Off the bat, I want to thank the 6 brave souls that came out to join us for Supper Club #1! I had a blast cooking for you all, getting to watch the meal unfold, and hear your conversation. This was a really fun project for me at a time I needed something fun, and I really appreciate you all helping make it happen!
Second, if you just want some photos from the day jump to the bottom of the page.
We’re now a bit more than a month removed from the event, and I wanted to take a look back at the whole thing, think about what went well, what could have gone better, and what I want to try to do next time. And I thought maybe you’d like to hear about it too. Please forgive any rambling, I’m doing this “live” as it were.
This is the easiest place to start, and maybe one of the hardest things to get right. I asked for $25/person, and had six people join Kendall and I for dinner, landing me at $150. Total cost of the food and beverages I prepared for the evening: $359.79. The goal was to recoup the food and drink costs….Whoops! I was over $200 short for the night. And that doesn’t even take into account the multiple tests I ran on most of the recipes leading up to the day. Oh well! We live, we learn, we figure out costing.
As someone that has no formal culinary education and hasn’t worked in a restaurant, I definitely went into this bit blind. There are several areas I can work on improving here.
- Have the full, tested menu nailed down before sending out invites and slapping a price tag on the evening. Several of the recipes I hadn’t nailed down before I posted the invitations, so costs changed. Build in a few extra dollars per person to pay for the recipe testing.
- Get better with figuring out amounts needed. For example, I didn’t have time to test my corned beef ribs recipe (it took a full week!), so I wasn’t sure how much it would yield or exactly how much I would need. I could have saved about $50 on meat, and maybe $10 on other ingredients if I’d known the portioning for this. I still have several pounds of corned beef in the freezer waiting for a brunch 🙂
- Remember how much $$$ alcohol is! We didn’t splurge on pricey wine, and the cocktails I served used sake instead of the hard stuff, but just the booze (not any of the mixers and garnishes) was nearly $60. That’s over 2 peoples worth of food cost sunk on the booze when I’m only collecting from 6. Next time I’ll have to think more about exactly how much each person is expected to drink and build in more /person to compensate.
I think I can do better here next time around. I also think it’s good to be transparent with my guests about how much something like this ends up costing. In this case for the 8 people, it would have been just under $45/person for the 4 course meal, sake cocktails, and wine with dinner. That’s actually not too bad! Especially when you consider I’m paying retail for everything.
Since I wasn’t aiming to MAKE any money here, I didn’t build in extra to the cost for my time. Time sunk was significant. Not just day of, but for most of the week leading up I was spending hours a day prepping or shopping. I don’t mind, it was fun to do, but if I’d been working at the time it would have been difficult. Nothing much to be done about this except to keep it in mind going forward.
The other part of this was day of timing. I didn’t do a great job communicating up front with everyone how much time I expected this to take. I expected to serve a course every 30 minutes starting just before 5pm. Things started a hair late, right around 5pm, and I got the second course out just about on time at 5:30. The third course took longer than expected, and didn’t go out until sometime after 6pm, though honestly I don’t know how late it was. Dessert was ice cream, so only really required scooping, and went out a few minutes after people were done with course 3. In my head I’d budgeted about 90 minutes from the first course being served to dessert being served. It was likely closer to 2 hours – again I’m a bit fuzzy on the timing for the 3rd/4th courses because I was stressing about some stuff that wasn’t going quite right in the kitchen.
Contributing factors, as I saw them day of, to the extra time:
- Small kitchen meant I had to take time to clean up or relocate things after each course. To be expected, it just took more time than I thought it would.
- Plating for 7 (I didn’t plate my own food) took longer than I’d hoped for a few courses.
- I had a mishap with one of my components for the ramen dish, the gnocchi. I couldn’t cook as much at a time as I’d thought, and the first 2 batches fell apart. I fortunately had made more than I needed and I was able to adjust a bit and salvaged enough of them to serve everyone, but it cost me 10-15 minutes.
OK, so key takeaways for time management:
- Make sure I’ve got plenty of time in the week(s) leading up to an event for shopping, prep, and testing.
- Set expectations in the invitation/on the website/wherever an event is posted for how long the meal will last.
- When I’m practicing dishes, note how much time plating takes as well as how much time the actual cooking takes.
- Build in extra time for things to go wrong. If it doesn’t get used, fantastic! But something will go wrong. It always does.
3. The rest
- Overall I think the food was really good and well received! I was able to pull off everything I set out to – minus the hot sauce caviar I tested, which worked great but didn’t last overnight and was too time intensive to do day of by myself.
- Our home/kitchen maxes out at 8 of us. I couldn’t possibly have plated for the 12 I originally aimed for. If I want to do larger groups, I need a bigger kitchen and dining space.
- I need to advertise the date much earlier. It was tough getting people to sign up on short notice, which I should have seen coming! That also means I need to have a menu set and tested earlier. I think 3 weeks is probably the sweet spot.
- For a group larger than 10 or 12 I really would benefit from some help in the kitchen. I didn’t feel too stressed doing this for 8 solo, but if I don’t want things to take too long to get out of the kitchen I’d need help with a larger group.
- It was key that I was able to prep so much in advance. I’d have never got it done if everything had to be cooked day of. I’ll need to remember that it’s important that most of the cooking is done in advance, with finishing touches being done just before serving.
- I need to test everything under the conditions I’ll be using it day of. The gnocchi I made in advance and froze uncooked, based on recommendations I saw online. When I made the same recipe and didn’t freeze them I had no problem with them falling apart. That definitely wasn’t the case when I cooked them from frozen, and it cost me time and several batches that I had to toss. If I’d tested from frozen before hand I would have known how to adjust the cooking method. I’m really lucky the corned beef turned out on the first try!
- I made cheat sheets for every course that detailed the ingredients I needed, the cookware that would get used, the plates I’d use for plating, all the steps for prep/cooking, and a sketch of what I wanted plates to look like. Turns out this was clutch! I’ll definitely do this again.
- In the run up to the day, I had a notebook I kept with notes from all of my recipe testing – what worked, what didn’t, tweaks I’d like to try, etc. This was really helpful, especially since I’m usually bad at making notes on recipes that I try, particularly when I divert from the recipe. Must keep doing this, not just for Supper Club.
- For this round, I just worked with the dishes we already own. At least two of the courses I wish I’d been able to use something different. I should look into rentals and build that into future costs for this, especially if we are doing it somewhere other than our house.
- Kendall did a great job with the table! This was something I kind of left until the last minute, and she stepped up and made it awesome. I should spend more time on this for future gatherings.
- This was fun! Really fun! I’m excited to do it again with a new menu.
Well I think that’s all. Thanks for reading, and here’s the reward of some photos from the day. Credit to Kendall and our friend Stephanie who took all the photos – I was planning on taking some myself but ended up not having time. I guess that’s something I should do next time during testing!