Maister Colyne Stewart's ethereal realm.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Clank the Dishes, Chip the Plates: What I Learned About Serving at Feast

Laird Colyne Stewart, Feb AS 37 (2003)

I had never even served before when I volunteered to coordinate serving and dishwashing for Snowed Inn II: The Baronial Investiture Edition. I think partially the fact that I had never done it before is what drew me to the job.

The very first thing I did was to consult with the feast chefs to see how many people they were planning on having sit feast. I was told eighty, plus head table. We were using tables with eight people to a table, which meant ten tables, plus head table. Together we decided that one server per table, plus two for the head table, would be adequate.

I posted a message to the Ealdomrere e-list asking for volunteers to serve and I had my compliment of twelve within twenty-four hours, plus a number of back-ups. I did this so that we would not get caught short day of the event. Generally this doesn’t happen, you can always find people willing to pitch in and help, but I don’t like to leave things to chance.

As the event drew closer I continued to stay in touch with the chefs so they could advise me of any dishes that needed special attention. I also had small favours made for the servers: shot glasses from the dollar store, upon which Lina Carville painted the Ardchreag arrows. (I tried to etch the arrows on the glass but, well, we won’t go into that fiasco.)

The hosting canton (Ardchreag) made some special tablecloths for the event, and the chefs crafted special plates for Their Majesties, Highnesses, new Excellencies of Septentria and retiring Excellencies.

I set up a floor plan for feast, which I cleared with the chefs, the autocrats and the rest of the event staff. We placed head table at the top of the feast space and put two columns of five tables down the left and right, leaving the center of the hall clear for bards and dancers. This was sent to all the servers so they could see what table they would be serving.  I drew the feast sign-up sheet in advance so we could put it out when the time came.

So here I was planning my little heart out when I forgot what should have been obvious. I should have asked who was going to sit at head table. Instead I assumed that the retiring Excellencies would be sitting there and we all planned around them sitting there. A note to head servers: consult with Their Majesties Chamberlain or entourage in advance and verify how many people will be sitting at head table. Thankfully this snafu was quickly and cleanly resolved. Her Majesty was most gracious when I abjectly apologized for the mix-up.

A half hour before feast started I held a server’s meeting where we went over how feast would be served, what dishes would be tricky, and verified what tables everyone would be serving. As the center of the hall was for entertainment we were not to walk through it. (On top of everything else, I became the entertainment director.)

Some feast chefs feed their servers before feast, some after. Ours fed us at exactly the same time as everyone else. We had two tables in the back and after we had all served our tables, Thorfinna gra’feldr and I would get the same course for the servers and bring it to the servers’ tables. We would eat while I kept an eye to the kitchen and when the chef gave the word we were back in action. Due to the number of courses and dishes being served, we needed to bring the plates and bowls of the previous course back after serving the present course. So, say, when we brought out the ham we had to take back the salad bowls. You get the idea. This was explained to each table when they were first served.

Now, Thorfinna and I, who were serving head table, never officially introduced ourselves as we were pretty sure everyone up there knew us. However, if I were to do it again I would introduce us just as a nice formality and just in case one of those did not know our names, or had forgotten them. It’s just a nice little touch.

Also, after talking with our baron afterwards, who has cooked many feasts but never sat at a head table before, we decided that we should have offered to carve the courses for those sitting at head table. Folks in expensive (often silk) garb are not in the best position to be reaching across a table covered in food to try and cut up a whole chicken.

To ease pressure on the servers we recruited a drink boy on the spot who wandered the hall filling glasses. This gave him something to do, gave us more time to eat ourselves, and made things run smoothly. He was also given a token. (His though was not a shot glass; I didn’t want to have to explain that to his mom.)

When feast was over the servers cleared the dishes and were freed from service. All during feast three poor souls had volunteered to wash dishes during feast. (Remember, I said that plates had to be used more than once? Well, they needed to be cleaned.) At this point they were relieved and some fresh washers came in to work. I didn’t plan the ‘after feast’ washers in advance at all, as I usually see a plethora of volunteers to do so at events but we didn’t get enough this time. If I ever organize the scullery again, I’ll make sure I have some firm ‘after feast’ washing commitments lined up. The ‘during feast’ washers were also given decorated shot glasses.

All in all things ran very smoothly, with only a few matters of etiquette coming to the fore. I personally found the experience to be a lot of fun. I hadn’t served at feast before because I thought I would miss out on the camaraderie, but you still get to interact with the people at your table, with the chefs, and with the other servers. I will definitely serve again.

Permission is given to print this article in any SCA publication as long as the author is contacted by email in advance, proper credit is given and the author receives a copy of the newsletter. Please credit the author as Colyne Stewart (mka Todd Fischer), who can be reached at todd@todd-fischer.com

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