At a wedding a few years ago, Elizabeth Marsh, owner of Elizabethan Catering Services, was in the venue’s kitchen, cutting the cake for service. When she turned around to speak to her staff, everyone was gone – guests from the wedding had pulled them onto the dance floor. And the minute Marsh opened the kitchen door, the father of the bride snapped her up to join them. “We get to know them very well by the time they get married,” says Marsh. It’s not simply about picking options off a list – caterers want to help clients achieve their visions. “We are not working towards just that day,” she says. “We are going to be a memory to them the rest of their lives.”
Caterers can be invaluable resources to couples planning their weddings, as the idea of choosing a menu for so many people often becomes overwhelming. While brides may once have been concerned about typical wedding must-haves, modern brides are focused more on their own priorities. “I think that people nowadays are turning it more into a personal thing, rather than the big pizzazz,” says Marsh.
The timeframe for booking a caterer is largely dependant upon the venue, as many venues fill up months, or even years, in advance. However, according to Todd Rutter, partner at A Cappella Catering, while a small boutique caterer may require more notice, larger caterers will generally have the capacity to do several weddings per weekend. So, a few months’ notice will generally suffice. Vicky Mueller, sales director at Elizabethan, says that most brides tend to plan about a year out. However, there are always exceptions – the shortest in their company’s history, says Marsh, was a bride who approached them on a Wednesday evening for a wedding that weekend.
And there’s no need to worry about the size of the venue’s kitchen. “As long as we have a 10 [-foot] by 10 [-foot] space with a table in it, and we’re not out under the rain or the snow, we can make any place work,” Mueller says. Many large caterers make things easy for couples by incorporating necessary elements – such as chafing dishes, linens, and staff – in their quotes. Marsh emphasizes that hiring a catering company is as much about service as food, and trained staff will ensure that your meal goes off without a hitch – even if the unexpected occurs.
While some couples may want a formal plated dinner, the buffet is one of the most popular options for a catered wedding – and for good reason. According to Rutter, a buffet format provides guests with the opportunity to take as much or as little food as they’d like, and allows caterers to more easily accommodate different allergies or food restrictions. And, of course, it provides more variety for the tens or hundreds of palates at the event. “At most weddings, you’re going to have a very large cross-section of types of palates,” says Rutter. “So even though you might be a young hipster living on 109th Street, you probably will have aunts and uncles from Wainwright coming off the farm to the wedding.”
However, Mueller warns against worrying so much about your guests that you lose your own priorities in the process. “My big statement to my brides and grooms is: Please your palate. This is your day; don’t worry about what everybody else wants,” she says. And, caterers urge, don’t over-order simply because you’re concerned about running out of food – with countless weddings under their belt, they know exactly how much to bring to feed all your hungry guests.
Ultimately, caterers have one simple piece of parting advice for couples fretting over menus and table arrangements: Relax. “All the little things that might go wrong, it doesn’t matter. No one’s going to remember that; they’re going to remember the fun they had,” says Marsh.
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