BY LUIS PEREZ I APRIL 25, 2009
Catering part time for years had led, like anything else will, to the development of habits, good and bad.
I started catering when I was a full time student, and after I graduated and started working, I continued. The money is good and easy. I work in a suit and tie Monday through Friday, but on weekends, usually in all black with an apron. There is no catering training course, only more work to learn from. With experience, like anything else, it gets easier, and I became much more confident.
I am confident when I hold a tray of hors d'oeuvres or martinis, or plates of food. I am confident when I look guests wearing $800 outfits in the eye and tell them they have to wait, politely, for their napkin, or extra sauce, or whatever. And I was confident when I took on a 5 PM to 12 AM shift on Friday, and a 12 PM to End on Saturday.
And so it was, the Friday event went well enough, and I made it to the Saturday event — we all did — from the night before. Today was a bar mitzvah, and no expense had been spared. We were to serve a luncheon and a dinner and you could feel the excitement in the guests and the clients. It surely was the event of the summer. The Jones completely and thoroughly made it impossible for anyone to even try to keep up.
The luncheon started and ended well. We broke everything down and caught a rest before the dinner would start. I was sitting on the bumper of the catering truck with the other caterers, assessing the recent work activity. We ate what we had served earlier — steak sandwiches with béarnaise and we drank Kool-Aid. The Sun began to lower in the sky. We quietly watched the children of the clients and their guests kick a soccer ball around in full dresses and slacks.
No one believed when I broke them up into teams with the rest of us caterers, them in their party outfits, us in tuxedo pants. My supervisor literally turned away, figuring he could claim he was not aware. The kids were really excited, pre-teens, with a healthy competitive appetite. We were bored out of our minds. I divided them up evenly and we began the game on the lawn. The commotion immediately caught the attention of an older guest, who observed and quickly determined that while they would get sweaty and dirty, it was worth the excitement and joy. "We played a real soccer game with the caterers at my party!"
Goal after goal, the kids were determined to keep up, pushing and shoving us right back every time. Finally our supervisor ordered for us to stop, so I quickly announced next goal won. The fire in their little legs blared. No kid would go down as being on the loser team in the catering championship game. A small crowd gathered.
In this game there is no goalie; the goal posts are placed narrower together and they are left unmanned. But this little kid was determined. He deliberately hounded the goal posts. The other caterers did not care and kicked anyway, hoping the ball would bounce in. This had gone on too long; everyone wanted it to be over. The girls in their dresses laid on the ground, we caterers dodged them on the field. One more goal.
We had worked all kinds of events at all kinds of locations, but none had ever involved a soccer game. I didn't even play soccer, but I was not going to lose this time. So when the ball was kicked to me, and the kid stood right on the goal, delaying the inevitable, I kicked the ball to him, and when he left the goal to retrieve it, I sprung forward, pushed him into a flowerbed, and scored the winning goal!
Everybody cheered — winners, losers, the crowd. Only the boy in the bushes didn't. More embarrassed than hurt, he cried.
There weren't many moments like this; in fact this was the only one. There really is nothing positive to take away. I wish I could say the kid enjoyed being knocked down in the heat of the moment, or that he knew it was in good fun.
Catering exercises your improvisational skills. You do what you need to do to make the customer happy. I began every event knowing that at some point I would have to really humble myself. And do it proudly. It is an agreement you have to make with yourself.
After many, many events, I became very insightful of the field of service. I had just finished an event downtown and decided to stop in a bar. I was dressed in all black so I fit right in. I knew a drink would be about $7 then I had to tip. I just wanted to sit down and appreciate a beautiful summer night out. I would have to order a soda. But as I contemplated my options, outside on the patio, I noticed two glasses of beer with a sip left in each and a fly in one. I poured the one remaining sip into the glass with the fly and demanded a fresh glass. The bartender thought it was funny and refused my two-dollar tip.
I sat and sipped outside on the patio alone, while the crowd loudly buzzed behind me. The moon silently glowed above.