This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
1. Never, if possible to avoid it, agree to furnish refreshments for a party without having the committee to bind itself to pay for some certain number whether they come or not. Four times out of five where it is a pay party there will be fewer people in attendance than were expected, and the hotel keeper or caterer who agrees for so much per head has to lose all that he has prepared in excess, when It sometimes is the case that not more than a fourth of those provided for ever come. It Is made the worse for the caterer because the members of the committee are apt to become excited over prospective numbers and induce the provider of the feast at his own risk to provide excessive amounts; if on their own risk they will be more cautious. A few months previous to this writing a hotel manager was applied to to furnish dinner on a stated day for 500 locomotive engineers on their annual celebration, and acting on advice, the same as above laid down, obtained a contract for 500 dinners at a dollar a head. The hotel was already crowded, but by an effort, such as hotel people can make when they try themselves, the extra 500 dinners were prepared and the crowd arrived on time, but only 360 came, and they were well entertained.
There was, of course, a surplus left over of about 140 dinners, but the hotel manager having his contract all right got his pay for them and was so much ahead. In too many cases the result is different; the hotel man takes the risk, loses the 140 meals and thereby loses all his profits on the transaction and works for nothing.
When it is a free or complimentary feast, the proper way is to contract for the probable number and agree to feed all above that number at a certain price per head.
2. When agreeing to furnish refreshments bear in mind that the number agreed for does not represent all; there will be musicians, drivers, attendants, press representatives, and various "complimentaries" not counted by the committee; calculations must be made for these, especially in an expensive spread, and the price made accordingly. It may be a quail or terrapin supper, where it will not be practicable to make distinctions among those who eat and twenty, thirty or forty "complimentaries" may consume all the profits if the caterer allows his estimate and contract to run within too narrow margins, particularly when the affair is but thinly attended.
3. If your hotel waiters, cooks, pantrymen, dishwashers and others do the extra work of a party without extra cost to you, that Is no affair of the party-givers, the prices charged ought to cover the extra work done by the hands. All other trades and professions charge their customers for the labor of their employe's, and charge a profit upon that labor besides, and there is no reason why hotel keepers should do differently.
4. Never, unless for very special reasons, agree to furnish refreshments "just for the fun of the thing," imagining that as the hotel is already running it will not really cost anything. Such extra spreads disarrange your store-room keeper's accounts and make extra book-keeping; they make tired help and poor meals and poor service for the hotel next day, perhaps for several days, and great incidental waste and expenses which the proprietor scarcely knows of except in the final reckoning. The very special reasons noted may be the necessity of advertising a new hotel; a sort of throwing bread upon the waters. Thebread costs something, perhaps a good deal, nevertheless.
While the foregoing rules are principally directed to hotel-keepers, the next is a most valuable guide to every sort of caterer and provider of meals, and ought to be kept in memory. The worst feature of hotel party-giving is the large excess of provisions always prepared and left over; the preparing of twice as much as will be needed. The fear that there may not be enough is the reason of this superabundance, when feasts are prepared without any basis of calculation, yet it is easy to know in advance how much will be consumed by any given number.
5. One hundred people at a party will eat one hundred pounds of food and drink one hundred pints of fluids.
That is, each person on an average eats a pound and drinks a pint.
One hundred women eat less than the same number of men - many men eat much more than a pound, but in a mixed gathering the average remains as stated.
6. To furnish one hundred pounds of cooked meat, it is necessary to buy two hundred pounds, because meats in an average way lose half their weight in cooking and trimming. Chickens and turkeys lose more than half their raw weight, hams and tongues lose less; fresh meats and fish just about half; consequently the calculation of two hundred pounds of raw meats, poultry and fish for one hundred persons is near enough for the average and is a rule easy to remember.
7. As each person at a party will eat a pound of something, where cheapness is demanded the feast should be made up as much as possible of things made of flour, sugar and, sometimes, eggs. A supper of all sorts of fancy yeast-raised cakes with lemonade or ice cream can be furnished for a few cents per head, while nothing in the meat line can be served for less than fifty cents and upwards, - to serve only one-half of a canvas-back duck to each person may cost one dollar per head for that one item alone.
8. Allow one quail for each person and one-third more as a reserve for repeated orders at a quail supper or breakfast, but half a quail is enough for each person at a course dinner, when quail forms the game course. Smaller birds such as snipe can not be divided. Spring chickens should be calculated to serve half a chicken to each person, but a good deal depends upon their sizes and upon the consideration whether chicken is to be the leading dish of the meal or only a part of a dinner of many courses.
9. To know how much of each kind of meat, game or fish will be required in an ampie feast calculate that each person eats two ounces of each kind - a cut of beef or ham weighs about two ounces, a quarter of a young chicken about two ounces, an ordinary helping of fish about two ounces, sandwiches weigh one or two ounces each according to the thinness of the bread. Eight different kinds of food served in two-ounce portions will make up the pound that fills the capacity of the human stomach for solids.
10. Guard against disaster by being well fortified with a reserve of ice cream and cake, cold chicken or turkey and ham sandwiches. The feast may be all consumed, the dinner or supper over, but if these things remain all the late arrivals can be made happy.
11. In some cases, such as winter excursion parties, the one thing of paramount importance is hot coffee and means of getting it served in short order. In all cases the coffee is the first consideration. Provide" three-fourths of a pint - that is two cups - for each person expected, or nine gallons for a hundred people. This will require four and a half pounds of ground coffee or a pound for two gallons of ordinary coffee, but for strong coffee for a regular dinner a pound to one gallon is required and less than half the quantity of coffee is wanted by each person than is necessary to provide for an excursion.
12. For an oyster supper calculate a pint of soup or stew for each person, made up of one-half oysters (raw measure) and one half milk. As both oysters in bulk and milk are bought by the gallon this is an easy calculation, it is twelve gallons for one hundred persons of which six gallons are bulk oysters and six gallons milk. But the oysters yield a large amount of liquor In cooking, and when the stews are made in these proportions the result will be only one-third or even one-fourth of cooked oysters in a bowl of oyster stew.
13. Large and choice oysters for frying are bought by the hundred. A dozen will fill an ordinary coffee cup. A dozen is a portion for an oyster supper; four to six for each person are plenty for a hotel breakfast. When oysters form part of a course dinner four to six for each person are enough; that will be a cupful of selects for three persons, or four or five gallons of large oysters for a hundred persons. It will readily be understood that there is a great difference between the requirements of the boarders at a hotel table, where oysters are served as commonly as beef or bread, and a party supper where the people come especially to eat oysters.
14. Dinners served in courses require the preparation of greater quantities than for ordinary meals or party suppers, for two reasons: first, although all persons do not eat the same things and some will eat the relishes or vegetables and not touch the fish or meat that is set before them, yet It is necessary to place upon the table enough for every one of each separate course, and some of the dishes may be returned to the kitchen scarcely touched; and, second, the usual long duration of course dinners, being anywhere from one to three hours, allows the stomach to become partially emptied of the first sustenance and enables people to actually eat more at a sitting than the average sufficiency. They sit and perhaps sip stimulants until they almost become hungry again, and the caterer may as well make his calculations double for such occasions and his charges according. However, nature will assert itself at last and the caterer gets even who has to furnish a few succeeding meals to the same persons.