If you've ever done it, you get it.
I did a bit of it this summer, and I'm continuing to do it occasionally on the weekend.
These days, chefs and cooks that work in restaurants are respected, enjoying an almost rockstar-like status now that cooking shows are so popular and we seem to be manufacturing celebrity chefs as fast as sweatshops in china turn out knockoff designer handbags that will likely fall apart the third time you use them, sending your fancy new iphone into some dirty public toilet and causing you to blurt out expletives that would make a trucker on meth blush.
But I digress.
Catering and caterers, in the food world, generally do not enjoy this same adoration and respect. No matter how delicious the food is, no matter how seamless the service is, no matter how the staff managed to pull off a 6-course tasting menu while working out of a garage with no running water in 90-degree heat...
...no matter what, you're still always just going to be the "help" to many of the people both throwing and attending these events.
I remember one event a few years ago- it was a pretty standard event, passed hors d'oeurves and an elegant buffet dinner for the vice president of a major financial institution and his wife in their brand-new, 8 million dollar house. The wife was a total megabitch to us- bossing us around in front of her guests, changing her mind 35 times about how we were to set up the food only AFTER we already moved everything (again), and not letting us use the elevator they had installed, even though the party was in the lower level of their tacky McMansion and we were lugging hundreds of pounds of crap in so that we could do our damn job properly. At some point in the evening, one of her drunk and equally gross guests must have decided to rid themselves of approximately 45 pounds of intestinal material, resulting in a severely clogged terlet. Ms. Megabitch McNastyness walks up to me and says, "I need you to unclog the toilet right now." At that point, I had decided that I really didn't give a shit (wah-wahhh) about getting any sort of a tip from the she-beast, so I decided to stand my ground. "I'm sorry, but I'm handling food and we're really busy. Unfortunately, we won't be able to do that." I said it pleasantly, but very matter-of-factly.
"Well, what am I supposed to do about it then? I can't just leave it like that!", she sneered. (Nevermind that there were probably 14 more bathrooms in that poorly-decorated mess of a house.)
"I'm not sure- maybe call a plumber?" I said as I started walking away so that I could, you know, do my damn job.
She just stood there for a few seconds, looking like a spoiled child who was told that they wouldn't be able to hunt hobos for sport anymore, and then she says, "Well, you can BET that I'm going to call _________(the owner of the catering company) about this! YOU are here working for ME, and I am NOT happy."
She ended up putting up an "out of order" sign on the door of the shitter, we directed guests to the other shitter about 20 feet from the first one, the hostess proceeded to get wasted, and she didn't tip us one red cent.
Other indignities, briefly:
- One guy, hosting a sit-down dinner for 20 of his rich, white Republican friends got so offended that we didn't know who one of his guests was (some guy that, I guess, is sort of a local god to pasty conservatives and ended up bailing on this party at the last minute anyways) that he pouted all night and had his wife call the owner the next day and say what a "terrible" job we did and how disappointed she was in everything. Nevermind that I whipped up a gluten-free entree at the last minute and that we were forced to bartend even though they weren't paying us for that. And nevermind that her guests gushed all night how wonderful everything was and that we left her house cleaner than when we arrived. What it boiled down to was that we didn't know our place and didn't appease her asshole husband by pretending to be appropriately impressed by who was on his guest list. Silly us.
- We were doing a small family dinner party for an aging socialite and her family. Her 40-something daughter, seated at a table with her beastly children, turns to her preteen daughter and very loudly tells her, "You are NOT to get water yourself- that is what the help is for!"
- A woman once called the owner to complain that we put the trash from the party, um...in the trash. In the garage. She thought that we should have taken it with us. Seriously.
- One woman, who held parties in her 2 million-dollar condo that was less than a mile from her 10+ million-dollar home, had a party that lasted a long time and was a ton of work. The staff (us) were each owed around $300 each, which would usually result in at least a $50-60 tip. She made a huge display (in front of her guests, no less) of handing each of us a crisp $20 bill as a tip "for all our hard work".
So why do I do it, you ask?
Believe it or not, I actually enjoy it these days. For every jerk there are three perfectly lovely hosts that treat us like actual human beings, thank us profusely, and tip us handsomely. We go to some pretty fabulous homes, we see some pretty crazy shit, and if you are a jerk to us, we will mercilessly mock you every chance we get. We think the jerks are pretty funny, actually. They may need to feel like a big person by belittling others- whatever, these people register so low on my radar that it doesn't even matter. We drink their wine and occasionally look through their bathrooms to see what dirty little secrets they have. We see their wives/husbands flirting with other people. We see them getting too drunk and picking fights.
They judge us, we judge them.
And then we get to go home.
With a nice, fat check.
And sometimes a bottle of contraband wine.