How To Run A Feast Without Hurting Yourself And/Or Getting Executed For Treason

Update by Ceara Shionnach, May 2012:

The event form (download from the link below) and proposed budget (see instructions in the text below) should be submitted to the Seneschal for approval. The Seneschal can be contacted from the contacts page (link in the menu bar on the right). The event is not official until it is signed by the Seneschal, and then submitted to Pegasus (the Kingdom of Lochac’s monthly newsletter – see Advertising in Pegasus).

At the end of your event, please provide the Seneschal and Reeve with a completed event finance worksheet (download from the link below).

Also, links to potential venues in Politarchopolis for your event can be seen in the link below. If you know of another venue you would like added to this list, please email the Seneschal with the details so it can be added to the sheet.

You will also be required to submit all receipts (expenses coming in through attendance and expenses going out, including items such as hall hire and food) with the event finance worksheet.

Event Form

Event Finance Worksheet

Potential Event Venues 

If in doubt, please talk to the Seneschal, the Reeve or the Baron and Baroness.

-Politarchopolis Seneschal

by Karl Faustus von Aachen of the Lionheart Company:

So you want to run an SCA feast, eh? I’ve been doing that for a while, on and off, and recently I had a bit of a go starting up a Company within the SCA to run events more regularly. Right now the Company has been a bit quiet, since I’ve been distracted by other stuff and not really focused on anachronistic pursuits, but I just got asked how you go about it all, so I figure I’ll put down what I know and go from there.

There are a bunch of things to consider, but if you’re just planning a plain catered feast with nothing too unusual — which is the best idea, at least for your first one — then it becomes reasonably simple. Here’s my list of instructions.

First

First, decide on a date. Check Pegasus (the Lochac newsletter) and your local newsletter for clashes. Make sure there’s nothing on locally; in Politarchopolis (Canberra), that means checking against the nearby groups:

  • Torlyon (Yass);
  • Bordescros (Albury);
  • Adora (Wollongong);
  • Agaricus (South Sydney);
  • Stowe-on-the-Wowlde (West Sydney);
  • Rowany (Sydney)
  • possibly Mordenvale (Newcastle);
  • and the local Colleges (University SCA groups).

Local colleges are listed under their host groups’ headings in the back of every Pegasus — although, practically speaking, if a group’s college is holding an event, the group’s seneschal will tell you about it when you ask about the group’s own events. You won’t find a perfect date, so be prepared to weigh pros and cons; for example, a feast in Mordenvale is no big thing to clash with, since wayfaring 600-odd kilometres is a rare thing; but Rowany Yule is one of the two big Rowanite events, and people will want to go to that, so it’s one date to steer around.

Remember that no event can be run at the same time as a Kingdom Coronation or Crown Tourney: that’s effectively four weekends a year that are verboten for scheduling. If all else fails, you can request permission from the King and Queen to conflict.

Now, choose a venue. You need to take into account location, price, size of the kitchen and other former stewards’ experiences. For example, avoid the mumble mumble Club Hall because they keep accusing us of damaging their pool table so they don’t have to give the bond back; avoid the mumble mumble Community Centre because their kitchen is the size of a shoebox; and so on. Ask around the local group for advice on this.

Then, assemble a team. If you’re like me, cooking is a dark art best left to those who can locate the business end of a turnip without a map; so you need a Head Cook. The Head Cook will need, at minimum, a couple of kitchen hands. You will also want a couple of people to help with setting up and more, different people, to help with tearing down at the end of the night. Finally, you’ll want a couple of doorkeepers to take money at the door.

At Least Two Months Before

At least two months before, you should prepare a budget, which basically looks like this:

Name of Event
Date of Event
Venue

Expenses:
Venue Deposit (refundable)
Venue Hire (non-refundable)
Food (per head)

Income:
Ticket Price – members
Ticket Price – non-members

Calculate your break-even point, thus:

P = H ÷ (T – F – K)

where:

P = the number of people you need to break even
H = the venue hire fee (the non-refundable part)
T = the ticket price for a member
F = the cost of food for one person
K = the Kingdom levy, $1 per person

In other words, the number of people you need to break even is your fixed costs divided by the total profit per person. Your fixed costs are usually just the venue hire fee; your profit per person is your ticket price less the cost of food and the Kingdom levy. Calculate that and you’ll know the minimum number of people you need to entice along to avoid making a truly stupid loss.

The Kingdom levy of $1 per person doesn’t actually get paid on a feast-by-feast basis; instead, the barony pays a lump sum to save having to do lots of extra calculations for every event. But it’s sensible to factor it in anyway, since it has to come from somewhere.

