Food for 10 – Make That 40

By Beacon Staff

With all due apologies to Richard Rogers, I’m just a chef who can’t say no.

I specialize in catering multi-course dinner parties for four to 12 people and I do buffets for up to 20. I’m also a personal chef, so I cook two weeks’ worth of meals for my clients and, of course, I cook on TV. I generally work solo.

But just as I was planning a weekend getaway with my wife, the phone rang and a business acquaintance asked if I was available to cater a dinner for 10 on the Friday night we were going to go away.

Business conditions being what they are these days, and the paucity of this kind of catering event (the client is quite prominent and I believed a successful event could do a lot for my business), I said I was available and I knew my wife would understand. She did.

The client assigned another family member to meet with me to make the arrangements: venue, food, drinks, napkin and tablecloth colors – all of the things you do when you’re putting together a high-end dinner party.

In the middle of our conversation, her cell phone rang. “Oh hi, Dad,” she said. “Uh-huh. No problem. I’ll make it happen.” She snapped the phone shut.

And then she informed me this was no longer a sit-down dinner for 10. It would be a buffet supper for 40, complete with a champagne and appetizer station for the entry and then the full buffet (along with a full bar), a passed savory pastry dish and dessert.

I told her that I would be delighted to cater the party, but the budget she had in mind for the original dinner would not be sufficient. Nor could I do it solo. I knew I needed some help. So I suggested we come up with a menu, I would price it, and then we could go from there. She gave me a few ideas about the kinds of food she and her father liked, so I at least had a starting point for menu-planning. We also decided to farm out the bar and decorating to others. And I would hire someone I knew and trusted who had helped me before in similar situations.

“This has to be first class,” she warned. I immediately countered, “I don’t do anything but first class.” She then started to put on her coat, got up from the table, turned and gave me her e-mail address, and said, “Send me the details and the price. I gotta go.”

I’ve checked my prices against other caterers and restaurants and I’m generally right in the ballpark, but I lean toward the higher end. I may not be the best chef in Montana, but I am a very good cook (pardon my modesty) and I am, arguably, the best known chef in Montana. Call me crazy, but I think that’s worth something.

I put together my estimate, along with the fees for the extras, including rental items, extra staff and my fee. I sent the information along with my standard contract by e-mail. In my follow-up call, I could feel the tension through the telephone. I was then accused of exploiting the short notice, but more so their “prominence in the community.” In an accusative tone she informed me that “people like us feel we have a target on our back and some people think they can charge more because of who we are.”

I am not opposed to negotiating. But as I wrote in this space last week, there’s a big difference in quality and price between “select” beef and “prime” beef. When a client says they want only the best, that’s what I get for them. But there’s a price attached to “the best.” And I do not price by who the client is. I only price my food and service. Period.

We ended up trimming the menu and bringing the price down by paring back some of the extras. Now that my client was happy with the price, I told her I would draw up the contract. The terms included the time frame of the party – two and a half hours. The terms also specified that this was a party for 40 (but in catering you always prepare for a little extra – 10 percent is the norm).

The two and half hours turned out to be four and a half. And the 40 people turned out to be closer to 60.

Now who’s exploiting whom?

Follow me on Twitter – www.twitter.com/chefman714.

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