It’s all in the details…and yes, the butter matters…

It’s all in the details…and yes, the butter matters…

Several years ago, I was in a menu planning meeting for an upcoming awards dinner for a local Chamber of Commerce.  As a matter of course, I asked the catering manager how he planned to present the bread and butter on the tables. He looked at me quizzically, like I had just asked him to reveal if he wears boxers or briefs.  To my dismay, he answered that he puts the bread in a basket along with enough foil wrapped butter for the table. Ugh…. When I asked him if he could use bread and butter plates with butter florets or slices, his response was, “boy, you sure are fancy”.

Fanciness aside, my distaste of foil wrapped anything is lore among our vendors and area venues.  So much so that even our clients will bring it up during meetings with prospective caterers! During the set-up for a very high-end corporate luncheon, the caterer’s staff put out foil wrapped butter on the B+B plates.  When asked why this was done (butter wedges with sea salt were clearly detailed in the BEO), the event manager replied that the blocks of butter had been left off of the delivery and he didn’t think that what they used would matter.  I quickly instructed the staff to unwrap all of the butter pats and place two on each plate…because, yes, the butter does matter. Foil wrapped butter may seem like such an innocuous thing, but it is indicative of larger issues that we regularly see at venues and with vendors.  With so much competition in the events industry, why are so many common sense things often overlooked?

“We’ve been doing things this way for 25 years and we’ll continue doing so for years to come.”  Fortunately we don’t hear this phrase too often, but when we do, it’s a harbinger of ominous things to come.  One client hired us after already selecting a venue for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah luncheon reception. During the menu review meeting, I suggested that perhaps sliders, french fries and pasta would be more appropriate for the young adult buffet rather than roast beef, green beans and baked potatoes that were listed on the BEO.  The catering manager insisted that was what they always offered and became quite argumentative when I pushed for a change. The client was in agreement with me so he finally acquiesced and added the kid-friendly food. However, not before informing us that he would keep the other items on the menu, since he feeds his staff from the kids’ buffet and that’s what his staff prefers.  The things that went wrong at this event could fill a book…dropped trays of champagne glasses, only a dozen pigs-in-a-blanket on the buffet for the kids social hour, swizzle sticks, dirty napkins and food on the carpet leftover from the wedding the night before, just to list a few. Suffice it to say, we managed to keep the client oblivious to the chaos happening around them and they actually had a wonderful time.  Even though we will never work there again, the venue is still in business and will continue to provide substandard events to the unsuspecting masses.

Some of what we see is clearly due to venue and vendor management missing the boat on educating their staff on proper event behavior, attire and best practices.  If a server drops a tray of dinners, they should know where to go immediately for mops, brooms and buckets. If the staff is setting a table, they should know not to hold the forks by the tines.  If a guest drops a napkin on the floor, the staff should know where to find a replacement. If a guest asks if there are onions in the hors d’oeuvres, the server shouldn’t have to go into the kitchen to get a list of  ingredients. If ‘no tip jars’ are written into the contract, the bartenders shouldn’t fan out money on the bar to solicit tips. If a bottle of wine drops and breaks into the ice bucket, the bartender should know not to continue to use the ice for drinks.  Common sense you say?? Hmmm, not necessarily.

Since we’re on-site throughout every client’s event, we always appreciate it when a venue or caterer invites us to attend the pre-con meeting with their staff.  Since we know the client best, we can often add in some helpful details not always included in the banquet order. Certainly a great way to get everyone on board for a successful experience.  A few years ago, we worked with a client whose niece had a severe peanut allergy. She was most concerned about making the menu peanut-free and agreed to sign the venue’s contract when they assured her that they could accommodate her request.  ‘PEANUT-FREE MENU’ was written on the contract, BEO and every Email correspondence and again mentioned during each meeting at the venue. During set up on the day of the event, I made a point to remind the event manager that this was a peanut-free event.  Unfortunately, this was not reiterated during the staff meeting and one of the servers decided to add chopped Reese’s Pieces to the kids’ ice cream sundae station. If not for the niece’s alert brother, the reception could have ended with an emergency situation.  Mistakes will happen, but taking an extra step of posting a sign in the kitchen or having one server assigned to oversee the food set up, would have been two simple ways to avoid errors.

We can all afford to up our event game.  Heat the bread, refold napkins for guests, have your staff present well, always use floor length linens, keep up with current trends, continually educate your staff, and yes, the butter matters…

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