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Big Meal on Campus

THE CITY OF Chicago pulled off a big achievement last year. And it celebrated with a big feast.

The megameal commemorated completion of a city plan to develop its "museum campus," a massive construction project linking two museums, a planetarium and an aquarium. The campus' opening gala was the biggest seated dinner event under one tent in the city's history, according to Michael Barnes, marketing manager for Chicago-based caterer Blue Plate.

The production team erected three reception tents, one 30,000-square-foot dinner tent and five kitchen tents.

Careful planning was key. "We looked at all the problems we might have and made sure that for every scenario that might go wrong, there was a backup plan," Barnes says. "We wanted to make sure we were in charge of the event, rather than the event taking charge of us."

To offer the five-star service requested by the gala committee, Blue Plate mustered a service team of more than 360 staffers. Blue Plate divided the dinner tent into four service sections, each under the command of a head butler backed by four captains and 50 waiters. The butlers were in contact via headsets with Chicago-based event producer Jam Productions. The event coordinators were in constant contact with the operations manager, chefs and other vendors. The service was so finely coordinated that the 2,000 guests were served each course simultaneously.

Teamwork was vital. "We made sure our key people were in charge of staffers we had to get from other sources," explains Barnes. Rather than being surprised the night of the dinner, "once the tent was erected, we had a run-through."

All the planning paid off. Jokes Barnes: "The Bulls played for the NBA championship that night, so it was good we had huge-screen TVs in the tent. Otherwise, it might not have been the biggest tented dinner in Chicago after all."

Blue Plate Catering

1061 W. Van Buren

Chicago, IL 60607 312/421-6666

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