Xmas Dinner Can Be Harder Than It Seems

Getting drunk in a brewery (apparently, it doesn’t take much organising) is one thing, eating as well, quite another.

On Friday night I attended a client’s Xmas party.  It was a shared venue, with other organisations, and a bit of a surprise to find out that we were just three of seventy-six tables of ten.  We’d be sharing our Xmas turkey with more than 700 other people.  I’d attended big meals like this before and been amazed by the logistics required to serve everyone, with good quality food, at much the same time.

After a little confusion on my part, over the instructions for the raffle, and the “heads and tails” competition, which wasn’t helped by a parody of an unintelligible platform announcer somewhere in the distance, the music started up and people began to dance to throbbing 80’s pop that only had one beat, but often involved hand movements.  My rather old-fashioned British sensibilities were somewhat thrown by this, being more used to dancing after the meal.  Later, it occurred to me that perhaps these guys had been here before.

The uninitiated, like us, waited patiently for the food.  It was over an hour before our soup arrived and nearly two hours before we got the main course.  Incredibly, we were the unexpectedly lucky ones.  Rather than the military precision I anticipated when it came to serving the food our table (Number 9), tucked away in the back of the room, got served first with most other tables around us being ignored completely.  It was as if we were an unofficial “top table”.  In fact, some hour or so after we had finished our main course the tables next to us still had soup bowls on them.

I was hungry by then and ate everything on my plate.  On a good day at home I could have eaten all the vegetables we were given for ten people on my own, although we later managed to get “seconds”.  This was yet more preferential treatment, this time the result of pressure from one of us, now united in amazement at all the confusion.

The staff had the resigned and somewhat confused look of people out of their depth and it would be hard to characterise the “service” as anything that Michel Roux Jnr. would recognise.  I don’t think you could impose any less organisation on the service of the food and when asked by the Polish barman what he thought of it so far a fellow diner said “a bit slow” and the wise barman, now clearly inured to such typical understatement, said “Yes, everyone says that”.  I did have some sympathy for the waiters though who had to endure applause each time they appeared with food.  It wasn’t really their fault.

The interesting thing though is that we all had a good time.  There was alcohol after all and, as one of my colleagues said, a little drunkenly ” the point about an evening like this is to socialise, Mark, not to worry about the food”, which is, of course, right.  There was wine on every table and brewery or not, it required no organisational skill at all to drink it.

On talking to the manager it transpired that they had never done this before but, because it was in aid of a local charity, they had agreed to try and serve 700 plus people a three course sit down meal with their complement of just 10 waiters and a field kitchen straight out of MASH.

These people run a big function venue and cater for large events all the time, though not a sit down meal on this scale.  Isn’t it surprising how even people in the business, who you would think would know how to do this, could get it so wrong?  Well, not necessarily, it is quite amazing how often people assume something is easier than it is before they do it.  In fact, it is often why business development, particularly diversification activities, go so horribly wrong.  Things look a lot easier if you haven’t done them before. One of the reasons why KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW is one of my five secrets.


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