Generally, 30 people is a reasonable number for a feast. If your break-even number is less than that, your tickets are probably too expensive and you should lower the price. If the break even is much more than fifty or sixty, you’ll need to do some serious advertising to get that many people through the door, so you should aim instead to reduce your costs, generally by cutting the amount you spend on food, or else increase your ticket prices slightly. Discuss this with the Seneschal if you’re not sure how to make the numbers work.

Talk to the Reeve to make sure you’re not doing something impossible, like budgeting two dollars a head for a six-course dinner and holding it in the Great Hall of Parliament House at a cost of ten thousand dollars for the night. Also, sort out the details of your booking policy and how you’ll be tracking the financial side of things. Your best bet is to stick to the Baronial Bookings Policy, which has the twin advantages of simplicity and familiarity.

Present your figures to the Baronial Meeting (in Polit, it’s the last Wednesday of the month, most months). All being kosher, they’ll give their blessing and you’re set to go.

Book the venue and pay the deposit. The Reeve will give you a cheque for this at the baronial meeting, if you’re prepared and ask in advance so the baronial chequebook is available.

Give details to the Chronicler, for the local newsletter. Give details to the Hierophant, for the website. In both cases, include all the relevant details: the venue, dates, ticket prices, steward and booking contact details (email and phone) and a short, plain-English description of the event. Plain English is important! If you find yourself starting the description with “Good Gentles All!” or referring to it as a “missive”, go have a drink and a lie down and try again later.

Fill in an Event Form from a recent Pegasus, have it signed by the local seneschal, and send it off to Pegasus. As a courtesy, also email all details to the Pegasus chronicler, CCing the seneschal so it can all be published.

Note: Pegasus deadline for any month’s issue is the tenth of the preceding month; so getting all this done two months in advance gives you ads in two issues of Pegasus and the local newsletter, which is what you want. There’s no point giving it more time than that; no one will remember.

If you’re planning or hoping for people to come from other groups (“wayfarers”), advertise on the Lochac Announce mailing list three times: as soon as you have the venue and price set, again about a month before the event, and again three days before the bookings cutoff date. This is the right balance to keep people informed without swamping them with reminders.

Buy a receipt book from a newsagent. They’re cheap, and it’s easier for everyone if you keep accounts separate, rather than having multiple events in the one book. Some people, even Reeves, prefer to use the one receipt book for every event, just ripping out the pages when they’re done. This makes my accountancy genes quiver in horror! A receipt book is a couple of bucks; a reputation for defrauding a barony of thousands of dollars because you lost track of the money — that’s worth much more.

Attend local events, including fighter practices, and begin taking bookings. Tell people about the bookings policy and let them know they can book without paying — say by phone or email — but if they don’t cancel in time and then don’t show up, you reserve the right to ask them to pay, if you need the money to break even.

At Least A Month Before

Get a cheque for food: work it out at Price Per Head multiplied by a reasonable guess at likely attendance figures. Assume three times the number who’ve booked by this time, or 40, or some number that you and the Reeve agree on. Give the cheque to your Head Cook (this would be a good time to find out their mundane name, since most banks won’t cash cheques to “Lord Ethelred the Loquacious”). Most food will be bought a day or so before, but if your cook has the opportunity to shop around for non-perishable specials well in advance, it’s no bad thing.

Contact local officers and make sure they or their deputies will be at the event. Generally you need the constable, the chirurgeon and the herald, or their proxies. If the B&B are planning to run court, or the royalty are coming along, you need to make sure the herald is well in the loop.

Keep the Head Cook informed of numbers. Bookings are tricky beasts; sometimes everyone books, sometimes no one does. Ask other stewards for advice, and be prepared to hold your nose and wing it. Most Lochacian branches have enough money that they can afford the occasional loss, but that’s no excuse to go in blindly and stuff up badly. You’ll only go wrong if you lose track of the details, so Don’t Do That Then.

Advertise online on the local and Lochacian mailing lists. Remember to mention the date and the (mundane) location!

The Week Before

Close bookings. Let people know they can still book, but their tickets will be non-refundable, and they may not get fed if there’s a sudden run on places. Give the Head Cook the final (ha!) numbers… and then update them daily as people call in at the last minute saying “what, was that this weekend?”.

Ensure the Head Cook has enough money and help. Liaise with the reeve for the former and your friends and household for the latter. The barony cares more about having a fun time than about everything going precisely as planned, so be flexible and it will work out.

