Catering the bar mitzva weekend

We catered the entire bar mitzva weekend ourselves – this meant cooking for three meals, plus the kiddush.  Friday night we had 25 people, for the kiddush there were around 200 (lots of kids!), for the main bar mitzva meal we had about 80, and for shalosh seudos (the third Sabbath meal), we had under 25.

This was definitely more work than hiring someone but: 1) in Karmiel there are no caterers so arranging catering from another city would have been complicated, and 2) we catered the kiddush for our last bar mitzva 5.5 years ago because it was a very busy time in our lives, and were extremely disappointed with the quantity, setup, and service.

I’ll backtrack for a minute and share with you that scenario – ten minutes before everyone entered the social hall, I came in and was horrified – a couple of other adults who saw it were also shocked – there had been just one table set up for men and women in the entire hall.  Never, ever were receptions were set up in this way, and they had sent enough food for just one table!  I had to ask that everything be rearranged at the last minute (the people who came down early immediately told the catering staff how it was supposed to be and started moving table around).

The young man who had been left in charge was very belligerent and unhelpful (the caterer had three events that weekend and wasn’t there), insisting it was all done just as it should have been.  I had to have my kids run home with a baby stroller and bring back lots of food that I had for our main meal after the kiddush  – kugels, salad, and big bags of cherries – to  compensate for the caterer bringing enough for only half of the number we had paid for.  I told the person in charge that I realized a mistake had been made, and asked him to put out the stuff we brought so the tables wouldn’t look empty.  The worker was very upset at us – I think he was new to the job and insecure about it, and he didn’t want this to reflect badly on him – and though we thanked him repeatedly for his work and told him mistakes happen, we knew it wasn’t his fault – it was very, very stressful and unpleasant.

After the kiddush we took back whatever was left – the things we brought in addition to a small amount of cake and kugel the caterer had provided (which we ended up throwing away in a dumpster because it was so dry and unappetizing).  When I spoke to the caterer after Shabbos, I was told that his worker claimed there was plenty of food (yes, because I brought so much!) and the proof was that there was food left over that I took home.  I explained that I took back the food I had brought since I needed it for our meal following the kiddush, and there was only a small pan of the other things left that wasn’t what we had brought that I took back, but the clear implication was that I was lying.  So no apology, no compensation – just accusations at me.

This was really upsetting to me because I was being treated like a manipulative liar, when I had been extremely reasonable about the entire situation, and really thought that there had been a mistake and the caterer would be embarrassed about this huge bungle.  When I delegate something like this, I accept that if I’m not doing it, it’s going to be however it is – and as long as it falls into the range of acceptable, I don’t nitpick and I don’t micromanage – I trust whoever’s in charge to take care of things.   He was more concerned about covering his ego and wouldn’t admit anything had been done wrong.   The irony is that my husband had no idea of all that was going on behind the scenes of the setup – there was no time to tell him – and thanked the caterer publicly earlier that morning when he spoke, for the amazing kiddush that was so much nicer than we had expected!  So our kiddush ended up being a feather in the cap for the caterer, and only a handful of people who saw things at the beginning knew that it was because I had worked hard in a very short amount of time to salvage what would have been a disaster.

I had people who told me right away that morning they’d back up what they saw if necessary when I spoke to the caterer (it was really bad), and could have made a big deal about this and insist on having part of the money paid refunded, but I just wanted to wash my hands of having to deal with the entire situation; we had paid in cash in advance so there was no leverage, and we would have had to fight for it.  So in short, we paid a lot of money for the privilege of having all of it ‘taken care of for us’.

I wanted something different this time!  By cooking and baking everything ourselves, it allowed us to have a variety and abundance of foods that we would have had to pay a lot to have had.  Also, most caterers here seem to have the same basic menu, which is a lot of carbs that are all the same color (beige/brown/white), and I like when food on the table is visually appealing.

We did the baking for the kiddush the week before, mostly, and froze the cakes.The cooking was done entirely from Weds. evening through Friday morning.  It may sound like a marathon but it really wasn’t – dd15 kept saying she felt like there should be more to do than there was.

For the bar mitzva kiddush (reception), we were told the norm here is cakes, drinks, fish (eg pickled herring), yerushalmi kugel, and sometimes crackers, dips, fruits and vegetables.  Initially I considered this, but didn’t really like the idea since it  made things more complicated with set up and clean up.  I also feel like people are going home to a full Shabbos lunch, and I don’t need to provide a full meal for all of them before that.  So I decided that I didn’t have to do that just because everyone else did, and would instead have just cakes and drinks.

(Below, ds4 helping spread filling for a the layer cake.)







