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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 12:07 am

Catering considerations

Listen to your caterer. Make sure your caterer listens to you

Alyssa and Heidi Furling had their ceremony and reception at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Wildlife Area near Chandlerville.
PHOTO BY JILL GUM PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Weddings are always momentous, whether festive celebrations involving hundreds or occasions that are intimately small and personal.

Of course every couple wants their own wedding to be perfect. Even so, some of the best wedding moments happen when things go off script. One of my favorite memories is of when the bride’s preschool son from a previous marriage broke away from his grandmother and sat at the base of the altar steps as the couple exchanged vows, arms crossed and with a grin so big it could have split his face, clearly ecstatic about his new dad.

Those who routinely work at weddings in any capacity inevitably have tales to tell. As an undergraduate in vocal performance, I once spent an afternoon of pizza and pitchers of beer with graduate organ majors talking about their weirdest wedding experiences. (Yes, the title is ripe for jokes and double entendres, and, trust me, organists have pretty much heard them all.) I’ve never laughed so much. The tales ranged from desperately embarrassing (one organist was playing Bernstein’s classic “One Hand, One Heart” from the musical West Side Story, when the groom – minus an arm – took his place at the altar) to a wedding that would have qualified for the Real Housewives of Central Illinois. (The bride had already had the baby, but it was somehow revealed during the service that the baby’s father was the best man. Fisticuffs ensued. Amid the confusion, my organist buddy froze: what should he do? Wait and hope things calmed down and the ceremony would continue? Or get out before the brawl extended to include him and potential damage to the organ?)

Wedding caterers have their own stories, both good and bad. I talked with a few wedding caterers I know – some local, some not – to get their perspectives on how to best work with a caterer to make your post-wedding celebration both personal and affordable for you.

In no particular order, here are a few suggestions. They come from the caterers I spoke with (who preferred not to be named), as well as from my own catering days.

Plated dinners
Several courses are presented sequentially at each table by servers. They can work well for smaller weddings – say, less than 100 guests. But for me and several of the caterers I spoke with, unless your reception is in a venue that routinely serves large groups such as a hotel or club, the logistics of plated serving can be a nightmare. Not because the food will suffer, although options become limited the larger the guest list, but because the guests at the back tables are just being served salads as the newlyweds cut the cake.

Assigned seating
Another conundrum. Again, not a bad idea at a small wedding, but getting stuck at a table with people you barely know and may not have much in common with can make for an awkward night, exacerbated when a plated dinner keeps guests at one table for the evening.

If, on the other hand, you don’t assign seating, guests are free to mingle and perhaps find old friends. That may or may not work with your guest list, but should be a consideration.

Buffets
Do you really want your guests to be standing in line, feet shuffling, while they wait, plate in hand, to belly up to the buffet? Once again, this isn’t a problem for smaller weddings. (I should say at this point that I’m not advocating for small weddings, only that the logistics are different.) Offering two or more buffets with the same food is an easy solution that shouldn’t cost much, if anything, more.

Food stations
A relaxed option that can offer a wide variety of dishes. They can take several forms. One option is “heavy” hors d’oeuvres, which implies appetizers substantial enough for an entire meal, themed or not as Asian, Italian, etc. Another possibility is a carving station to integrate entrées into the scene.

PHOTO FROM METROCREATIVECONNECTION.COM

 

Blending services

There are many ways to combine different serving styles to suit your plans and pocketbook. How about passed hors d’oeuvres as guests arrive at the reception, then a single course plated entrée at assigned seating followed by cake at a buffet?

Integrating personal touches
One caterer told me about a wedding couple who were passionate about pie. Instead of a cake, the caterer baked lots of different pies that were served to guests by the newlyweds themselves after donning aprons over their wedding clothes. Another recent bride had her caterer use her family’s generations-old spice-cake recipe for the wedding cake.

If you feel a caterer isn’t listening to your wishes and telling you what you can and can’t have, or that your ideas are stupid, walk away and get a second opinion. That said, an experienced caterer should be able to tell you what does and doesn’t work without making you feel ridiculous. Good, non-intimidating communication can lead to a solution that is do-able, but is still meaningful to you.
That said, the reverse is equally true. Yes, you are employing the caterer and staff, but treating them with condescension is the absolute wrong way to get what you want.

My own worst wedding gig – actually my worst catering gig generally – happened at a reception that a gracious elderly woman gave for her daughter and new son-in-law. The couple were in their late 30s and had been married in California where they resided. This was the mother-of-the-bride’s chance to introduce them to her friends and daughter’s former classmates. The newlyweds loudly complained about everything: the wine served, the size and shape of the wine glasses, the food, the décor and so forth. I was mortified and angry – somewhat for myself, but even more for the bride’s mother, who had chosen the wine, glasses, menu, etc. It’s not always a good thing when weddings go off-script.

Julianne Glatz of Springfield writes the weekly food column in Illinois Times.

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