May 25, 2007

Catering American Style

Americans know how to cater a party. At least that’s what me and David, our American intern at work, proved yesterday at a reception for our organisation. Of course, being a non-profit, we had a very limited food budget (drinks were already covered). What can you get for 100 pounds ($200 +/-) to cover 60+ guests at an evening reception during the dinner hour? Leave it to me and David.

We hiked up to our local Sainsbury’s, with a side trip to show David the nearby canal, of course, and did a whirlwind shopping spree an hour before the event. Prior to our departure our work associates daftly advised us, “don’t do it American style with lots of sweets, only savouries.” Taking this as guidance and not an insult we kept their words in mind as we dutifully wandered the isles of this grocery superstore.

Finding the most economical veggie, dip, cheese, olive and crackers (aka biscuits) options, we took bets on the tally. I was certain we were over budget but David kept on insisting we didn’t have enough and were definitely under budget. He’s a finance person so I think he had a clue.

As we shopped we threw all British etiquette to the wind and wandered the isles, loudly commenting on prices, randomly asking staff for help and generally being menaces. Did you know that toothpicks are called something else in the UK? I think they're cocktail stabs or something. Now that I think about it toothpick is not an inviting term.

As I gesticulated with a staff person trying to explain toothpicks David had gone all California on the “ghetto style” grocery cart (his words not mine) for which we had to pay a 1 pound deposit. He cleverly tinkered with the coin holder and got his coin out.

College Advisor: David, what did you learn on your UK internship?

David: How to finagle my deposit money out of a ghetto style shopping trolley.

College Advisor: Good man, you’ve made our country proud.

David: Oh yeah, and how to cater a party on a shoestring budget

College Advisor: I see a future for you in non-profits.

We get to the checkout and boldly inform the checker that we’ve taken bets on the total. At first she is not amused but as we cheered each item as she rang them up I think she felt the power of positive thinking. By the end she too was taking bets. Grand total: 51 pounds. Great news, we’ll go back for more. And so we went back into the bush to scavenge more grub. We finally topped out at 81 pounds. That's the American spirit.

Preparing the spread and placing it on the buffet table, for now it was a buffet in our minds and not some simple finger food gathering, our associates were impressed. Of course we had the one plate of cookies aka biscuits (why are both sweet and savory biscuits called the same thing and not cookies and crackers which makes so much more sense?)

All night the guests commented on the quality of the catering. We had only one black mark against our spread, no butter for the biscuits. Well, frankly, that’s plain weird. So with that one criticism aside we felt very satisfied with ourselves. Even the little pickles were munched up and that was our one risk item.

I will admit that the only plate that was full at the end was the sweet biscuits selection.