Because many engaged couples planning a wedding view the florals, venue, clothing and accessory choices as so much more FUN!, and because so few of us are chefs, or even cooks of merit (ha ha), the search for wedding catering services is often arduous.

Recently while visiting with my colleague Meryl Snow from award winning Feastivities Events in Philadelphia, she shared 8 facts that play such a role in determining the experience and culinary prowess of a caterer.  It resonnated with me that brides should embark on their consultations with prospective caterers armed with this knowledge to make the narrowing down and comparison process more streamlined for them.  Also, often there is a distinction that needs to be made between “catering” and “event producing,” as many of today’s more accomplished caterers participate in the production of your event on additional levels beyond just food.  But…we’ll touch on that further into the facts…let’s jump in:

  1. “Fresh” doesn’t always mean fresh!  #1

Couples today are often food savvy.  They dine out regularly at chic bistros and BYOBs rather than settling for the chain restaurants.  Fresh food, creative menus and plate presentation are important to them.  And these high standards get even higher on their wedding day.  The thought that their wedding food may be a frozen product would send them running.  Most caterers would not admit to utilizing frozen food products.  Instead when asked they will say it is prepared “fresh,”  and yes, it once was fresh– before it was frozen.  ASK THE CATERERS YOU ARE CONSIDERING, TO BID THE EXACT SAME MENU. Then compare.  Does caterer A cost a bit more because they are paying trained chefs to actually prepare your meal from scratch with fresh ingredients rather than caterer B having a body tear open boxes of frozen foods?  It may seem on the surface that you’re really getting a deal but in reality you are getting what you paid for– frozen food.

2.  “Fresh” doesn’t always mean fresh! #2

Served fresh means cooking on site, not cooked elsewhere and carried to your event in hotboxes.  This is the difference between green beans that are bright green and snappy and green beans that are dull olive and mushy.  Some caterers don’t have the trained culinary personnel or the equipment to cook at your reception.  If you want fresh…cooking on site is how it must be done.  LOOK FOR A CATERER WITH MOBILE COOKING CAPABILITIES IF YOUR SITE DOES NOT HAVE KITCHEN FACILITIES.

3.  Service is a matter of math: the ratio of staff to guests is critical.

You’ve taken the time, allotted the budget, and selected a wonderful menu.  Now you need to ask how many service staff members your caterer plans to provide to serve it.  Service can make or break your reception.  Lack of adequate staff is very obvious to the guests and will undo all of your careful planning.  Nothing is more frustrating than having to hunt for hors d’oeuvre or sitting at your table wondering where your dinner is.  Staff quality and training go hand in hand with this point as well.  It is important that staff is well trained, and service-oriented to ensure that a pleasant and attentive attitude is exhibited throughout your reception.  WHEN VIEWING THE REVIEWS AND THANK YOU NOTES FOR A SPECIFIC COMPANY, TAKE NOTE OF HOW OFTEN SERVICE STAFF ARE COMPLIMENTED.

4.  Style is significant.

Your dinner, whether plated, buffet or cocktail station format should have eye appeal.  Striking garnishes, unusual serving pieces, foods that add color and zing to a plate– these are just a few elements of style that a caterer can bring to your menu.  The visual impact of your menu really does have an impact on your guests and the success of the reception.  The best thing your caterer should bring to the table is sheer enthusiasm and will to create a day for you unlike any other.  With the right caterer your sense of style will show in your menu and its’ presentation, as well as in the surroundings and decor.  ASK TO SEE PHOTOS OR VIDEOS OF EVENTS PRODUCED BY THE CATERERS YOUR ARE CONSIDERING, AND GAUGE IF THEY HAVE A RANGE OF STYLES AND PRESENTATIONS THAT ARE NOT COOKIE CUTTER.

In the next installment of  “Culinary Smarts” we’ll touch on menu design, customer service and more!  I can’t wait to share more tips with you.

Thanks to Meryl Snow of Feativities Events!
Photo credits: JPC Event Group, Jody Wimer