Salads, Hors d‘ oeuvres, tea and coffee — where to begin!
Beauty and the Feast
Consider service, variety and style
What better way to celebrate your love story than with a delicious meal shared among family and friends—indeed, your first meal as husband and wife?
Selecting a caterer that will bring your dreams to fruition is an important step in planning your reception. While there are many wonderful catering teams in the Tucson area, there may be just a handful of companies that offer you exactly what you’re looking for.
The venue you have selected will have some impact on the caterer you choose. Some reception sites allow clients to bring in their caterer of choice, while others require that you work within their list of preferred vendors. While it sounds restrictive, this can be a plus. The companies on these lists already have a strong relationship with the planning teams at those venues; they know their way around the on-site kitchens and typically have years of experience under their belts—or spatulas.
If the reception site of your dreams requires that you work with a particular caterer, there are often many types of cuisine available, as well as a variety of serving styles to choose from. If you aren’t limited to a specific list of caterers, well, the world is your oyster.
And what are you looking for? Part of your reception-planning checklist ought to include how you would like your event to flow, and catering has as much to do with this as entertainment and décor. For example, a buffet or a series of food stations will impact the movement of people throughout the room, the timing in which your guests are served, and the variety of menu items you are able to offer.
What’s Your Style?
Serving styles generally include plated meals, passed hors d’oeuvres, food stations or buffets, although some clients choose a combination of these options. Plated meals are more controlled from a timing standpoint, and this style is more formal. On the other hand, guests may tire of sitting and waiting for courses to be served.
If you feel your guests would enjoy the opportunity to move about the reception more, food stations or a buffet might be in order. The difference in these two serving styles is that a buffet typically includes one- or two-sided rows of tables with the menu items spread out along those tables.
Naturally, the buffet approach may result in a “line” for your guests to be served. To avoid the “cattle call” feeling that may be the downside of a buffet, couples often choose serving stations that offer up a variety of entrees and sides. A food stations approach tends to spread the different courses or types of food throughout the room.
It may take a bit more time, but staffed preparation stations are another fun option. Consider made-to-order pasta, jambalaya, or omelet stations for a change of pace.
Food stations also open the door to some creativity in presentation that a traditional buffet can’t offer, and can be the signature offering of your reception.
Go with the Flow
Another benefit to the food station or buffet style of food service is the opportunity for the bride and groom to mingle about the room and visit with their guests. However, if you’d like to be sure that you say “hello” to every person in the room, and you’re not keen on the receiving line, perhaps you might choose a plated meal. That way, your guests aren’t a “moving target.” Many a bride and groom have successfully and systematically made their way through a reception hall filled with guests who aren’t moving about the room.
Choices, Choices, Choices
If your ideal reception meal includes ethnic or regional fare, you might use that criterion to narrow down your choices. While most full-service caterers can offer a variety of cuisine, there are those who specialize in Mexican, sushi or vegetarian menus. It’s a good idea to begin your research and seek out referrals early in the process if there is something unusual you’re looking to offer to your wedding guests.
Where to begin? In our experience, there are two tried-and-true ways to begin the interview process for a wedding reception caterer. One involves the head, the other the heart—and both are important. First, ask for referrals from trusted vendors (your reception site should top that list) and friends—that’s the head talking. Then, try to remember social events and other weddings you’ve attended where the catering really stood out—that’s the heart talking. Combine these lists and you have a pretty good start in finding a caterer.
Checking Things Out
A recommendation from your reception site is particularly important because those event professionals have experience not only with the quality and style of the food served, but in also the business practices and organization of the caterers they work with. Credentials are important!
You will need to know if the caterer is licensed and insured. How long the company has been in business speaks to the firm’s experience in dealing with surprises, such as unexpected shortages of one ingredient or another and the ease with which the company will set up your event. The more events the caterer has produced, the more fine-tuned the caterer’s production can be.
Other questions to consider: Will the vendor need an on-site kitchen and is one available at your reception venue? Is there a catering manager who will be the point person on the day of your event? Communication among all the key players in your event team is crucial.
After qualifying services based on reputation, customer satisfaction and expertise, consider the personal style each has to offer. The relationship you develop with the catering director will go a long way in ensuring that you are happy with the end result. Personality matters. In addition to the food they prepare on your behalf, a caterer can be an excellent partner in planning décor, the flow of your reception location—even color and design choices.
Spend some time consulting with your catering team. A thorough consultation should include specific discussions on the rentals you will need to pull off your event: tables, chairs, linens, tableware, and so on. In some cases, the caterer will rent these items on your behalf. Other times, it will be up to you to hire a separate vendor to work with your caterer to fulfill these needs.
Of course, if the reception site you choose has on-site catering and event management, you may not have to make many of these decisions. For example, some properties offer a wide variety of cuisine and service choices through their own in-house kitchens. Tableware is often chosen from a set selection of offerings, with the opportunity for couples to bring in other specialty linen and furniture choices at an additional cost. Don’t think of this as a limiting factor, however. Modern facilities have wonderful experience in producing a wide range of cuisine choices.
The cost of catering is a pretty significant portion of your overall reception budget. While there is no set formula, the pros suggest your catering line item comprise between 40 to 60 percent of your entire event budget. While this amount may sound hefty, keep in mind your guests will spend several hours celebrating at your reception, and food and drink are a big part of that.
If your budget is tight, you may compromise by either inviting fewer guests or scaling back the menu you choose to serve. Prioritizing will help you stay within your budget.
And what about drinks?
Budgeting for bar service is another matter altogether. Arizona laws are very specific about the purchase and service of alcoholic beverages. Depending on your reception site, licensing may be an issue. This is one important question to ask of the event manager at your chosen reception site. In some cases, you may need to hire both a caterer and a bartending service. Many caterers have experience working with bartender services, which offer a seamless and fun atmosphere for your wedding reception.
Regardless of your personal style, a happy and festive event is the goal of every bride and groom. Looking at a room filled with your closest friends and family who revel in your newly-minted marriage is a feast for the eyes—and the heart.