Recital Food and Other Preparations

I consider a recital an "appreciation party" for my "clients." I don't cut corners very much, so I guess you could call my recital table lavish. I also think it's important to keep in mind what sorts of foods will please my guests. I make all of my own food (except things like crackers, of course!) because I want to make it a personal event. Despite pulling out all the stops, however, as a pragmatist I don't want to waste food and want to keep the clean-up mess to a minimum, so I serve the kinds and amounts of foods that I think will give me the best combination of all these factors.

My advice, which may not fit -your- entertaining style, is that you don't want to scrimp and appear stingy, but you don't want buy way more food than you need or purchase fancy, exotic stuff that won't be eaten - - or from which one bite will be taken and the rest put in the trash - - or that encourages extensive clean-up.

With that philosophy in mind, here we go!

General Planning


Make a list of what you buy and the things you serve (for example, "5 pounds of carrots").

If it's something that I want to limit to reasonable amount, such as Gummi Worms, I specify the total number of bags I buy and how many I allot to each recital ("16 bags of Gummi Worms, 8 per recital").

After the recital, write down what "moved" and what didn't so you can adjust next year. Also note the number of people at each recital so you'll have an idea of how much served how many. Note changes for the next year ("in 2006: only 3 pounds of carrots"). After a year or so, your "eye" will know fairly precisely what and how much of what your families like to eat.

Table Service

Have extra plates, cups, and napkins, of course. Especially napkins! Usually people are good about using the same plate for seconds, but you will have some who are fastidious (or clueless!).

If you don't open the package, you can return the extra stuff to the store if you want. Naturally, you will have held your receipt for tax purposes, so there's no problem with proving you made the purchase at that particular store!

Place open packages of plates/napkins/cups in sealed bags and store until following year, when you might be able to find the same "pattern" - - hah! not likely! If you can't find the same pattern, use a different design. In year three, choose a third. In all subsequent years, it will look as if you meant to have an "eclectic" table!

Stick to all-white napkins. They unify the table, especially when you have several patterns.

For Halloween or other theme-recitals, look for marked-down cups/plates/napkins after the holiday. Good places include the grocery store, discount store, party goods store, and dollar/closeout store. Don't forget solid colors, such as black, orange, green, and purple - - all of which are considered Halloween colors these days. Gray works, too, but it's pretty ugly. Try to avoid white, if you can! Kinda boring.

I use a punch bowl because I have one - - I also found a nifty Halloween punch bowl with a "skull ladle." Pretty cool! - - but serving from a pitcher is fine and probably less messy. If you have a punch bowl, don't forget you'll need a ladle. If you don't have one, check the houseware utensil section of places like Target and Wal-Mart. Party stores often have plastic ones.

Table Setting

How the table looks is important, but how well it functions is even more so.



I use a floral centerpiece because I like flowers, but a centerpiece is not required! Nor, if you opt for a centerpiece, must one be made of flowers.

More about table decorations:

Food Overview

Most important guideline is to serve nothing weird!

Some general statements about food planning:

Some specifics from my own menu:


You must have something for people to drink. Specific advice:

Printed Programs

Printed programs are always better, I feel, than having the teacher announce the names of the pieces (or having the student do it - - they usually feel very self-conscious and would rather not). Having printed programs also means there's a keepsake for the student and something to mail to Grandma.

I print two per student (four if two students study, for example) and add 10% to the total, just for insurance.

Stay away from a bevy of fonts. Just because you can doesn't mean you should! Choose one fancy font for Studio Recital, your name, and date. Use good old Times Roman for the body of the program. Choose the fancy font with care, however. Stay away from those that look like old-fashioned handwriting with lots of curlecues. You want your guests to be able to read the program rather than shaking their heads in puzzlement over what's written.


You probably will need help. In particular, to help you set the table and arrange food, keep an eye on the plates and platters, refill the punch bowl, and clean up.

If you don't have a family member to help you, enlist a good friend. "Pay" this person with a lunch out or some other thing or activity you know will be welcome, as it's unlikely your friend will accept money. Make it clear from the beginning that you want to take her to lunch/whatever later in exchange for her help. Even if she says she doesn't need any "pay," give her something anyway, such as flowers or a potted plant.

If you prefer, hire someone. (This is what I do when family isn't around to help.) It's a tidy arrangement, and there will be no ruffled feathers when you state you want something done "this way, not that way."

