This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
A Guide To Party Catering. Wedding Breakfasts, Fantasies Of Party Givers, Model Small Menus And Noteworthy Suppers, With Prices Charged. Also, Catering On A Grand Scale Original And Selected Examples Of Mammoth Catering Operations, Showing The Systems Followed By The Largest Catering Establishments In The World. Also, A Disquisition On Head Waiters And Their Troops.
Large catering establishments are like large hotels, few in number, of slow growth, costly to rear, expensive to carry on, difficult to buy or succeed to, but still there is small work for small caterers in tens of thousands of places, and real demand for skill and talent in that line the same as for excellent cooks and waiters in hotels. It is, of course, a peculiar line of work taking it all together for which only a few are adapted; it is not sufficient to be a good cook, there must be a special knowledge of the dishes most suitable for party suppers and dinners and of what is fashionable, which may entirely exclude the things which a cook may beat the world at for hotel dinners, and, in addition, there must be a knowledge of table setting and waiter work and various matters of propriety. The beginnings of the party catering trade are, however, simple enough. A man keeps a small restaurant or bakery and confectionery, or all combined, and is applied to by some simple-minded lady who asks him how much he will charge her to make and bake a cake for her party if she furnishes the materials, or what he will charge to roast her turkey if she sends it already prepared for cooking and sends butter to baste it with, and how much butter will it take? The man gives a smiling and courteous answer, whether he accepts such a contract or not, and the next may be a lady who has heard talk of some fine thing, perhaps a fillet of beef, larded, being served at a private party somewhere and asks if he can furnish such a dish for her coming entertainment, is probably pleased and proud to find that he can and may end by giving him an extensive order and his first opportunity to show whether he is,capable of doing the society party Work of the town.
A man who is a cook only finds one who is a head waiter or competent to be one; a waiter or butter starting in- such a business finds an accomplished cook, and the two together make it go. Cooking and service must go to gether.
In tens of thousands of cases where parties are given, the right combination is not available. Society entertains everywhere; the ladies carry on the service part and only call on the cooks. There are numbers of cooks in every city of medium size and in some large towns, who never take regular employment, but hold themselves for all such odd jobs of cooking for parties, in private houses, and sometimes take little contracts, hire waiters, furnish everything and carry an affair through themselves. For cooking by the day they get good wages, ranging from five to ten dollars a day or for the day and part of the night taken up in serving the feast, and for some elaborate spreads the work of preparation may keep them employed for a week, and one who gains a reputation for special skill and reliability may be employed every day during the social season; may have more offers of employment than he can accept; may secure an advanced price for his services, but as in all other lines " it is the longest pole that knocks the persimison," the man must excel in something or he will never be more than a laborer.
There is never a private entertainment but the lady at the head of it would, if she could, have something to Leat some other party; would like to have something which her friendly rivals have never had, particularly anything mentioned in the fashion papers or fashion correspondence, as in vogue somewhere, but which no lady of her round of acquaintances has yet been able to secure. Then the caterei of whatever grade who can furnish the most novelties comes to the top. This is really a very serious phase of the whole society catering business from its smallest stage, where some new cook with a bunch of novelties can come and take the bread out of the mouths of the old residents, to the largest establishment, which is obliged to change from china to silverware, from silver to glass, from flowers in general to flowers of one or two rare sorts, from banks of moss and trailing vines on the table to tall vases only, all because of the changes of the fashions, and is bound to be on the watch to import every new idea and be ready to supply the newest favorite dish, as otherwise the class of patrons who are able to make high-class catering most profitable to the caterer will send away and import for themselves what they cannot procure at home.
Small catering businesses are often offered for sale like any other business, and a man well posted in the requirements, at such times may find his opportunity to step in and build up an important and profitable trade where another had been "poking along" or failed entirely.