The 210 wedding guests who had just attended a ceremony in the park around the corner from the reception venue began to arrive. Dressed in formal summer attire, they seemed cordial and happy as they giddily climbed the stairs into the reception hall.
The rustic factory-turned-party-space, filled with flowers, smiling waiters offering trays of champagne and a jazz trio, was the result of a year of thoughtful contemplation. How might the lighting be softened in the background and pin spots put on the tall floral arrangements? What kind of cocktail glasses would provide an extra bit of elegance to the welcome drinks? How might music from the jazz trio give the cocktail hour a relaxed, lounge feeling?
But as they entered, something came over the smiling, well-mannered guests. They began to push and shove each other to get at the 16-foot raw bar. Waiters bearing scores of whiskey old-fashioneds and gin sours had empty trays in less time than it took to say hello. The crowd began to frenzy into something that can only be compared to piranhas.
At first, the staff were unfazed; in addition to opulent spreads on trays and tables, they had food for triple the crowd in reserve. But this was no ordinary wedding. Over the sounds of soft jazz and nervous bartenders hurriedly shaking more cocktails came an eerie, chomping rumble, as 200 sets of teeth came snapping toward startled waiters and their bountiful trays of hors d'oeuvres. The servers were grabbed, pushed and pulled as the swirling piranhas attacked.
One elderly woman used her elbow to remove all 20 miniature New England lobster rolls, as well as the orchid and chanterelle garnish, from a passing tray as the stunned waiter looked in horror.
"But ma'am, but, ma'am. That is a garnish. Ma'am!"
"Bring more!" she demanded.
One waiter with a tray of beef satay took two steps out of the kitchen and was tackled by the groom's cousins, who had located the exit from the cocktail kitchen and stationed themselves there so they could intercept every tray.
"Hold your tray high, and push past them. There are other guests!" screamed the cocktail chef.
The four raw-bar shuckers had pre-shucked 200 oysters, for a generous, welcoming spread over crushed ice. The shucked oysters were gone in five minutes. One young man in a tuxedo grabbed a large silver bowl filled with a hundred shrimp and tried to run away with it. The largest of the shuckers managed to wrestle it back.
"Sir ... those are ... you know ... for everyone?!"
The maître d', who had decades of managing high-stress events under her belt, realized the guests were stealing handfuls of the cocktail garnishes. She helped the bartenders construct a wall of glasses to shield the cherries, olives and orange wheels before it was too late.
At the end of the cocktail hour, of the 3,200 hors d'oeuvres, 800 oysters, 600 clams and 600 shrimp, all that was left were the bruised and tattered waiters who climbed down the stairs to the dinner reception looking as though they'd just survived a terrible traffic accident.
The brawny raw bar shuckers crawled into the dinner kitchen to dump out their ice.
"I've never quite seen that before," the head shucker said, shaking his head. "One lady took one oyster and dumped the meat of 10 other oysters on top of it, then shoved the whole thing in her mouth."
After eating and drinking enough food and beverage for 3 weddings, the guests were directed to sit for dinner.
The chef had lovingly crafted a menu that balanced Asian fusion for the Korean groom, New England faves for the Boston bride, and pasta for the bride's Italian father. She had just finished directing the floor staff to make sure that all 210 summer pasta salads with shaved parmesan first-course plates were set, the parmesan shavings exactly in the 4:00 position on all the plates.
Ten minutes after the guests were seated, a waiter came to the kitchen to say several guests complained they had not been given a pasta course. The chef had overseen the delivery to all 210 guests personally and was dumbfounded, but sent out 6 more plates all the same.
Later on, the waiter came back to say the guests had, in fact, eaten their pasta course and then hidden the plates under the table to get another round.
The head waiter, a tall, handsome man chosen to be in charge of the care of the bride and groom because of his calming personality and ability to handle high-octane clients came into the kitchen to say the bride's grandmother grabbed his arm every time she wanted a refill on her gin and tonic, and his arm was starting to turn purple.
"She's 82, but has a grip like a linebacker."
After clearing the first course and refilling all the breadbaskets, which had been stuffed with enough rolls and biscuits for an army, it was time to serve the entrée, God help us.
The plan was for the entrée to be served tableside. Four waiters go to the table; one has the meat, one has the fish, one has the rice, and one has the vegetables. The headwaiter first asks each guest if they wish to have the meat or the fish. The guest answers and is served everything right at the table.
In theory, it was a friendly and elegant way to serve supper.
The teams of waiters approached each table.
"We have a choice of two entrees; a Korean barbecue beef and a New England cod in horseradish crust. Which will you have sir?"
Two-thirds of the guests answered the same way: "I WANT BOTH!!"
After several tables demanded seconds, having already consumed both entrees and two bread baskets, the maître d' was finally able to close dinner service. There was just enough food left to scrape together a staff meal for the 30 bruised, exhausted and traumatized waiters and bartenders.
At the end of the night, after devouring the entire contents of a 24-foot dessert table filled with bright pink and yellow French macaroons, chocolate-dipped strawberries, peanut butter cookies, sea salt brownies and mini Key lime pies, the guests made room for a slice of chocolate banana wedding cake.
With food service at long last over, the swarm turned its attention to the bar and inhaled whiskey enough for a hundred poker games.
As the clock struck midnight, they seemed satiated at last.
It was then that the head bartender, who had finally gotten five minutes for a bathroom break, came into the kitchen looking pale.
The guests were vomiting a kaleidoscope of pink, yellow and Key lime green in the bathrooms, he reported.
Yes, another glamorous night in the life of a wedding caterer.
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