Tomatillo’s Cinco Party–A Bit Too Successful

Chalk it up to efficient Facebook advertising and the cravings of expats for cheap Mexican food.  Tomatillo’s first annual Cinco de Mayo party was a success–too much so.  I don’t think they were expecting this type of turn out.  I wasn’t either, even though I knew a good many people would be there.  If Immigration wanted to perform a sweep that was an opportunity wasted.

I think many people felt cranky about having to wait two-and-a-half hours in line for burritos and about the party closing down at 5 p.m. because the food ran out.  Congratulations to the staff.  They busted their asses for hours on end, and I hope they were compensated well.

I know that feeling.  I’ve been slammed while working a restaurant on a Mardi Gras parade route.  I’ve also dealt with surprise over-success, like when the restaurant’s owner decided to have a special that gave out free margaritas with double fajita orders on Valentine’s Day and only scheduling two cooks (his brother and me).  The owner and his wife spent Valentine’s Day at the sink scrubbing cast iron fajita pans so we would have some available for the orders that were stacking up.  In both cases, we were rewarded with little cash bonuses and drinks, which was all good.

Dude, I’m in the wrong business.  I know the restaurant industry is a money loser–but yesterday showed that the time is perfect for more Mexican restaurants in Korea.

Now, I had been following Tomatillo’s planning for the event.  My friend Steve was part of it.  They put updates on Facebook.  Yet I think they were approaching it from a restaurant perspective and not a catering perspective.

The Cinco de Mayo party was a catering event.

In catering large events, the priority moves from personal service to feeding masses as quickly as possible.  You can’t accomplish both.


I know it’s easy to Monday-morning-quarterback events after they’ve happened.  Yet from actual experience and many errors in the past, I suggest that next year Tomatillo take this approach to the party:

  • Pre-make as much as possible. Sorry, in catered events, there is little room for special orders.  Get to the kitchen at 5 a.m. and start rolling burritos and tacos.  Set up an assembly line.  Wrap them in foil and put them in medium-sized insulated coolers.  I say medium because large ones will cool the food down too quickly when distributing them to the masses, putting the food’s temperature into the bacterial danger zone.  I’ve done this with each food place I’ve worked at.  A buritto shop is little different from a sandwich shop in execution, and this was how we did catered orders.  Also pre-mix your margaritas.  That’s a basic, basic rule.
  • Set up tables outside. Don’t have a single transaction point, causing lines to wrap around the store.  Have tables out with one food person and one cash person for each station and a runner or two to keep them stocked.  Less line standing.  More partying.
  • No blenders. The big surprise for everyone was that there was only one blender in operation for making these margaritas.  For events like this, ditch the blender.  No need for girly flu flu drinks.  Margaritas on the rocks, baby!
  • Limit food orders. Some may disagree, but ordering ten burritos for your friends who aren’t standing in line makes the wait for the people behind you longer.  That’s rude.  Put limits on orders, like two burritos per person per visit.  It creates more line efficiency and happier customers in the long run.

And really, kudos for everyone.  Despite the heat (by Korea standards), booze, hunger and waiting, everyone was well behaved.  As far as I know, there was little cutting in line, no arguments, no fights.  People had a good time.

I personally didn’t have a chance to eat any of the food.  I love Tex-Mex, but I’m not standing in line for two hours for something that I can easily make at home.  So I just hung out with friends.  Stafford and Jen enjoyed their food and shared their booze with the rest of us.

Now, here was the magic of the party.  Everyone came out for it.  It started out as Jen and Stafford from the SeoulPodcast, along with Roboseyo and Joy.  Then Sara Kim showed up, “Evil” Jennifer Flinn…

Oh yeah, historical moment.  Good Jennifer and Evil Jennifer meet at last.  As you can see, Evil Jennifer’s evil is so evil that her face pixelated itself on the camera.

Michael Hurt, Brian from Kiss My Kimchi, Robyn, the virgin-eating tree branch… lotsa folks.  When we decided to leave the party (some of us had not eaten all day), our group lost some people and more attached to us as we walked.  Fun day.


Raw… Horse… Meat!

Serious Eater in Seoul. Give her a call.


3 thoughts on “Tomatillo’s Cinco Party–A Bit Too Successful”

  1. I had a feeling Seoul told them that. Still, I was surprised that everything was being made fresh “a la minute,” one-by-one.

    I got my bartending certification fifteen years ago, and I still know that the blender idea was clown shoes. Premake the margaritas with alcohol and pour them per order. Sometimes I’ve had a string of salt-rimmed glasses already prepped.

    The notion that it was an honest mistake is cool. But that the guy was passing himself off as a bartender and arrogantly thinking his little “showtending” thing that they do in Korean bars is real bartending gets me angry.

    If they’re listening, I’m willing to consult. I’ve already been involved in consulting another restaurant chain. I don’t want to see a good restaurant get burned.

  2. Awesome write-up. Balanced and fair points all around.

    Although they definitely could have managed it better, I think people would be a little more understanding if they realized that the city of Seoul expressly forbade them from selling ANYTHING outside the premises of the restaurant.

    There were just certain constraints they just couldn’t do much about and they hired a ‘bartender’ that actually talked them OUT of getting a slushie machine because he said he was so awesome and fast. Definitely a mis-step that won’t happen next time.

    Most importantly, they’re taking an active approach to this and trying hard to learn, improve, and engage the disgruntled customers that have been speaking out on Facebook. Hopefully people give them a chance to redeem themselves. You made some excellent suggestions and I’ve passed the article on to the organizer.

  3. Yeah… I had the same thought about dispensing with the ice and blender altogether. I was there at 12:05 and had to wait like 20-30 minutes for my margarita. I told the guy to just pour it without ice/blending and he just couldn’t wrap his brain around that… I had to confirm it three times.


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