Bar mitzva kiddush:

  • chocolate layer cake
  • 6 layer strawberry cake
  • orange marmalade layer cake
  • oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
  • chocolate dipped shortbread cookies
  • chocolate chip loaf
  • chocolate chip pie
  • lemon pound cake
  • checkerboard cake
  • raspberry squares
  • fudge crinkles
  • chocolate cake
  • carrot cake
  • coconut snowballs
  • chocolate balls
  • marble cake
  • cinnamon blondies
  • peanut butter balls
A couple of people sent over yummy treats to put out, fancy looking concoctions that added a nice look to the dessert platters we put out, but I don’t know what they’re called.  We took everything over to the hall before Shabbos, and set up for the kiddush late Friday night, including arranging all the platters.  This was done by dd15, dd17, ds18, two 19 yo male guests, one 18yo female guest, dd11, and me.  They all did a great job making the platters look fabulous.  We covered the platters and put them on the tables, and the next morning we just had to uncover them when we got back from morning services.  Very low pressure.
I heard yesterday from three different people how nice the kiddush was, and how impressive the many kinds of cake were – each of them had been told about it by several other people!  That was very nice to hear, but we all felt good about how it went even before this – the tables looked nice and we had plenty for everyone.

200 challah rolls waiting to be baked

Bar mitzva meal:

First course –

  • homemade challah rolls
  • guacamole
  • hummus
  • Mediteranean chickpea salad
  • tomato onion salad
  • sweet carrot salad
  • coleslaw
  • cucumber salad
  • cauliflower salad
  • sweet-sour pepper salad with sesame seeds, almonds, craisins
  • savory carrot salad

Main course –

  • cholent (bean barley stew)
  • chicken
  • yerushalmi kugel (made by a friend)
  • sweet noodle kugel (made by a friend)
  • potato kugel
  • kishke (baked stuffing)

Dessert –

  • choice of lemon or strawberry pudding layer cake

We had the main meal in the same place as the kiddush, so we had to clear up from the kiddush before we could set up for the meal.  When we got there from morning services, we had an hour before the kiddush began, and I used that time to begin cutting up the kugels and warming them up.  A couple who came from Efrat for the bar mitzva came in to the kitchen to help, and cut up all the chicken, which was a big job.

After the kiddush, ds18 and three nineteen year old guests moved all the tables and chairs into place for the meal.  Initially I had planned to set up the food buffet style, but realized that though it sounded easier, it would end up much more chaotic.    So I decided to serve family style, which is what I do at home – I don’t like plating meals since I prefer for people to take the amount they want, of what they want.

Some younger guests who were around offered to help set the tables (their families were there for the kiddush and stayed for the meal) – I had so much help that I had to work hard to keep up with them all!  While the tables were being set up, I was preparing dishes of salad for each table, so that they could be put on the table before everyone sat down to eat.

For the main course, I put out the kugels on the platters while everyone was still eating the first course – I could have asked someone to come in and help, but particularly my older girls and our 18yo guest had done so much that I really didn’t want to ask them to do more.  They’re also entitled to enjoy the simcha!  This was a big change from the hectic help of before the meal, when I had at least eight girls between the ages of 6 – 12 who kept coming in and asking for things to do, in addition to the help of the older girls.  I kind of enjoyed the quiet; it wasn’t pressured at all.  While I was setting up these platters, the older girls came in to the kitchen and began taking platters out to the tables.

Once I sat down to enjoy the main course, I didn’t get back up again.  I let other people clear the serving platters and bring out individual plates of pudding cake, while I chatted with dear friends who came from Raanana.  I stayed there chatting for a couple of hours, and didn’t do anymore food prep until it was time for shalosh seudos.

At that point, we rearranged the tables and chairs – again! – and set up for an informal shalosh seudos – rather than individual place settings, I set up buffet style – a pile of plates, napkins, cups, a basket of challah rolls, and then large serving bowls of salads and platters of kugel (planned leftovers from the main lunch meal).  People began eating whenever they got there.

Then there was the final cleanup after Shabbos.  All in all, it was a lot of work, but it didn’t feel tense or overwhelming at any time.  And we were able to spend a lot less while getting a lot more.

How much did all of this cost?  Dh took out 1200 shekels from the ATM and that went towards food and miscellaneous bar mitzva costs that came up (in addition to using some of our regular food budget money) but I don’t have any idea how it breaks down – honestly, it seems to me like it was too much.  With all that was going on, we didn’t track the specific breakdown like we usually did.  We spent an additional 400 shekels on paper goods.  And the hall rental was 1100 shekels.

When figuring the total spent, I’m not taking into account that we have enough leftover chicken for another three or four Shabbosim, or any other leftovers that we’ll use at a different time (eg papergoods).  Without working out the actual cost of what we used only for the bar mitva itself, we spent a total of 2700 shekels for the hall rental and catering for the entire weekend – at today’s exchange rate, this is  equivalent to $715.

Considering that for our last bar mitzva over five years ago, we spent $1200 on catering for just the kiddush itself (and I already said how woefully inadequate the caterer’s provisions and set up were), we’re quite pleased that we were able to have the kind of event that we wanted without any compromises, while staying within a frugal budget!


2 thoughts on “Catering the bar mitzva weekend

  1. We’re making a bar mitzvah in August and doing the catering ourselves. I’d love to see some of the cake recipes…especially the strawberry pudding one!

    Mazal tov, Aviva! May you have only nachas from all of your children…

  2. Avivah, I continue to be totally AMAZED at what you are able to accomplish. You are really something!

    And, I congratulate you on the success of this undertaking.

    Would LOVE it if you made the recipes available..they all sound scrumptious!

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