This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
In competition with these two dining establishments the fair directors also licensed, and our proprietors by their contract agreed to, a large barbecue hall, where sliced roast meat and bread can be obtained at low price; and also twenty lunchstands, where coffee and sandwiches, cakes, pies, fruit, etc., are sold, so that our larger hotels are far from enjoying a monopoly.
The weather thus far has been perfect and the crowds in attendance large. The best week is yet to come.
Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 31, 1887. Now that the Exposition is over, the questions of everyone I meet, of course run about this way: "Well, how did you come out?" "Did they make any thing?" "What luck did you have?" "How much money was made?" In replying to questions of this sort one must know how to stop short of meddling with private business. From that consideration I did not give the prices paid for the many articles enumerated in the farmer le ter on this subject - a list intended to be permamently useful as showing what is required in preparation for such a business - and as to results it can only be stated that they are like those of a closely contested election. A week afcer the event the returns are not all in, and the proprietors after all their good book-keeping do not yet know how they came out.
The sanguine calculation was made that there would be twelve days of business and four nights. When the time came these promised periods where whittled down at both ends and in the middle till they lacked about one-third of being full measure, for the two first days were but of the preparatory sort and little business reas done; then there never was much breakfast business, nothing done until the middle of the day. If a great many took dinner they left the grounds before supper except on the four nights when there were fireworks, then there was a rushing supper business as well as dinner, but after the fire-works, nothing, for the people rushed off the grounds in the greatest possible hurry. Then came two rainy days, but as they were the big days of the fair the eating-house interests did not suffer, for the people came over a hundred thousand strong, some of them wading through mud nearly up to their waists - at least they looked just that muddy - and the eating-houses were taxed to their utmost capacity to feed them all; but the day after that came nobody and the day was a lost one to business; the closing days were like the opening, poor and unprofitable.
The proprietors were not, however, depending on a single team to pull them through, they drove a four-in-hand. They had paid in advance one thousand dollars for the "privilege," and found that they had the privilege of selling drinkables as well as eatables; they fitted up two places in imitation of bars in connection with their two dining rooms and stocked them up with rice beer, nerve tonic, soda choctaw blood balm, swift specific, and rheumatic cure, drinks which Atlantians and all southerners seem to be passionately fond of, and as these were sold at ten cents a drink for rice beer, which was the lowest, up to twenty-five cents for soda choctaw, the revenue derived from them was very satisfactory in amount, although there were a number of druggist clerks required to be paid for attending to the business not enumerated in the former list of hands employed.
The cash receipts from all four places combined, that is, from the dining hall, the oyster house and the two. drug counters, amounted on the best day of the fair to over twelve hundred dollars for that one day. On average days the four places yielded pretty evenly about two hundred dollars each. The dining room where fifty-cent meals were served, as described in the former letter, did the most business, having a steady run of custom from the exhibitors and attendants as well as visitors, and usually served about four hundred dinners; one day served fifteen hundred meals, and this was all done with a one-fire range a broiler and steam chest with steamers; a large part of the meats were :ooked in the night by a special night cook, and bread was bought from a steam bakery.
I have written for the Hotel World this outline sketch of what exposition catering consists in, and what may be expected as the outcome, believing that even this will be better than no guide at all for those who may contemplate embarking in such an undertaking. Without going into further detail it will be fair to assume that:
This was as succesful as such an affair ever can be.
The planning and furnishing was done with the utmost intelligence by men who knew what they were about.
Good wares were purchased that they might be good enough to sell again.
The amount of business done was as much as could be expected where a monopoly of all could not be secured.
The expenses were enormous.
A crowd of hands had to be paid enhanced wages and boarded where provisions cost enhanced prices, through the general demand of the time.
A great risk was run of the whole period being rainy - as the following week really was - and a consequent dead loss through the lack of visitors to the fair.
If the amount of profit made was large enough to be interesting it would not take a week or two to find it out.
If the thousand dollars exacted for the "privilege" had never been paid, as it ought not to have been, the proprietors might have realized something worth their trouble, anxiety and outlay.
If they have made anything it is very likely to be found tied up in the ranges and furniture, which now have to be sold as best they may be. There is just one more conclusion to be drawn, and that is that a great many people, fair directors among others, think that a thousand dollars taken in for the sale of meals is nearly all profit. The fact is, provisions cost something; our proprietors paid Beinecke, the New York butcher, $370 for only one shipment of meat for their exposition dining rooms and restaurant, which outlay was, of course, for only a comparatively small portion of the material used.