Nothing sets the tone of your celebration quite like an elegant, delicious menu. One of the most important choices you will make, as far as your guests’ enjoyment is concerned, is the cuisine you choose to offer at your fête. Whether you’re having a cake-and-punch reception with an offering of small bites and tasty treats, or you’re planning out a refined, three-course meal – you must have full confidence in your wedding caterer.
We interviewed Pauline Parry, founder of Good Gracious! Events – a top-notch catering company – to help future brides and grooms better navigate the booking process when it comes to the perfect caterer. Read her answers below!
Inside Weddings: Is there one thing you love most about being in the catering business?
Pauline Parry: I LOVE that we have the opportunity to prepare all sorts of cuisines in so many different event locations!
IW: What kinds of cuisine does Good Gracious! specialize in? Certain influences?
PP: We definitely specialize in California Cuisine, but we can prepare, interpret, or fuse multiple cuisines like Japanese, Chinese, Peruvian, Mexican, Spanish as well as French and Italian.
IW: For an engaged couple, when is the best time to book the caterer?
PP: Once a location has been decided on.
IW: What should couples be looking for in their caterer?
PP: Two things that stand out most to me are, if the caterer has experience working at your event location and if they actually maintain a permitted and certified commercial kitchen.
IW: What are some of the most important questions to ask a potential caterer?
PP: Here are a few major questions one should ask:
- Ask if you can choose a menu that reflects your tastes, but is not too extreme for your guests’ tastes. This is the first time that you’ll be hosting as a married couple, so make considerations for your guests when planning the menu.
- Ask whether the caterer offers tastings. Most venues with on-site catering will provide a tasting once a deposit has been secured. Some may charge for a tasting, but if you secure their services, they will normally credit the monies toward your wedding.
- Ask the caterer how many bites or portions of appetizers are recommended during the cocktail hour. In my world, I would rather you have more than less. For example, I would recommend 8-10 bites or portions per guest, as your guests have generally traveled to get to your celebration and are usually quite hungry.
- Ask for a balanced selection of food items, both for tray-passed appetizers and for the dinner so that everyone’s tastes and dietary needs are met.
- If you’re going to serve a plated dinner, ask if you can give guests a choice between fish, meat, or chicken and a vegetarian option. Knowing actual guest counts can be more cost effective to your caterer and be appreciated.
- If you decide to serve meat to all guests, I’d ask if a vegetarian plate is possible (for a specific number of guests) or if the caterer can accommodate known food allergies. A simpler vegetarian alternative would be to serve the sides from the main plate minus the meat if cost is an issue.
- Discuss service styles with your caterer, such as if you would like a left-right serve, to serve ladies first, or find a point person at each table. Also let the caterer know if you would like finished plates to be picked up as each guest finishes or wait until the whole table finishes. This normally will be dependent upon the overall program and time constraints of reception.
- A plated meal and a buffet dinner usually work out to be the same price point. For a plated meal, more servers are required, but the number of hours they’re needed can be reduced. The chef can also determine exact quantities of food since everything would be portioned out.
- A buffet requires more food because there’s no way to determine how much guests will indulge. Buffets also need to be set up and broken down in addition to guests tables. Plus, there’s the added expense of chafers, platters, additional flowers and/or table décor, linens, etc.
- Always have one menu card at each table or one at each place setting so guests can familiarize themselves with the menu and thus, alert the caterer with any food issues they may have.
IW: How do you go about designing a wedding menu? Can a caterer typically get a sense of the couples' taste and make suggestions?
PP: Yes, we do get a sense of the couple’s taste and make suggestions. We ask what restaurants they like, how they like to entertain, etc. We also ask what foods they would NOT like to see on a menu and what food or specific dish they LOVE, and then we develop from there.
IW: How often do brides and grooms have a very specific menu picked out before coming in?
PP: Not very often. I think in my 30 fresh years of catering, it's happened one time. Quite a lot of couples do have an item or two they must have... it's ususally indicative of a childhood memory, a family favorite, or a food they shared and experienced together for the first time while dating.
IW: Do you have any particularly memorable weddings that Good Gracious! has catered? Any highlights or difficult situations?
PP: A big question! As caterers, we tend to take the bull by the horns in facing any challenges on the job. That said, drunkeness can sometimes be a difficult situation, but overall, we’ve been so very lucky. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting some truly FABULOUS couples and families who’ve left US with beautiful memories. We just forget the bad experiences.
IW: If there is one piece of advice you could offer couples hiring a caterer, what would it be?
PP: I’d say, make sure you feel absolutely comfortable with whomever you chose, and that you have a high level of trust in them.
Opening photo by Marianne Lozano Photography