Yes, I’m new to the supper club scene but it has been a baptism of fire. I’ve picked up a few tips along the way that will help anyone thinking of turning their living room into a restaurant.1. There is no such thing as a ‘soft launch’ when it comes to supper clubs.
I had nice ideas about trying out my menu on friends before announcing to the world that I was starting a restaurant in my living room. So I tootled off an email to a few close friends thinking that they would jump at the chance to pay to eat at my home. How naive. These people had been getting the good stuff for free and now I was changing the rules of engagement. A few of the old reliables agreed to come along, but not twelve. I was way off twelve people. So, I set up some profiles on social networking sites and announced my dates. Off into the ether they went. Within hours both events were fully booked with high profile chefs, food writers and people about town jostling to have a seat at the table, I realised that this was no hobby. I had to smarten up and get serious.2. Ensure your significant other is on board.
My husband has accurately described our relationship as the irresistible paradox in action; I, the unstoppable force, he, the immovable object. When I get an idea I make it happen,immediately. He, well, he likes a bit of thinking time. Present him with a new idea and his initial response will be ‘no’. We have to work backwards from there. Within hours of deciding to start a supper club I was on Ebay bidding on utility china to supplement the dinnerware that my granny had passed on to me. I won a few bids here and there; 99p on six salad plates, £3.50 on some cups and saucers and on it went over the course of a week. Then one morning I awoke to be greeted by my husband in the hallway with a face like thunder and seven large cardboard boxes piled high by the front door. Everything had arrived at once, no opportunities to sneak the odd new plate into my ever growing collection. There it was, the cold hard evidence of a bank account massacre. It took days for him to be convinced that I hadn’t spent our meagre funds on some ‘crazy dinner party for strangers’.3. Keep a tight reign on your budget.
I’ve never needed much of an excuse to shop (see point 2). Putting together a menu for strangers is thrilling. You want to impress them. You want to use the opportunity to try out recipes that would be lost on family members. So hibiscus flowers in syrup, micro herbs and gold leaf suddenly appear on your shopping list. These costs add up at a phenomenal rate. Keeping receipts and costing each course is very revealing. You will find pig’s cheeks are in and edible flowers are out, unless you want to bankrupt yourself and prove significant other is right in the process. And we can’t have that. 4. Train your waiting staff well.
My first event was a family friendly, classic Sunday roast. I painstakingly cooked a fore rib of beef at 60 degrees for 20 hours. I took the utmost care in choosing the accompaniments. On the day, my 6 year old daughter was desperate to be a waitress. Anticipating food slipping off plates and into laps, I would only allow her carry small bowls of horseradish and creme fraiche to the tables. Without my knowledge, she confidently marched up to each of the tables announcing the arrival of the hummous. The confused guests gave the bowl of ‘hummous’ a wide berth. It was only at the end of the meal when one brave soul, after a glass or two of wine, had a little taste. Ahh, it’s horseradish. I narrowly avoided a humiliating ‘hummous and roast beef shocker’ being released into the twittersphere to haunt me forever more.5. Do not compare yourself to others.
I love food. Good honest food. I’ve always opted for British and French classics when entertaining. I believe above all else, food should be seasonal, organic and locally produced. For some reason, two weeks before my first event I got myself worked up into a frenzy about ‘plating up’, spumes, drizzles and so on. I worried about my lack of desire to build towers of food, precariously balanced on square plates with squirts of this and smears of that. I spent hours on supper club websites carrying out forensic examinations of photographs of food. Then, I had a moment of clarity. It is all about me; my home, my cooking, my personality. I relaxed. The wonderful guests at my first event confirmed this. When I joined them for a glass of wine at the end of the meal they had many reasons for attending. They wanted good food, of course, but mostly it was the sheer thrill of being in a stranger’s home, and the opportunity to share a table and food with new people. And that is what a supper club is all about.