Remind the Head Cook to keep all receipts. You need to make the numbers balance. If there are any missing, you need a record of what was spent, where and why; no need to notarise or sign Stat Decs, but try to be accurate at least.

On The Day

Get there early and set up with plenty of time. If any of your team don’t show up, hunt them down and kill themcall in friends and household members to help out. Setup always takes longer than you expect.

Be sure your doorkeepers have everything they need. That means:

  • A lockable cashbox, with a key.
  • All the receipt books.
  • The complete list of prices and all the various exceptions for College members, families, children and so on.
  • Several biros to write with: not felt pens because felt pens run badly when drinks get spilled, and they don’t carry through the carbon paper in receipt books.
  • A list of everyone who’s booked, arranged by mundane surname because that’s the part that’s least likely to get messed up or forgotten.
  • Any waivers and sign-in forms provided by the constable, if they agree to look after that aspect as well — remember, officially it’s the constable’s job to get waivers signed, and the stewarding team’s job to take money, so the two jobs should be done by a single person only with the agreement of all parties: don’t assume!

Everyone should be given a receipt, and it should include the payer’s name, the date, how many members and non-members the payment is for, and the total amount.

If anyone writes a cheque, get them to put their phone number on the back. This is so that, if the financials take a bit longer than expected and the steward (that’s you) doesn’t deposit the cheques the very next Monday morning, then nobody needs to be surprised by sudden bank fees.

Also, you need two doorkeepers, not one. Why? Because otherwise there will come a time when punters are queuing impatiently at the door while your one-and-only troll sits in the dunny with the cashbox balanced on her lap… and that’s not a good look.

DON’T LEAVE SITE! If you need something, delegate someone else to get it. A feast is a symphony, and you’re the conductor; if the wind section doesn’t know which direction to look to find you, they’ll probably start twiddling off on their own and playing Wagner, and that’s never a good thing.

Keep note of who’s helping; it’s useful for your report.

On that topic, children make good servers, past the age of eight or so, and they’re usually the ones hanging around with nothing to do, so make use of them.

Get some bread out on the table early. Bread is a good cheap way to take the edge of everyone’s hunger, so they don’t storm the kitchens when the first course is five minutes late. It also helps soothe fractious and fussy kids (except the gluten-intolerent ones) and guarantees that they get something to eat at least.

In general, actually running the event is the easy part. Make sure the door is manned and the money is being looked after; listen to people’s comments, especially about the food, and make sure the Head Cook is getting enough support so that people get fed before they start to flake. Balance the Tin Hats’ “requests” with some sense of reality, and don’t just do as you’re told all the time — that way lies chaos.

Finally, when the event is over, hand over to your take-down team, make sure the place is tidier than when you arrived, and be there to turn out the lights and lock the doors. Then go home and collapse for twelve hours.

Afterwards

Don’t leave the reporting too late. You will forget something! The next morning is ideal. I have run feasts at which I presented the Reeve with the final financial reports during the feast, because I had a laptop and a printer with me, but I’m a known showoff and you don’t need to emulate that. Although the look on Adair’s face made it all worthwhile…

Deposit all cheques immediately! Any cheque that has been sitting in your cashbox for more than a week should be considered suspect, because our populace are not all millionaires and unpresented cheques have a habit of bouncing if they’re forgotten about. Your doorkeepers, if they followed the advice above, will have written phone numbers on the back of each cheque; use them if necessary to confirm that the money’s still in the account if you’re late depositing them. Or better still, don’t be late depositing them.

Get the deposit back from the venue and make sure everything was tidied up to their satisfaction.

Present all receipts, receipt books, takings and sundry other financial details to the reeve, along with a financial report explaining everything you spent (expenses), all money you took in (income) and the precise difference between the two totals (profit or loss). Remember to count the venue deposit twice — once as an expense when you paid it, and once as income when you get it back.

Present a Feast Steward’s Report to the seneschal, the B&B and the reeve: include the basic stats (members/non-members attending, income, expenditure, budget-vs-actual figures) all in summary, and talk about what went right or wrong, what you learned that might be of interest to future stewards, and so on. If you want, you can probably get copies of past reports from the seneschal so you can see what you should say, although I’ve never bothered.

Oh, and don’t forget to thank everyone who helped.

And that’s about it. Follow these instructions and I’m reasonably sure you won’t hurt yourself or get executed for treason. In fact, if you do get executed for treason as a result of following these instructions, I will personally apologise to your next of kin upon receipt of a death certificate. You can’t get a better offer than that!

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