We asked you… Dining
Where titles are not given, those commenting are Masons but have submitted comment online.
Dining is uniquely expensive in London, coming in at around twice the price of the Provinces, and not necessarily with a matched degree of experience or quality. Andrew Kilvington writes, “I am on both sides of this as a chef and a Mason (19 units); and I have catered for festive boards. In my Province (Sussex), the price for 3 courses is around £25 per head. Up in town, we are now going over £50 so I very rarely invite guests due to the cost. As a caterer, I can assure you that rising costs across the board have certainly affected the price you pay. I would ask: do we really need three courses? Can we perhaps do without a formal Festive Board at every meeting?” Andrew Upton adds, “If you don’t have a Festive Board, toasts can be done in Lodge. We worked out a method in our Lodge and it was approved by Province.”
Rather than cancelling the Festive Board entirely, which feels rather like losing a big part of the Masonic experience, some Lodges are broadening their options by relaxing the formality. Andrew Bond says “We have looked at doing something different: for our last Installation meeting we had a 3-course pizza and beer meal served family style. We had our own space and it was great fun at £32 per head.” DIY may be an option: Martin Barker says, “I’ve actually found that hiring a caterer, a hall and bringing our own wine etc. has helped keep costs right down for all involved. But it takes some managing!”
Another Brother with both perspectives is Lee Munro. “I am a chef/caterer at St Anne’s Masonic hall in the Province of West Lancashire”, he writes. “As we are contracted to the hall, l have to keep the menu and service tip-top, as well as being competitive in the current climate. Yes we know everything has gone up (produce, wages) but this makes us more productive in the kitchen. We make 90% of everything we serve, and everything is fresh. Alas, I have seen, first-hand, places which employ cooks who use packets and frozen food but still demand top prices. I honestly think the two-course option is the way forward. I would also like to add that having the right committee in place at the Hall is a massive plus: we do have quite a lot of external bookings which helps keep everything ticking over.”
Above all, shop around. Kieran Stewart, Secretary of a Lodge meeting at Freemasons’ Hall, writes, “We were at a national hotel chain for over 20 years. During Covid, their events team was decimated. They lost experienced staff from front of house, kitchen, and in the bookings team. The dining cost had risen to £45ph, plus wine. They even “lost” our booking leaving me with two weeks to find an alternate venue for our Installation meeting – which turned out to be a good thing for us. A different hotel chain had capacity and could cater our meeting at £42ph plus wine. We’ve been at the new venue for almost three years now, and they are still doing an excellent job (now at £47ph plus wine).”
Oh, and anyone who thinks Masons are a doddle to cater for needs to think again. Bro. Stafford Tailby of Bradgate Lodge No 6596 in the Province of Leicestershire & Rutland writes, “I have been the Chief Steward for over 16 years. The biggest problem I have is dealing with all the dietary requests.” Either way, whilst the restaurants we reached out to were tight-lipped, caterers were universally honest about rising costs and committed to looking after their Brethren. Sarah Harrison, a Masonic caterer in Doncaster, writes, “I feel passionate about putting great home-made food on the table. Sometimes margins are tighter because of fluctuating food and fuel prices but you take the good with the bad. We serve a 3-course meal for £18 and I am honoured to be cooking and serving.”
That price point will no doubt make London Masons green with envy, but real progress is being made at Freemasons’ Hall (see next page). London dining is not going to get dramatically cheaper anytime soon, but it’s a recognised issue both within UGLE, Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the industry as a whole – and Brethren are being increasingly creative to keep the most social aspect of the Craft alive and kicking.