A good place to start looking for hired help is with the foods teachers at your local high schools. Also try high schools which offer specialized foods training. My town has special courses of study for areas such as cooking, auto mechanics, and so on. The coursework in these programs is geared toward immediate, post-graduation employment in that field, and the curriculum is tailored to that end.

More experienced serving help can be found at junior colleges with specialized culinary certificate programs that lead to hospitality industry employment. These people have training in table presentation and other things that will help your table look wonderful and table service flowing smoothly.

If you live near an exclusive institute that is only for high-level culinary study (master chef preparation), lucky you. But rich you because these people won't come cheap! On the other hand, they can help you with actually making food, as well as watching the table and arranging plates and platters artfully.

I have had excellent success with the culinary specialty programs at high schools. I tell the teacher the event I am having, how long it will last, what I expect the help to do, and what I will pay for the entire time. I ask for someone who is reliable, will present her-/himself professionally, and who can get to the recital site on his/her own. If this person has garde manger experience - - hors d'ouevres and buffet table skill and experience - - so much the better. Usually, I can't find a garde manger high school student, but I always ask because sometimes one of them will have a particular interest in it and will have done some individual study in it. (Junior college-level programs definitely have someone with garde manger experience.) When I have a name, I contact the parents and tell them exactly what I am doing, including length of time, pay, where the recitals will be, what I'd like the student to do, who I am, transportation to the recital venue, request for a chef's jacket if one is available, and so on. I also ask to meet with the student and welcome the parents to attend.

I know you're wondering what I pay. I figure I will need the student for nine hours because I have two recitals, all in one afternoon and evening. I use my church sanctuary for the playing and a small social hall for the reception. This time covers carrying things in from my car, unpacking them, initial table set up, reception monitoring, clean-up after the first recital and re-doing the table, final clean-up, repacking, and loading my car. For a 2 p.m. curtain for the first recital, I arrive at church at noon and want my assistant there, too. How long my families party after the last (teen) recital determines how late final clean-up will end. Sometimes it's 9 p.m. before I lock the door. That's a long stint with not a lot of down-time! I paid $150 - $200 for the event in 2004. (That's probably too much, I know....) Depending on where you live, you might pay $10 an hour or some flat fee to a high school student, based on how long you need help, what you want the person to do, what the prevailing rates for baby-sitting, dog-walking, and car-washing are, and so on.

Other Recitals

While I think that the "main recital" of the year should be entirely at my expense, I handle the food at the Halloween recital differently because only the young children play.

For Halloween, I ask each family to bring a treat to share. I specifically list the "finger foods" among which I'd like the families to choose: cookies, candy, cheese, fruits, veggies, crackers. I make a point of asking for no brownies, pie, or cake, mentioning the need for forks and children's likely inability to juggle it all. The parents are savvy enough to imagine the scenario I am trying to avoid!

I supply the punch, candy, and table service. This seems to suit everyone. The families like to contribute something, and it makes this recital easier on me, I have to admit!

Of course, you don't have to do your recitals my way at all! You may want everyone to contribute to all the recitals, or you may want to do them all yourself.

You perhaps will base this decision on how many students are involved in the recital and how often you have recitals. Teachers with monthly "workshop recitals" probably aren't going to want to serve much beyond punch and one type of cookie, if that, since the recitals occur every 30 days! If you have a recital once a quarter, you might want to ask some families to bring something to share, rotating among everyone. (I'd still suggest you take care of the punch and table service.)

Take heart!

Yes, recital planning and execution are complex, but the longer you teach, the more adept you'll become at planning and giving recitals, both food and music. Take some notes and be methodical, and it will be easier every year! (I keep all my recital notes and recipes in a three-ring binder. Of course, you could go high-tech....) I hope you have found this dissertaion on all-things-recital helpful, as it is a distillation of several decades of giving recitals. (Do not ask how many decades, please!)

You can link to other recital topics from my business and pedagogy pages, as well as peruse reader questions on my business question-and-answer page. Search on the word recital. Also see a general file on successful recitals and links to others such as recital attire, bowing, etc. on my consumer page.

Read questions and answers about pedagogy, interpretation or performance practice, music theory, or parents'/students' concerns about piano study.

copyright 2004, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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