Art and Experience: Here are some crucial guiding principles for food on set.
Everybody knows that the key to a crew’s heart is through its stomach. It may not seem as important as lighting or performances, but the food on set can truly affect the quality of your film. When your team is happy, they will work hard to produce good work. When they’re not, everything suffers.
Nothing can ruin a shoot more quickly than bad food. We put together a list of guiding principles for ensuring your film has great meals—and a happy crew!
Don’t be stingy
The most important rule for serving food on set is that there should always be enough—more than enough. No crew member should ever be concerned about taking seconds. And no producer should ever, ever, consider rationing. The best and simplest way to make your crew happy is by keeping them constantly fed. And not only with plentiful food, but with quality food. So despite the fact that it might appear to be an easy budget cut, think long and hard before minimizing your meal allotment.
Pizza is almost never acceptable.
And though you’ve likely heard it before, it bears repeating: pizza is almost never acceptable. If you have to do it, do it once, and for a second meal.
Aim for variety
In addition to quantity and quality, throw in variety as a core tenet. Even the best food becomes tiresome over time. Switch out the snacks day to day. Your crew will be working long hours and have a wide range of preferences. Represent many tastes and food groups in both your meals and crafty. Don’t be tempted by bulk prices on chip varietals—expand your view to the vegetable and fruit aisles, too.
Keep it caloric, but healthy
To that end, always have a mind for both health and energy. Junk food just doesn’t cut it for the bulk of what you’re serving. Meals should be healthy enough to sustain energy over long periods of time, versus causing a brief high before the inevitable sugar or sodium crash. However, a crew cannot survive on lettuce alone. The physical work of set is extremely demanding and you will need to meet that demand with hearty and energizing meals. Consider lean proteins, plain starches, superfoods, and energy bars for the crafty table.
Do not tell the vegetarian to just eat salad or the PA with a nut allergy to avoid the crafty table.
Pay attention to dietary restrictions
Though they may seem like trivial—even annoying—details to a producer, dietary restrictions (and preferences) are a huge deal to whoever has them. By ignoring or under-serving these restrictions, you are at the very worst putting someone in life-threatening danger, and at the very least pissing someone off. Either way, that crew member will not do their best work for the rest of the day. As the person in charge of food, it’s your job to ensure that every single crew member is adequately fed. That does not mean telling the vegetarian to just eat salad, or satisfying a gluten-free request by just removing the breaded part, or simply telling the one PA with a nut allergy to avoid the crafty table altogether.
Keep it hot and punctual
The only right way to serve a meal on set is hot and on time. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but a necessary one. Paying attention to timing is crucial. Often, sending a PA for the food without enough time can result in a late lunch, so be especially careful when you’re not directly overseeing the process. If you must prepare ahead of time, use catering burners (sternos) to keep the food toasty until the 6-hour mark.
Hot breakfast is one way to make a great first impression. That means you should go beyond donuts; eggs, sausage, bacon, hashbrowns, oatmeal, and bagels (with a toasted option) are all excellent menu items for starting your shoot on the right foot. Keep your crew happy from hour one!
You don’t want Dorito dust on your lenses, do you?
Crafty: no mess, no mayo
Meals are more flexible than crafty. With crafty, it’s important to purchase items that can sit out all day and leave minimal mess in their wake. A perishable item that will go quickly is fine, such as a pumpkin pie, but bulk foods like chicken salad (or anything with mayonnaise) should be saved for mealtime only. Avoid anything that creams, curdles, dusts, or requires assembly. You don’t want Dorito dust on your lenses, do you?
Great options for crafty: energy and granola bars, apples, bananas and other small fruit, pretzels, tortilla chips, trail mix, crudités, and hummus.
Coffee and water, always and forever
Coffee and water are non-negotiable. If you come to set without either of these things, there will be mutiny. Other beverages are also encouraged, but not as important. The coffee should be hot and ready from the moment your crew arrives for breakfast, it and stay that way until wheels up. That’s not an exaggeration. Many people rely on caffeine to keep them awake enough to safely commute home. Water and hydration also amount to a safety concern. With the physical labor on a film set, dehydration is a salient risk.
Many people rely on caffeine to keep them awake enough to safely commute home.
Water bottles are always a point of debate among producers. They’re bulky, overpriced, and environmentally questionable. They also create mess; crew is wont to leave unmarked half-empty bottles all over set. One way to curb this issue is to buy the mini bottles, so they’re more likely finished than forgotten. Some sets are “green,” and crew members are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles. If you go that route, be prepared to have water jugs easily accessible and constantly replenished.
Individual orders will almost always cost more and take more time than bulk catering.
Choose bulk catering
On smaller shoots, it can be tempting to order delivery from a nearby establishment. While platter orders are fine, individual orders are not. This move can be disastrous; individual orders will almost always cost more and take more time than bulk catering.
Additionally, you have less control; with mass individual orders, there are frequently mistakes that could leave somebody hungry. And what happens if an actor shows up and there’s no extra food available? It’s just not a necessary risk.
Special touches matter
A great way to keep crew happy is by showing how considerate you can be. Including thoughtful details with the meals will do wonders to boost morale. It can be as simple as adding avocado to the salad or bringing out a fun dessert after lunch. If you know a day is going to be hard, consider planning a fun surprise snack like cookies or hot chocolate. In that vein, also consider when morale is more important than health. Sometimes, especially on an overnight, items like Redbull and candy can win you major brownie points.
If your crew is sacrificing family time to work on a holiday, perhaps try to throw some celebratory flourishes into the meal. For anyone cooking for a Thanksgiving Day shoot, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce are great, but we recommend subbing chicken for turkey, or your crew might fall asleep before wrap.