by Thomas Sladko*
Recently I found myself in the following situation: I was responsible to take care of an evening reception and everything was running smoothly and the way it was planned: nearly all invited guests appeared, the room was well filled but not too crowded, the music was decent, the ordered flowers and the white tablecloth combined well, the speeches were into the timeframe, the catering and the beverage service started at the right moment and the host and the guests seemed to be very satisfied with the arrangement of the event. I just coordinated some of the not so experienced service staff and advised them which table to serve or clean but all in all it was an ordinary reception.
Suddenly one of the guests started a conversation with me: “Ah, you work in Protocol? That is a very rewarding profession because you always have the chance to eat and drink for free! Your spouse must be a very lucky woman – she never has to cook for you and you can always take the food – like these delicious canapés – home!” I was completely consternated and initially I laughed as I considered this statement as a joke. But it was not a gag at all!
The bitter truth is, that this is obviously the perception some people have on Protocol work and after I retreated myself politely from this horrible conversation I remembered a couple of similar situations we find quite often in Protocol: One time I observed during a reception a couple packing dozens of canapés from the buffet directly into their leather handbag. Another time I recognized a man, who didn’t let a single waitress pass without taking at minimum two petit fours of her tablet although the table he stood at was already packed with snacks and sweets. Sometimes people are quite intoxicated but do not want to stop drinking because it’s for free. Pay attention: you will find some “specialists in buffets” on every single event on which they expect to get some food and drink for free. Many times I attended receptions and I realized that many guests are quite desperately waiting for the releasing words “the buffet is open!” to start their struggle for the best and pieces.
Personally I consider this specific or a similar guest behavior disgusting and avoidable because nobody who is invited to a reception needs to use his elbows to get to the buffet or even falls into panic because fearing one does not get enough to eat and drink. Unfortunately due to such a greedy behavior of some guests, every host has to order on a double per-capita quota because he does not want to face the shame to run out of food. I think that today a main problem is not that one leaves the party hungry – the problem which occurs is that too much food is ordered and has to be thrown away.
Luckily I already recognized a new philosophy in our sector: Not only because of the economic crisis we should be very sensitive on spending public money and avoid ordering exaggerated catering. Even in the PR sector I see that private companies prefer to save the costs of a luxury event catering. We should as well take some international conferences of international organizations as an example: Frequently I realize that during these conferences only coffee, tea and water is provided. This is sometimes absolutely sufficient and does very seldom provoke greed. Can anybody tell me why?
*About the author
Thomas Sladko is the Deputy Chief of Protocol at the Federal Chancellery of Austria and ISPD lecturer.