This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
And now, having penned down the foregoing rules which experience has shown me are reliable guides to base calculation! upon - most especially the pound-to a-person rule, the pint-of-fluids rule and the two-ounce-portion rule, - I am obliged to talk over some exceptional cases, for fear some unguarded young business man may be led into trouble through placing a too implicit faith in people. Our calculations are made for the class of people one expects to meet at a genteel party gathering and for well-fed and discriminating hotel boarders, who do not generally fast a whole day beforehand to make ready to gorge themselves at the caterer's spread at night. It is a good many years ago, though I remember it as if yesterday, a young fellow recently started in the restaurant and baking business, came to me at the hotel where I was employed and said he had just been offered the contract to furnish supper for 200 at fifty cents per head; should he take it? The occasion was a cheap ball at a dollar a head including supper, to take place in a public hall. Being like all new beginners, anxious to secure a run of business, he concluded he would and asked me to help him with his calculations.
I had no rules to work by then, but we argued that as the hotels could furnish such a good and abundant dinner as they do for fifty cents, there must certainly be a good profit to be made out of a cold supper at the same price, no very elaborate work being demanded nor anything particularly expensive. Then we sized up the amount of dinner that would be needed in a hotel for 200, and he proceeded on that basis and made ready for the night. But a terrible night he had of it. He set his pretty tables as a young fellow will, with whole chickens, hams and tongues decorated, expecting his assistants to carve them and serve everybody as orderly as In a hotel, but he did not know the people he had to feed. They had evidently been starving themselves for the purpose of making a gorgeous feast out of this fifty-cent banquet: they waited for nothing, but after three minutes of wild clamor they went for the tables. One seized a whole ham on its dish and took it to the corner where his family sat; another took a dish of chickens, another, finding no meat, took a whole cake, another a pyramid of something else; in about eight minutes there was not a morsel of anything left on the tables, a few little bunches of people had secured everything and the majority really had nothing.
There is a warning and a lesson for beginners in that, the meats should all have been cut up beforehand and many hundreds of sandwiches prepared; whether sliced meats, sandwiches, bread, oysters or cake, everything should have been in small portions upon hundreds of plates, so that the people should all have fared alike whether they got what they wanted or not, and the provisions should have been served from behind a barrier - like a table set a few feet back covered with plates of supper with another table in front as a counter to serve from - or else out of small windows.
But to resume: my young friend was then in serious trouble, his supper was all gone, yet very few had been fed and a riot was beginning. He got some of the big bugs of the crowd to spread the word that he had plenty more in his bakery and would have it brought up immediately. Then he took all his assistants and brought up everything eatable that his restaurant and bakery contained, beginning with cold meats, canned goods, boiled eggs, taking every pie and cake and loaf of bread and at last giving up his boxes of crackers, raisins and candies. And still the people were unappeased, and scores of them declared they had not got a morsel to eat yet. There is no doubt but a good deal of stuff was pocketed; then some were beginning to see there was lots of fun in this thing, particularly those who had secured lion's shares of whole dishes and were laughing at the others, and 60me, perhaps half drunk, were hiding and witholding eatables out of pure devilment. But my young friend still continued his efforts to satisfy them all; he was anxious about his reputation and also feared that the committee might try to withold the pay if he did not fulfill his part of the contract to furnish suppers for all; then he came to me, there being no place open to buy at after midnight, and we persuaded a good-natured hotel-keeper to sell him all the bread and cooked meat there was in the house, ai. with that relay and the impatience or the company to go on with the dance, the trouble was tided over.
The young man got his pay from the committee without trouble, and all but a few of those present thought the affair was a fine joke after it was over. Of course the caterer lost money, far beyond what he had hoped to gain in profits, and was badly scared. As this recital is but supplementary to the rules above, I must a 3d here some maxims not less important. Cooking and service go together. A pound to a person is sufficient, but you mast see that each person gets his dues. If one person gets away with four portions the other three may raise a riot and be in the right, although you have done your part in one respect. The getting of each portion to each person is the art of service. The art of providing and cooking is only half, service is the other half, without which the first is useless.
The other instances which I intended to relate were of private receptions, where the youthful guests - perfect bunches of flowers to look- at - acted astonishly; but on second thought I have concluded to say nothing about them, but leave the circumstances to the readers' imagination, for really all of us who cook and cater have a sort of secret love of the hearty eaters, and these young people of the very good society of very good cities are quite excusable for going without their home suppers and even their home dinners in order to be ready to do full justice to all the good things we make for them. They live frugally at home, as they must for the sake of their healthy growth, and the beautiful simple hygienic foods which they grow so lovely upon are still rather insipid and tasteless. They come to our parties and every mouthful they try has a new rich ness, every morsel has some exquisite and unwonted flavor and they cannot resist, they must eat and ask for more, they can not help it, even though the astonished hostess who has invited them has to go to bed with a sick headache in consequence, and the young and unsophisticated caterer becomes old and gray-haired through the terrible experience of a single night.
I would not even have alluded to these things but for the purpose of saying the caterer, whoever he or she may be - for many ladies are now engaged in the business of furnishing refreshments to order to "society" people's entertainments - should fortify themselves by having a reserve of something plain and common, a quart or gallon of the thinnest ice cream unflavored, a lot of stale cake, something like sponge cake two weeks old, or heavy pound cake to taper off these abused feasts with. The grown people, the appreciative people, all take their sufficiency of the delicacies and there is an end as far as they are concerned, and the others, hollow young boys and girls who cannot stop, have to be weaned and choked off with something common.