This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
We can never find out from the published reports in the newspapers whether an entertainment tendered for some specific purpose was satisfactory to those entertained or not, particularly if the good name of the town is involved, it is the papers' business to say the pleasant things and leave the unpleasant unsaid, and common politeness compels the guests if disappointed to keep their thoughts to themselves, or at least among themselves, and so we can go on committing the same blunders over again. I venture to think that grave mistakes are being made constantly when complimentary dinners and suppers are tendered through the hotel trying to "show off" too much, at the ex-pence of the enjoyment of the people entertained. As caterers, stewards and cooks we are not always responsible for this, for those who order must have style at whatever sacrifice, but as we are often consulted and frequently given entire control I will show what seems to me to be mistakes by two or three instances.
An excursion party of prominent men from a distant state, numbering about twenty, went to a noted summer hotel upon invitation of the proprietors in the height of the season and arrived just as dinner was beginning. If the real enjoyment of these guests and enduring pleasant memories of the visit had been the chief thought and object of the entertainers, they would have been delayed half an hour, perhaps an hour, and then conducted to the best tables, given good waiters and the very same bill of fare which the hundred or two of gaily-dressed, summer-enjoying regular guests were deriving pleasant satisfaction from; they would have chosen as they pleased, had sociable surroundings, could have finished dinner in an hour and made to feel at home. The only man consulted about it chose differently, however, and thought nothing would do justice to the occasion but a dinner in about ten courses, and as it was neither advisable nor practicable to cook a fresh dinner some portion of the regular dinner - already old - was saved.
The guests were kept waiting for two hours after arrival, a special long table was set lonesomely enough in a corner of the great dining room and the tedious course dinner doled into the poor fellows through two weary hours, they being forced to sit and submit for politeness' sake, although before they got through the other watch of waiters was buzzing around them preparing the tables for the next grand meal. The published resolutions of thanks in the papers next day were ail right, yet I don't believe they enjoyfd the visit or the dinner or would consent to go through it all again, and don't think that was the way they should have been treated. What did they care whether that particular headwaiter knew how to serve dinners in courses or not? They were on a summer pleasure trip and wanted summer fare and lightsomeness.
A similar affair occurred in another place where the guests - also an excursion party present by invitation - did express their impatience with a too tedious banquet and arose and left it unfinished. They were well-known capitalists, about seventy in the party, and had been feasted, recep-tioned and banqueted to the limit of endurance and came to this place at night tired. The proprietors, just retiring from the business, seized the opportunity to make a parting display and, instead of the informal little reception at first intended, spread themselves out and made a really elaborate and expensive banquet in ten courses. The guests intended to be honored sat down and managed to contain their impatience while course after course was rushed in with all possible expedition until they had endured nearly two hours of it, when they incontinently rose, locked the doors that led in from the kitchen, marched out of the front doors and went to bed, leaving the remaining one third of the luxuries for whom it might concern.
And they did just right.
The next instance of overdoing was not stamped a mistake in any such emphatic way, and the local papers were good enough to apply their choicest terms of praise after it was over, yet I have it among my foremost examples of blunders in this line. About 200 Knights, of no matter what order, from a western city were to be entertained by the local lodge of a country town acting as a committee for the town, the citizens at large having subscribed to defray the expenses. They let the job to a caterer for a set sum and left everything to his discretion, only evincing an excusable anxiety to have the affair redound to the credit of the town. Two or three assistants were set to work and decorated dishes "sur socle" and tall cakes were prepared and a stylish sort of menu for a hot supper prepared, with green turtle soup in the foreground and oysters occupying a rather modest place in the rear. The supper passed off successfully and, as already said, received plenty of newspaper praise. The grand mistake consisted in not making it a grand fried oyster supper, as the event showed, for the green turtle soup, so far from being appreciated as a luxury in that far western country, was absolutely not even called for while the oysters in every style could not be served fast enough by all the hands available.
The line of reasoning had been that oysters were too common to make a fine entertainment even there, for oysters in bulk frozen were plentiful and every little party and every sort of festival had been serving oysters till there was nothing so common. It made no difference, however, the 200 wanted oysters and cared for nothing else. The supplies had been laid in so judiciously that fried oysters could be and were served half a dozen to each person, and stewed oysters without limit, so there was no misfortune. What was wanted to make that the most memorable feast those Knights and ladies had ever attended was a plate of a dozen double-breaded large oysters, properly garnished in Chicago oyster house style, with more in reserve if the dozen did not suffice, and two-thirds of the rest of the banquet might have been left unmade, and one day's work of preparation would have made more real success than the three days and nights that were really consumed in it.