Directions for the MYSTERY DINNER
This is a 4-course meal, but the menu is a mystery for your guests. You will hand a menu out to each of your guests, but the menu items will be in code. Your guests will make their choices for each course of the meal, but will have no idea what they are really ordering. Their food will show up to the table in crazy random mixtures. For instance (depending on the meal you have prepared), one of your guests may get a first course of a brownie, a toothpick, a napkin, and rice pilaf. It will be great fun to see what the other guests at the table end up with, and even greater fun to watch each other eat their food with a toothpick, or celery stick, or whatever miscellaneous item they got, including just folding their paper plate in half and tapping the tidbits into their mouths.
Each course has 4 items (or three items). Here are some of the items you will need for each guest of your meal: 1. Fork; 2. Dessert; 3. Beverage (soda pop, wine or beer); 4. Side dish (pasta, potato or rice); 5. Toothpick; 6. Main dish; 7. Salad; 8. Knife; 9. Side dish (vegetable); 10. Napkin; 11. Fruit dish; 12. Bread; 13. After Dinner Mint; 14. Beverage (iced tea, lemonade, or coffee); 15. Appetizer; and 16. Spoon.
These items are listed on a menu, and each person will get a menu of their own to order from that will have their name on it. The only thing is, these menus do not have the actual items listed but rather “code names” that don’t make any sense.
The menu might have a list of 16 varieties of flowers if you are having your dinner in the springtime. So for instance a tulip might be the code word for napkin, and a rose might be the code word for salad. Or your menu could be a collection of 16 clever riddles that each hint at what the real item might be. For instance if you are having your dinner for a church group and want a Bible theme you could go with a riddle like Pharaoh’s 7th Plague Tart which would secretly be Grasshopper Pie. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Each of the code names will correspond to real food item, utensil, or accoutrement, but only the kitchen staff will have that list or know what they are. It is good to keep the utensils and entrées mixed up on the menu just in case you have a guest who just goes straight down the list for their course choices.
As the guests choose which four items they want for each course they will have no idea what they are really ordering. After each guests fills out their menu, all the menus are collected and taken away to the kitchen until the end of the meal.
When a guest’s first course arrives it may contain the dessert, a toothpick, and rice. Each guest’s plate will of course be unique, and arouse much laughter around the table. At the end of each course, ALL of the items for that course are taken away, so if the person got lucky enough to get a fork for their first course, they can kiss it goodbye for the rest of the meal.
I have seen where the hosts placed carrot and celery sticks in a serving dish in the center of each table for the unlucky guests who ended up with four food items and nothing to eat them with. I once myself had to eat a Hot Fudge Sunday with a celery stick and my lasagna with a knife and toothpick. The carrot and celery sticks, and ice water are freebies. They are not on the menu.
Prepare your guests that they will be eating a Mystery Meal, and try to describe what that is briefly on the invitation. They cannot cheat and sneak in a fork. Strange forks will be confiscated (unless under the discretion of the hostess you have a cantankerous guest who will be miserable playing along).
Make menus for all of the guests, putting their names on them. The menus must all be identical as far as the menu items go… but they may be printed/copied on four different colors of paper. This will be helpful later.
To make the menu, take a sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper and fold it in half. You can use mine (shown below), or make your own. Be as fancy as you want to be on the cover. On the inside left flap you will list the menu items. On the inside right flap you will have “Course One” and four blank lines under it, “Course Two” and four blank lines under it, “Course Three” and four blank lines under it, and “Course Four” with four blank lines under it. On the next pages you will find a sample menu that you can make copies of to use at your party if you wish. I went with the “flowers” theme. You could type your own list of code words and cover over mine before you make copies.
For each guest you will need 4 plates, 3 small glasses or cups, a menu, and a pen or pencil, plus the eating utensils, toothpicks, servings of food, etc.
You will need a dining area with a closed off, private kitchen area. And it would be smart to be sheltered from the weather should you be serving the meal outdoors and the unexpected happen.
Diagram A the Kitchen and Dining Room
In the kitchen: To streamline the serving process for the servers, the food items in your kitchen should be lined up in number order (or alphabetical) on long tables buffet style and labeled with a sign above each that shows their code names. Hot things need to be on hot plates, in crock pots, or chafing dishes to keep them hot. Cold things need to be kept on ice. (See Diagram B on next page)
You should have at least one server for each table who will prepare each of their guest’s plates. There should be no more than four people to a table for a server to take care of, but keep the tables close by each other so that the guests can see what everybody receives. The servers can wear matching aprons if desired.
Diagram B The kitchen food buffet tables with code cards displayed above each dish
Place disposable cameras at each guest table and invite the guests to snap away during the meal. You could also prearrange for someone to videotape the meal. They can come early and eat with the servers/cooks so they are not starving until the end. You’ll also need one or two persons who will stay in the kitchen and monitor the food, checking that the hot foods are staying hot and the cold foods cold, and help the servers keep track of their menus in the rush. The dishes start piling up fast too – so they can keep the sink empty, or if you use paper plates the garbage can empty. Those cooped up in the kitchen will be extremely grateful for the videotape so that they can see what all the mayhem and laughing was about later.
Dress each table up with a fancy tablecloth, candles or centerpieces, and the relish trays. You can go with a theme (Mexican, Italian, Oriental, Hawaiian, Home style, BBQ, Seafood, etc.) in food and decorations. If you chose a Mexican theme, you could use Mexican items as the code words on the menu (sombrero, cactus, poncho, maracas, piñata, mariachis, chili peppers, serape, etc.) You could decorate with Mexican blankets and cactus centerpieces. In place of the relish dish, you could offer chips and salsa (people could eat with a chip if they were desperate). J You can either let people sit where they want, or you can arrange the guests.
To conduct the meal:
Start the meal by passing out menus and pencils. The guests will fill in their course choices on their individual menus while the server sets out a small glass for each guest and a carafe of ice water at each table. Your servers won’t have much time to run for drinks later, so make sure you use large carafes or pitchers.
When the water has been served the server can then collect the menus for her table and keep them at her station in the kitchen. She must make sure each menu has the guest’s name on it.
At her station she will have a plate for each guest for each course (4 guests plus 4 courses would be 16 plates total for each station/table). It is helpful to color code each guest’s menu with their plates. For instance, Paul had a red menu and the 4 red plates are going to be his. She can take a red plate, look at the red menu and work her way down the buffet loading it with the chosen items, then deliver it. All the tables will be served the first course simultaneously.
Each server will fill the 1st course choices of one of their guests (say the red one) and deliver it to them. By the time they have served the 4th person, it will be time to collect the first person’s plate and serve them with the second course. (It is a lot of work keeping up with the first 2 courses, but then the guests begin to eat more slowly, hopefully, and it won’t be quite as hectic).
When the last person has been served the last course and all the plates have been taken away, then servers return each person’s menu to them so they can try and figure out which items were connected with which code words. All of the servers and kitchen workers should join the guests. They will talk about how much fun that was and probably want to sit around and visit for a little while.