Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Menu Cards

Dear Menu Cards,

I don't like you. Don't get me wrong, you are all sorts of pretty tucked into a crisply folded napkin looking innocent enough. You are beautiful, match the decor, you take great detail shots and look good from any angle. But you're a wily one, Miss Menu Card, because you tease and temp guests with the your scrumptious sounding descriptions of your wares and get guests so worked up over your mouth watering courses that that forget all about the fact that they, in fact, checked the "beef" box on their response card yet decide to "order" fish because it looks so danged good. And thus the chaos begins. All that counting that the bride did in order to get her counts in so the food could be ordered and the kitchen could prep the correct amount goes out the window.The kitchen freaks out. The servers get yelled at by their floor captains because they didn't ask to see every escort card that has the secret mark that shows that the guest should be served beef, not fish. Then we have the poor coordinator who has to go up to an entire table of guests to explain to them, sorry, but the kitchen ran out of fish because tables who had their orders taken first decided to change their flippin' minds and get fish instead of beef!

Please, menu cards. Go away.

Not Yours Very Truly,
Amber Gustafson
Amber Events

Yes, I have been that poor coordinator to go to a table of guests and explain to them that the kitchen pretty much ran out of what they want and they can only have chicken. They were unhappy, the servers were miserable, the kitchen was furious, and I was mortified. Thankfully, I don't think the bride & groom ever found out (unless a guest told them......tacky!!). I asked my friend Melissa Allen, the catering director of the historic Ebell of Los Angeles if she had any tips to share regarding this tricky, tricky subject:

MesSometimes it helps to print on the header of the Menu "Your Pre-selected Entree of xxxx or xxxx" but that isn't always read by the guests. Or perhaps the guest does remember their meal selection but then in reading the delicious descriptions, might change their mind. The kitchen gets hit hard when that happens. And since food preparation and quantities are ordered based on the counts given by the client, too much of a range will knock the counts off dramatically and then guests are not getting what they had requested. Its disappointing to guests and its a frustration that caterers want to avoid at all costs. At the Ebell of Los Angeles, we require that the place card or escort card shows the entree selection that the guest selected on their RSVP card. It allows us to collect entree counts without having to interrupt conversations and it eliminates the opportunity for a guest to change their mind on their entree selection.

Just like any aspect of a formal event, the hosts will want their guests to be most comfortable and pampered, and clearly indicating directions and information is always best. If possible, have the venue or caterer provide a fully detailed menu well in advance so that the invitations can include an RSVP card that fully states the scrumptiousness of the menu (there is a huge difference between "beef or chicken" and "Grilled Beef Loin with Roasted Potatoes and Winter Vegetable Ragout or Juniper Berry Chicken Breast with Braised Red Cabbage and Rosemary Potato Puree").

While menu cards can be an excellent decorative element, I suggest using menu cards or displays when the menu is completely open to all the guests: a buffet or menu stations, or family style service. If pre-selected entrees are part of the plan, then customizing a menu for each guest and assigning seats at each table is an elegant way to provide the information. Just be sure the service staff has a way of designating the choices too.

Thanks for the advice, Melissa!

Photo taken by the fabulous Mi Belle photography

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