Last evening I had a work event to go to with recently retired coworker. I was to be her date. I was quite excited about this and eager to wear this dress. That dress still looks absolutely fantastic and flatters in all the correct ways. Actually, I have noticed that this designer does that for me in general.
I got to the event looking nice and looked around for recently retired coworker but could not find her. I stopped to chat with another coworker. I was standing by the soda bar when one of the waitstaff dropped a soda which immediately became shaken and unsealed, causing it to spin around in circles spraying soda in a 4 person radius. It was quite extreme and I am sure that my eyes about popped out of my head at the thought of all that soda on my favorite dress ever! Luckily, I’ve worked in catering and knew to immediately ask for a dry cleaning voucher. She offered me a free drink but I insisted on the voucher. They did take care of that with some expediency which was good. I have a few other things to take to the cleaners anyhow so now is the perfect time to do so.
But it really got me thinking about all my time as a caterer and the wealth of stories I have of those times. I thought I should probably try to document a few of them as far as I can remember them. No, this will not be a week off type theme, but I will try to add them in as I get a chance.
I started catering when I went off to college as a work study program. I was rather a nervous new college student but usually up for just about any adventure even if it scared me.
Now, the catering manager at the time was a woman who was…how shall we say…difficult and demanding to the extreme at that moment in her life. I think she was always trying to prove something and therefore nothing anyone did was quite good enough. If we weren’t fast enough or if we didn’t do things just as we were told to, she could get into quite a tirade. We knew it and tried to avoid it as much as possible. Compounding this was the fact that due to understaffing and lack of time there just wasn’t good training for the young students so we always felt that we were winging it somewhat.
It was my first fancier china reception, it took place in a nice lounge in the student center. I and a group of students were working with the difficult manager. This company did on average 14 events a day, and I know that it was a busy time of year. We were, as usual, running behind. This reception had hot food in chaffing dishes with the lit sterno’s underneath. We had been setting the buffet up against the wall and had already lit the sterno’s and added the hot water to the chaffer pans when manager decided to check in on us. She got a bit perturbed because we were running behind and also because we did not pull the buffet away from the wall in order to make it a double sided buffet. We were asked to pick up the chaffers and the sterno’s and move the buffet. That would have been fine, as the sternos were always set on upside down bread and butter plates, which perfectly housed the sterno making it stable.
There was only one problem. Someone had used saucers instead of bread and butter plates, so rather than nestling comfortably on the bottom of the plate, the sterno was unsteady and could tip over. I picked up the saucer and the lit sterno went flying. It hit the carpet spreading flammable gel in a large arc, immediately starting the lounge on fire. I was horrified but everyone else seemed in shock and no one was moving! I decided to stomp it out to smother it. Now the goo is stuck to my shoe and my shoe is on fire! So I grab some extra linens to smother it, and the linens caught on fire. In the end I grabbed a chaffing dish lid and covered the whole thing up smothering the flames.
Well, as is always the case with catering, the show must go on. We quickly moved the buffet to a new position, covering the burns with the buffet tables. Soon after I asked to be excused as I was shaking so hard and not really in the mood to try to circulate a cocktail tray full of food. Manager was having none of this until one of the headwaiters stepped in and told her that she would most certainly take my spot if I could be left in the servery to calm down. I happily folded napkins and polished silverware for the rest of my shift.
This experience, though extreme, was in the end a very fortunate event. I went on to work my way up the ladder within the same company eventually becoming the manager myself. I worked with countless new and inexperienced students who always managed to do something which they thought horrifying and embarrassing. And I could always assure them that they should laugh over whatever it was, because no matter what they did, no matter how many trays they dropped, no matter how many glasses they broke, they had never burned the lounge like I did. Whatever their current failure, mine was always worse! It went a long way to creating student workers who were dedicated to their job and willing to learn.