterer’s calendar when all involved feel like giving up, selling up or throwing their hands up in despair. These times are at the end of August and the Christmas and New Year holiday. You feel worn down by the continuous grind of business pressure, never having five minutes respite and problems piling on top of other problems not yet resolved. At all other times of the year we are confident, happy, urbane, smiling and generally full of good cheer. All businesses have their crosses to bear, but in the catering industry with all its complexities we probably get more than our fair share. These problems that are an intrinsic part of running a business are what make it challenging and should be tackled with a philosophical, positive attitude and a readiness to learn. Having said that you can on bad days think that Sod and Murphy are alive and well and perched firmly on either shoulder. Below are some of the things I have learnt through my years in the business. You will recognise some and probably be able to add a few of your own. I am sorry if it sounds a little pessimistic but there is a useful side to pessimism in that if you expect everything to work brilliantly and it doesn’t you will be constantly disappointed. But by expecting the worst and it not necessarily happening is a pleasant surprise – that’s how I keep smiling.

THE RULES

  1. It is always when there is a lull in dining room conversation that someone drops a tray of glasses in the kitchen.
  2. Parties booked before eight o’clock will be late, those booked at eight o’clock will be on time, and those booked later will be early. Meaning that with all best planning in the world fifty people will be piling through your door at eight o’clock demanding food and drink and blaming you for bad organisation if they have to wait any longer than two and a half minutes for anything.
  3. Noise levels in dining rooms increase in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. The decibel level of the loudest conversation in the dining room is in inverse proportion to the amount of thought going into it.
  4. The party that decides not to have starters will choose the main courses that take the longest to prepare.
  5. People become 100% more charming as soon as they have a drink and some food in front of them. It is never the people having the interesting conversation that invite you to join them after dinner.
  6. Those people who try to economise on their evening will have longer faces than those who splash out.
  7. If there are candles on the table someone will start playing with the wax.
  8. If five things go wrong in and evening it will always be to the same table.
  9. It will always be at the busiest point of the evening that the party of eight ask for eight separate bills and can’t remember what they had.
  10. The customer is not always right but it’s a jolly good idea to let him think he is.
  11. The amount of highly involved ritual that a person puts into choosing, perusing, mouth swilling and gargling his wine is in inverse proportion to how much he knows about it.
  12. If a party chooses the main course you have run out of, they will also choose two wines you haven’t got and the pudding that’s off the menu.
  13. The least romantic people always seem to book first for Valentine’s night.
  14. The ceoliac, the anaphylactic, the vegan and the person allergic to garlic always come on the same night and only inform you when you go to take their order.
  15. On the hottest night of the year there is always one elderly person who comes to dinner wearing a cardigan and a jacket which they refuse to part with, orders soup and then has a fainting fit and blames you for it being too hot in the dining room.
  16. The main course that hasn’t sold all week suddenly becomes the most popular dish on a Saturday night when you’ve only got five portions.
  17. It is the people who eat every last scrap of food on their plates who can’t see the irony when they complain that the food was inedible.
  18. People booked at seven o’clock always arrive at ten to seven.

Writings

Ian writes regularly about food and cooking and is building a portfolio of photographs to compliment the recipes generated by his different activities.
He is therefore able to supply a complete package for any publishing project. Ian has written articles for ‘Caterer and Hotel Keeper’, ‘Eat Out’ and ‘The Restaurant Business’ magazines and for the Guardian. This is a small selection.

The Pheasants are Revolting

Is it just me or do all chef’s hearts sink on August 31st and you realize it’s “Pheasant Season” again. Usually we are reminded by our friendly, helpful meat supplier (or ‘Purveyor of High Class Meat and Poultry, licensed to sell Game’) who on the first day of the season rings to offer you the first birds.

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Saint Valentines Day Rant

‘……. and definitely no heart shaped puddings, croutons, chocolates, starters, potatoes or garnishes’, I conclude when the staff ask if we are doing anything special for Valentine’s night?’

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The Rules of Catering

There are two dates in the caterer’s calendar when all involved feel like giving up, selling up or throwing their hands up in despair. These times are at the end of August and the Christmas and New Year holiday. You feel worn down by the continuous grind of business pressure, never having five minutes respite and problems piling on top of other problems not yet resolved. At all other times of the year we are confident, happy, urbane, smiling and generally full of good cheer. All businesses have their crosses to bear, but in the catering industry with all its complexities we probably get more than …

…Keep reading

Service Charge

My head hurts, my feet ache, and I’m only half way through the afternoon. I still have the rest of the prep to do and a busy service that probably won’t finish till around midnight. I am a bit concerned whether I can cope with it. It must be something to do with it being a week of hectic nights and the over zealous sampling of the new half bottles last night that has put me in this state; but hell, I’ve coped with more, feeling worse and no doubt I’ll do it again.

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The Pemmican Brief

Working as a freelance chef I came into contact with many aspects of the catering industry. Some jobs can be difficult and stressful, some easy and delightful. There is also the bog standard, the interesting, and what might be deemed the glamorous. Sometimes I do what is called ‘food styling’ which is a rather pretentious term for presenting food for photography or film. This can be a very frustrating job; you work all day or maybe several producing food for a scene and eventually it is on the screen for a nanosecond or is cut altogether. After filming it is usually eaten by the crew who would eat a lump of coal if it had a sprig of parsley on it.

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Aromasextherapy

Food and sex are inextricably linked. Smell is the lure, consummation the reward. In the middle ages everybody and everything stank. Sewers were open pits or gullies, nobody bathed and there was no refrigeration. If your food didn’t reek because it was off it was probably smothered in some concoction of spices to make it taste of something else. Perfume wasn’t worn as a subtle hint of exotic unguents and flowers, it was plastered on in the hope that no one mistook you for a rank old goat that…

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