Way back in 1952, The Boy Scout Encyclopedia — yes, there really was such a book — included this description of the pack blue and gold dinner: “Often the mothers cook the dinner and the Cub Scouts serve it. Cub Scouts make favors and decorations for the dining table and put on a program of songs, stunts and games.”
That’s a far cry from many of today’s blue and gold dinners, which might feature elaborate advancement ceremonies, paid entertainment and big catering bills. One program director knows of a pack in his council that spends as much as $10,000 to hold its annual dinner at a local catering hall.
“They charge so much per person that families are saying, ‘This year Mom will go; next year Dad will go.’”
If your pack is in a similar situation, or if you just want to reduce your stress level, read on for two very different approaches to rethinking the blue and gold dinner.
Go With the Pros
When he was a district executive attending countless blue and gold dinners, Jim Grimaldi had a brainstorm: “You know, we could be doing this at camp if we just got our dining hall to look a little better.”
Thirteen years later, Baiting Hollow Scout Camp does look better, and it now hosts up to five blue and gold dinners every weekend during February and March (one on Friday, two on Saturday, two on Sunday). Aside from Super Bowl Sunday and either end of a February school break, all the slots usually fill up.
“We’ve had to push into the first weekend of April to accommodate the number of units that want to be here,” he says. (It helps that the camp is located right in the middle of the small council’s territory.)
For $11.99 per child and $16.99 per adult, the camp offers a full buffet meal, a decorated dining hall, audio/visual equipment and even a bridge for crossover ceremonies.
“We cook; we serve; we clean up,” Grimaldi says. “This way, the pack leaders get to enjoy their blue and gold.”
While that convenience is nice, cost is what led Pack 221 in Manorville, N.Y., to move its dinner to the camp last year, according to committee chair Kim Russell. The pack had traditionally gone to catering halls, where they paid at least twice as much for a similar meal, and the cost was affecting families and the pack alike since most Cub Scouts were selling enough popcorn to earn a free dinner.
Russell acknowledges that some adults who were used to a fancier venue raised concerns.
“They thought it was going to be not as nice,” she says. “But when they saw that the food was basically the same, they were really impressed.”
In Warrensburg, Mo., Cubmaster Chad Pfister expected similar pushback in 2017. That was the year his unit, Pack 399, took the dinner out of its blue and gold dinner. They served cake and ice cream instead.
Pfister says the previous dinner had been “organized chaos.” The program ran so long that families started leaving early. The leaders had to worry about food quantities — was there too much mac and cheese but not enough potato salad? — and about food getting spilled in the carpeted family life center. And, because of a longstanding tradition, planning fell on the shoulders of the second-year Webelos parents — adults who already had one foot out the door.
In the aftermath of the chaos, the pack decided to serve cake and ice cream at the end of its 2017 event. Last year, they refined their plan further, switching to cupcakes they served right before a magician performed. Why cupcakes?
“That way, somebody can grab it and go,” Pfister says. “We don’t have to worry about people cutting things.”
So were there objections from traditionalists?
“We kind of thought that there might be some pushback — especially from those second-year Webelos, because that is all they’ve ever known,” he says. “There really wasn’t any of that.”
And he says the new plan offered added benefits: The meeting took just 90 minutes, which families appreciated on a school night, and setting up chairs in rows without tables made it easier for people to see what was going on up front. What’s more, because the pack saved money on the event, the committee decided to foot the bill for a year-end cookout that previously relied on families providing the food.
“That made that event simple, because we can go buy in bulk exactly what we need,” he says.
It also taught the pack’s leaders an important lesson, one that doesn’t just apply to blue and gold banquets: “You aren’t going to hurt anything by trying something different,” Pfister says. “If it doesn’t work, you can come back. But if you don’t try new things, you’ll never know if it works or not for your group.”
You don’t need to break the bank to create a stunning setting for your blue and gold banquet. Simple and inexpensive decorations can enhance the ambiance, and you probably won’t need to leave home to create them.
Visit go.scoutingmagazine.org/crafts for tutorials, templates and tips on how to make some quick decorations that you and your Cub Scout will enjoy making.
A few ideas include a tissue paper campfire, origami tents and popcorn centerpieces.