The Catered Affair

You’ve decided to have your reception on the ocean or the family backyard or in the mountains with great views all round. Sounds nice, but there is a tremendous amount of planning required, says wedding coordinator Melanie Bibbo of Portsmouth. You need to provide a space for dining and dancing where none existed the day before and will not exist the day after. This means rental of everything from the tent to the napkins — necessities that are not line-items at banquet rooms. But a catered affair in a spot that is very special to you can make for a very memorable wedding — it can be all about you. You just need to be prepared for anything, says Bibbo.Catering an event brings its own special challenges to those you hire to provide the food. They must serve food without an on-site kitchen. Food must be lugged up hills, down roads, across parking lots. Bibbo says caterers are the hardest working people at a wedding.Here are a few tips from Bibbo on selecting a caterer and working with them to provide a feast that matches your wedding and your style.(1) Ask for references. Viewing letters of recommendation are nice, but ask to speak to or e-mail a former client. This will also give you an opportunity to ask them what they might have done differently.(2) Having the party at a private home? Suggest that the septic system is flushed a week ahead. Home systems are not built to handle large numbers.(3) Know exactly what they are providing in terms of staff. Make sure there is coverage throughout the evening, so bottles and dishes are not lying around and there is someone to put the coffee on. At state parks you are required to carry everything out. Is someone assigned to remove the trash?(4) Go over the list of what they are providing so you only rent separately what you have to. Larger companies may include the china, small ones may require you provide all service ware. It is possible to rent anything these days says Bibbo, so if you want color-coordinated plates they are out there — for a price.Seafood raw bar – Jack’s of New London, Organic produce- Seedling Café, Nashua. Serving Stations- Crowne Plaza, Nashua(5) Not all caterers are created equal. The one who does a great clam bake may not be the right company for a sit-down dinner for 200.(6) Don’t always choose the lowest bottom line. Your guests are expecting to have a good time and will appreciate good food that is served warm. Providing adequate staffing does cost more. Bibbo suggests adding one more to the final number they recommend. An extra pair of hands is extremely helpful and will help to provide smooth service.(7) Don’t count on family members to help. It is their job to enjoy the wedding, not work.(8) Have the caterer to the site a week before so they know where to park, where the septic system is, where power is coming from, where the trash can be disposed, where the dishes can be washed, gas for the generator, etc. You or they don’t want any last minute surprises.(9) Don’t ask the caterer to provide more service than they think they can do. Without a proper kitchen and serving line it may not be possible to serve 100 people a sit-down dinner — a warm one any way.(10) Buffet lines or a “broken” buffet line or serving station is the way to go. Sure, your guests will have to walk up to the food, but it will be served hot. This cocktail party atmosphere can be continued throughout the evening by supplementing the stations with passed hors d’oeuvres. Lighter items can be served first, followed by entrée-type foods like tenderloin on a crisp bread. Finally, dessert can be an active station, too, such as a make-your-own sundae bar.(11) Grilled foods are always good choices, it can be cooked onsite and the smell itself is inviting. Shellfish, fish, beef, chicken and pork can all be grilled and served as kabobs.(12) Let the catering service be creative. Bibbo says chefs love to spread their wings by creating interesting dishes. They are often happy to take your favorite family recipe and do a spin on it.(13) Listen to them if they say your requests are difficult in an off-site kitchen. Not everything will survive transportation and extended time on the burner. Better to choose food that can be prepared on-site at an attended station or does well in a chafing dish.(14) Think regionally and seasonally about food choices. Seafood and clambakes are a natural near the Seacoast. With summer comes an abundance of fresh vegetables and the desire to eat lighter dishes. Squash soups, apples dishes and pears are great in the fall. Winter suggests more hardy dishes like roasts and root vegetables. Go beyond what is considered “wedding food.”(15) Echo your wedding theme with thoughtful food choices. If you are having a steel band, then have a few Caribbean dishes. Hawaiian … add pineapple, etc.(16) Consider going organic or free-range. Most chefs can give you prices for organic produce and it will be more expensive, but with meats especially, the flavor will be enhanced.(17) Consider a cultural ethnic dish from one or both sides of the family to introduce the in-laws to Greek or Spanish cuisine.(18) Vegan and vegetarian meals can be satisfying. If it is important to you, a good chef can create a meal that will make carnivores happy, too.(19) Worst sin: running out of food. The caterer should have the fortitude to tell you the numbers have been shaved too thin. Consider a different cut of beef to make sure there will be enough if there is a cost issue. People expect to be well fed and a proper host provides enough.(20) Hiring a wedding coordinator will transfer the burden of organizing and tracking down all the details from you and your family to a seasoned professional who has seen it all.In the end, food service is really part of the décor of the reception. Good presentation is important, but remember, it will add to the cost when you have seafood served in shells and soup in demitasse cups. The stations of food will act as decorations with their beautiful displays and be a gathering point for guests. This is a place to create a memorable wedding. Your food choices are another chance to get creative and say something about yourself, whether it is mini hamburgers or filet mignon.