You might wonder why a caterer would write an article entitled “Beyond Food.” While catering is, of course, very much about creating the most amazing meals in the most unusual of spaces, you would be surprised to find how catering has evolved throughout the years. Today’s best caterers all provide so much more than just food.
Of course, the perfectly designed wedding menu will always start with the food – with fresh, seasonal ingredients, a talented chef, creative presentation and an individual flair. But your wedding menu is also shaped by your wedding itself – whether it is elegant or casual, night or day, in a tent, a backyard or a ballroom. The ideal menu should mesh perfectly with your wedding colors, your flowers, and even your dress. These are all the factors that should be taken into account when you meet with your caterer to design your menu, and they all reach well beyond food, which leads me to the evolution of the caterer. Because your wedding menu relies on so much more than just food, caterers have become involved in many more aspects of planning a wedding, which is good news for brides who need as much planning assistance as they can get.
While caterers generally don’t crossover into becoming full-fledged wedding planners, there are many things we can do if needed. For instance, caterers can design the look of the reception, be a liaison with vendors and create a timeline for the event flow and production. When you sit down with your caterer, you will of course discuss the menu, but you will also address the timing of the food as it pertains to the announcement of the bride and groom, the first dance, the cake cutting and more. The caterer in turn will talk to all your other vendors to organize this timeline so people aren’t starving between the ceremony and the reception or dishes aren’t being served during a poignant toast. This is the area in which the caterer naturally becomes a planner, although some may be able to go even further into the process. For instance, some caterers have a division of their company devoted to wedding planning. Others have planners on staff to help out. And if you are working with a venue with a caterer, they are probably the planner as well. The evolution of caterers into a hybrid of caterer /planner has happened naturally over time. There are still many elements that require a wedding planner, and while caterers will never replace a planner, their involvement will continue to evolve further.
A fine dining experience is as much about the environment it is served in as it is about the food itself. Not to mention that the linen, the floral design and even the plates, all play a large part of how good we feel in a room and how good we feel in general. As I mentioned before, caterers have a lot to say about the look of your table or buffets simply because we are planning the menu and want it to fit the look and feeling of the menu. Talk with your caterer about the overall feeling of the room. Do you want it to be elegant or casual, contemporary or traditional, lush and rich, or simple? What are your linen colors? Your caterer and you will most likely take a trip to a rental company to look at linens, table settings and chairs. There are so many beautiful options now that your caterer can help guide you in the creation of a table, a buffet and a room setting that fits your vision.
After food, lighting is the most crucial element in the caterer’s world. Throw blue or green lighting on or near food and it will look strange and inedible. Turn on the amber glow and not only the food, but your Aunt Sally is gorgeous. Have too little or too much light and you can lose the mood you are trying to create. Even if you have just a small amount of budget allocated to décor, spend it on lighting! Your caterer can help here as well. Rental lighting has come a long way and a caterer can work with you to rent and have lighting installed over the buffet or on the tables. You can even add some accent lighting here and there to give the room some drama that accentuates your color scheme and any architectural elements of the room.
If you wonder why your caterer is interested in your flower choice, it’s because flowers are an important element of the overall dining experience. If they are too scented, they might clash with the menu. If too high, they might obscure your guests’ view of the stage, of the dance floor and of each other. If they are the not the best color or style, they might conflict with all the hard work that has gone into creating your table design. Just as a restaurant owner has carefully choreographed all the elements that go into creating a special atmosphere in which you feel and look great good, so does the caterer care about all the elements that you and your guests will experience, before even tasting a morsel of food. Once you and your caterer address all the factors of your wedding reception that are beyond food, you can truly begin to plan an exciting and delicious menu that works in perfect harmony with the environment you want to create for the most special day of your life.
Opening photograph by Ventana Photography