Craft Service and Catering…is a Big Deal

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Ashleigh NicholsRecently, I was on a set that had a lot of volunteers. They were there to donate their time and to get experience. They were legitimate volunteers, who were friends of the location owners who were coming in for a few hours to help out. The production team ordered a nice lunch with lots of options and had a very nice set up for cast, crew and volunteers alike. The one hitch is that several of the volunteers were vegan and everything that had been ordered had meat or dairy in it. The volunteers were not upset. As someone who is not vegan, I assume this kind of mix up happens a lot, but I felt bad and wished we had done more to find out about the dietary needs of the volunteers who were giving their time to help our production.

I know that costs can start to add up when you are trying to accommodate food requests for cast and crew, but I urge you to do so. No matter what you are paying someone, Union rates, above union rates, low-pay, no pay, food is a big deal. One of the things I have learned over the years working on various projects of very varying budget sizes… sometimes all it takes to keep a crew happy is food. Sometimes the hours are terrible, and the weather is harsh and then you take a coffee order for the crew. Just like magic, people are in better moods and morale is boosted!

Now I know this is generalizing, but I swear I have seen a huge difference on sets where the craft service table had just a few Red Vines and some chips versus a craft service table that had lots of options, healthy and of course not so healthy. Bringing out a fruit platter or a veggie tray later in the afternoon makes your team feel taken care of. I know…I know it is just food, but I cannot tell you how many hours of my career as a Producer, Production Manager, Director have been spent talking about food. Too many! Food is a big deal.

Several years ago when I was coming up through the production ranks, I worked in

one hour dramatic television. The crew was over one hundred people, we had A-list talent on the show, two stages, several offices at the WB lot and every meal was catered. I felt like I had entered the most glamorous job…I had found my place. But…as well paid as the crew was, we had some issues with food. At many of the big studios you have to use their choice of caterers and so after several months of eating the same meals by the same people…you get tired of meals. I know… where are the real problems like people not being paid for their work, but food is important no matter how nice your hours are or how well you are treated and paid. At WB, you are not supposed to bring in food trucks. So if you want to bring in outside food, you have to be tricky. We needed to boost morale…so we had to think outside the box.

We found food vendors who could work outside of trucks. We found vendors who could do an awesome treat such as ice cream sandwiches from a small table set up on a stage. We had the craft service person start to really up their purchases and get some cool foods for the table. Now this was not an everyday thing, it was a treat for the team.

On some of my projects, (the ones I produce myself with money from my own pocket) I will bake things. I love to bake and pride myself in it so I try to make really cool things for everyone involved in the project. Again, this is not an all the time thing…usually the stress of producing, writing, directing, casting and everything else that comes with doing my own projects does not allow me a lot of baking time. I try to work it in when I can!

On another show that I Production Managed, I found out the Graphic Designer loved Arizona Teas. These are $.99 at most convenient stores and they come in a giant can. My Graphic Designer worked hard, he never complained and he was just a nice guy. When I learned of his Arizona Tea love, I sent a PA to the store around the corner, walk-able from our offices to go buy him a couple of these. I continued to surprise him with a can every now and again and I cannot tell you how happy it made him. For less then one dollar, I have Graphic Designer I can hire for my career.

At a company I work for now, we host regular company BBQ’s as a way for everyone to come together and chat about life, but it also serves as a way to talk about work in a fun setting. In our office, we have one staff member who is a vegetarian. My team makes sure that at each BBQ we have a nice tofu option or something interesting as this employee’s main protein option. We want to make sure no one is left out of our BBQ fun.

It’s important to really think about food when you are running a production whether its dietary needs or making sure there is enough quality food to feed everyone. It boosts morale, which is known to boost productivity, but it’s also just a nice thing to do for the people who work so hard to make your project the best that it can be.

Ashleigh Nichols

About Ashleigh Nichols

Ashleigh Nichols resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Eddie, and their Chihuahua mix, Nova. Together they work on their own projects as a wife-husband directing/producing/writing team. Through Owlet Pictures, they created the web series Coffee Shop Squatters, and the award winning short film Summer of the Zombies. Ashleigh is also working on a dramatic feature and creating a new web series, set to shoot later this year. While not working on her own projects, Ashleigh is currently an in house Production Manager at Ampersand Media. Before going in house she Production Managed several shows/Pilots for Comedy Central, HBO Go and Vh1, some of these include: The Jeselnik Offensive, The Burn, The Ben Show, Brody Stevens: Enjoy It! and Parental Discretion S2. Ashleigh is also honored to have Co-Produced the indie film The Historian, currently touring on the festival circuit.