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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Prom Season

April 22, 2014


It’s prom season. Thousands of high school kids have been waiting years for their big night. Thousands of parents have been dreading it since their kids entered school. As the father of a 16-year old, 11th grade daughter, who just fed 43 of her tuxedo-clad and chiffon-and-satin laced friends in our back yard, I speak from a unique perspective on this matter. I’ve got prom street cred.

Not only am I qualified in the father-of-a-prom-going-daughter category; I have been feeding promsters for 27 years at the Purple Parrot Café. Years ago, my servers occasionally complained about having to take care of a prom table— promsters tended to be a little unruly and often never ordered food straight from the menu, looking for cheaper more kid-friendly alternatives. It never bothered me at all. I love serving high school prom kids.

We opened in 1987, but missed the prom season that year. So if you were 18-years old and attended a prom in 1988, you are 44-years old today. That might be the median age of our current clientele. To me, proms have always been a way to earn future business. All of my employees agree these days.

The 21st Century prom is an entirely different animal than the proms of my youth. The Junior-Senior High School Prom of today is a complicated, elaborate, and expensive affair.

First let’s have a recap of the previous weekends activities.

All throughout the week the months of planning by parents began to come to fruition. Notice how I used the word “parents” in the previous sentence? That was fully intentional. It’s the parents that do most of the work these days. I speak from a unique perspective on this one, too as my wife was the junior class coordinator for my daughter’s event, or as I have been calling her, “Prom Mom.”

A month out a mad dash to reserve a “party bus” for the prom ensues. I am told that the parents of the boys handle this duty, which means I am in the clear until four years from now when my son will be a junior. The party bus that showed up at my house had colored disco lights, televisions, enough seating for 44 people, and a sound system so loud that the police were called to my neighborhood to see what was going on. It costs thousands of dollars and— as best as I can tell— drives the kids around for a while before dropping them off at the dance, and then later drives them back to where their cars are all centrally located (in this case that would be my home). A decade ago limos were the rage. In my day, I drove my mother’s Buick to pick up my date.

On the day of the event, the scramble to get nails and hair done occupies the girls’ afternoon while boys go to rental shops to pick up their tuxedo. Even though a few of today’s young men are stepping out with outrageous colored vests and ties, this is an area where they have my era beat, hands down. I come form the 1970s which was the decade of baby blue and rust-colored tuxes, clown-sized bow ties and platform shoes— for men.

For the second year in a row I fed a group of kids before the prom at our home. This, too, has become an elaborate affair— sterling silver, school-themed table toppers, linen napkins, floral arrangements and candlelit tables by the pool. The dads helped plate food. The moms served the tables, cleared dishes, and refilled water and tea glasses. For their part, the kids ate and took a lot of photos with their phones.

A decade ago, kids “ate out” for prom. Trust me, I served most of them. In my day I didn’t even take my prom date to McDonalds. Seriously, I don’t’ even remember eating anything before, during, or after my prom.

After boarding the party bus, riding around for a while and taking photos with their phones, the kids show up at the prom to meet other groups of kids who have been eating meals served by parents while taking photos on their phones. They walk into a grand venue that was beautifully decorated by— you guessed it— the parents.

The theme of this prom was Gatsby. Though this was not Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, this was Baz Lurhmann’s Gatsby. The theme was carried out to every minor detail, from the food and beverages served to the party favors given. Lighting, backdrops, table toppers, all to the last detail it was Jay Gatsby party brilliantly pulled off on Nick Carraway’s budget.

In my day I don’t even think we had a theme. I know we didn’t have a decorating committee, and if we would have it probably would a been a few kids in the math club, certainly not a group of parents. The theme and décor of my prom was— however the Hattiesburg Country Club was decorated at the time. We had the same theme the next year, unless they redecorated the country club over the course of that year, in which the theme would then be— whatever the newly decorated country club looked like.

The kids danced and took more photos on their phones. Once the dance was over and the party bus departed for a breakfast party where they would don a new change of clothes, eat another meal prepared by parents, and take more photos on their phones. Parents were left to clean up Gatsby’s leftovers and were immediately glad that it was pulled off on a Carraway budget.

The prom is over until next year. My wife, who has been MIA for a few weeks, is back and already talking about next year’s prom.  “Yes, honey, but aren’t next year’s parents supposed to take care of all of this?”

“Well, we’ll probably host the dinner,” she said. Pray for me, please.



 Cheddar Rice Cookies


These can be prepared to the just-before-baking stage and frozen. Perfect when served at an afternoon tea.


2 cups flour

1 /4 tsp Creole seasoning

1 /2 tsp dehydrated onion

1 /8 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 /4 tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 /2 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese

1 /4 tsp hot sauce

2 cups Rice Krispies


Preheat the oven to 325.


Combine flour and dry seasonings in a mixing bowl and blend well.


Place butter, cheese, hot sauce, and Rice Krispies in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, blend mixture, slowly adding flour and seasonings, until all flour is incorporated and moistened.


Form into small balls (approx. 1 /4 – 1 /2 ounce) and place on a baking sheet. Bake 15- 20 minutes.


Yield: 60-70 crackers

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