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Don’t forget to count the carrots

Don’t forget to count the carrots

I broke one of my own cardinal rules for catering last week: We didn’t count the carrots for a big sit-down off-site catering event.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Let me give you a little background.

Catering a seated dinner is my least favorite service style for off-site catering. There’s only so much design that can be done for food presentation on a 10-inch dinner plate and the variety of food options at the event are very limited. Instead I love the details of large stations and multiple food offerings for the guests. But many times only a seated dinner will work for a specific event. The tone for the dinner is set with one of the most chaotic and stressful parts of a sit-down dinner: setting the table.

It’s especially chaotic if the dinner involves a committee where there are too many “chiefs” and lots of ideas. In many cases things like this occur: The organization’s president wanted the program only under the napkin, but the event planner wanted the napkin fold to only be done a specific way. And then, oops, the florist forgot to tell us that the diameter of the flowers was oversized for this event. It goes on and on causing my staff to have to set and reset the tables.

The trick to not compounding this confusion is to approve and print checklists ahead of time.

We were fortunate with this event that we had the entire venue the day before for setup. Not only did we set the guest tables  the day before but we even tcounted, divided and set the 800 plates for the 250 guests at the appropriate prep stations. The dinner plates were even placed in the warmers, ready to be heated.

The next day the food packing went very smoothly. All of the salad and dessert components were packed in specific ice chests so there was no time lost trying to find any of the necessary food items. We had the pastry bags filled with whipped cream labeled and in the refrigerator well ahead of schedule.

The salad and dessert were preset, which made the dinner implementation even easier. There was one tiny problem: The dinner plates were so hot they were causing problems with the waiters delivering them to the tables, but that is a coup for a seated dinner in an off-site venue.

We were about 50 plates out from the finish line when one of the kitchen staff asked where the last pan of French maple-glazed carrots was located. There was not another pan. We were already serving the last pan. We quickly dropped the serving amount per plate from 5 carrots to 3 carrots.  All plates were served and only 2 carrots remained in the pan. Whew! But why were we short on carrots?

In pre-event production, my chef made sure to weigh a pound of French carrots and count how many were in a pound. There were approximately 20-21 carrots per pound. I multiplied the number needed for our guest counts and added three pounds. The kitchen then processed the order.

You probably missed it, but that was where I broke my own rule.

For a seated dinner always, always count anything that is a single-serve unit when you want each plate to have a specific number. This applies to food items such as green beans, asparagus, French carrots or shrimp. Never weigh the amount and prepare an average weight. If you only weigh it, I can guarantee there will be a time when you will run out. It happened to me a few years ago with shrimp, then green beans, and I swore always to count and instruct the kitchen to produce X number of that item.

When you are at an off-site venue without a stocked kitchen restaurant a few feet away, this sage advice will save you. Yes, that means a production list specifying 4,875 oven-roasted whole green beans, not X number of pounds of oven-roasted whole green beans.   

Really: 4,875 green beans? Yes, count the darn beans!


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