I (Jim) directed a local high school's first Madrigal Dinner. Now, directing the event would have been just fine. But this is a public school drama department, so I was also in charge of costumes, sets, volunteers, food, tickets, etc. I was one step away from physically raising the chickens that would be served that night.
Luckily, I gathered a band of foolhardy parents who agreed to run the kitchen for me (to make the begging stop). But, unbeknownst to me, there was one other nightmare that I was in charge of: pleasing the Health Department.
I will spare you the gruesome details, but suffice it to say that I would rather eat Hawaiian pizza for the REST OF MY LIFE than deal with the Health Department again.
Perhaps you are in a similar situation. Maybe the thought of feeding 200+ people fills you with unspeakable dread. Possibly, you have a group of parents who are immune to pathetic begging.
Let's Talk About Catering
When you are producing artistic genius on a shoestring budget, the thought of catering may seem ridiculous. But if you:
Are producing your first dinner theater event OR
Haven't formed a strong volunteer base OR
Don't have a commercial kitchen OR
Are so burnt out that not even a grease fire could spark your interest THEN
You should consider catering.
Questions to Ask Your Caterer
When scouting the best caterer for your event, ask these important questions:
Do you have a catering license? Cast or crew might recommend a friend or relative to do your dinner. However, make sure they are certified by meeting the basic requirements as mandated by health departments and insurance agencies. Otherwise, you'll be cooked. Catering with a local restaurant usually means they have these licenses in place. Also, ask if they need a special event permit, and if so, make sure they do the legwork on that, too!
What are your food preparation methods? Be sure to ask how the food will be prepared, whether it will be delivered or prepared onsite. It is more affordable to have your food cooked offsite, but it only works for certain meals. Know when food will arrive, how it will be kept warm, and how it will be served before you say yes.
How many catering staff do I need? How your food will be served will determine how many staff you need and, thus, how much the catering will cost. If you decide to do:
Buffet-- Assume two servers for every thirty guests. For larger groups, you should also figure two or three additional runners to clear dishes and restock chafing stations.
Sit-Down Dinners-- For sit-down meals, you should assume one server per every two tables, with additional servers to handle drinks service.
Bar Staff-- More applicable for Jazz Dinners, figure on at least one bartender and one bar-back for every fifty guests. Additional bartenders may be needed if you plan on featuring specialty drink stations.
How much time do you need for set-up and clean-up? Whether your food is delivered or made at the venue, you must know when everything will be ready. Especially since Madrigal or Jazz Dinners depend on a masque between courses, you'll need to know if the caterer can keep everything warm in between. Also, if they need three hours afterward to clean up, you must be prepared to stay after the event.
Can you provide a copy of your standard contract? You don't want to find hidden fees or deal-breakers on performance week. Look for any red flags well in advance so you can change caterers before the 11th hour. (You don't want Aunt Karen making boiled chicken the night before).
A Successful First-Time Madrigal or Jazz Dinner
All in all, catering your first few Madrigal or Jazz Dinners will help your event run smoothly and take the stress off of you! Catering allows you to plan better, saves time, and makes you look good. And ESPECIALLY, you will never have to lay eyes on an ATCP 75 permit.