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What is a Wedding Caterer and What Do They Do
A professional caterer is a person or a business that provides food for large quantities of people. They typically market that they provide a higher quality of food than most are used to, giving customers a true culinary experience. Each company marketing themselves as a catering company typically has a set menu that they work from, and very few will work outside of those menus.
Many of those individuals starting professional catering businesses normally have professional culinary experience and a degree from a culinary institute, or they at least hire one or more chefs that do. This definitely provides for a better knowledge of food, how to combine spices and flavors in the most creative ways, and how to create food presentations to impress.
However, there are many catering businesses offering these services to the public that have been in business so long and/or have been serving the same exact menu for so long, that they have become complacent. I have heard from too many catering businesses, that because they serve such a large variety of people, and such big groups at once, they have to serve their food at more moderate temperatures, use less spices and keep their food rather mild, and moderate their dishes to be the most pleasing to the highest number of people.
Unfortunately, this also means that many of the dishes provided by these companies ends up bland, room temperature, and sub par compared to what you're used to at your favorite restaurant. I realize that this is not the case for every caterer, but in my experience planning weddings, catered meals from "the professionals" has never been too impressive, unless it's made with mushrooms.
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Alternative Food Options
Restaurants can cater events as well. The big difference between professional catering businesses and restaurants, is that caterers are usually only supplying food to customers one time for one big event. Repeat business is possible but not very likely. However with restaurants, repeat business is their livelihood.
As they don't normally provide for large parties (catering), restaurants have to cook deliciously hot food that makes people want to come back time and time again. By ordering food from a favorite restaurant, you can almost always guarantee that it will be the quality they normally provide, and guests will feel like they are eating there along with you.
Every wedding I've planned where a restaurant was called upon to cater provided for rave reviews on the part of all wedding guests towards the food served. Studies done in the wedding industry have shown time and time again that most wedding guests (in which professional catering was provided for the weddings) were unhappy with the quality of food served. Whereas, I have never received a single complaint from wedding guests when a restaurant catered the event.
But these aren't the only two options for you to choose from anymore. Many other options are popping up every day to provide brides and grooms with yummy food options. Food trucks are a growing industry that's becoming more popular every say for weddings. They can pull right up to the wedding venue and cook, plate, and serve food right from their trucks.
Fast food restaurants are now picking up the slack in wedding catering as well by providing anything from tacos, to hamburgers and pizza for wedding receptions, along with many other options. Grocery stores are even getting a piece of the action providing party trays, sandwiches, and any other number of food items to couples for their big day.
Finally, for those couples on a tight budget, interested in a really intimate affair, or even interested in saving some money, have a couple of other options. Many more couples than ever before are starting to see the benefits of either cooking for the wedding themselves or throwing a potluck event where friends and family members each bring a dish to serve for dinner or dessert, or even simplifying down to just a dessert or cocktail reception, with these items provided in one of the above ways (professional caterer, restaurant, food trucks, fast food, grocery store, self, or potluck).
What to Expect
When hiring a professional caterer, they will most likely provide a catering Captain, a Chef, at least one Sous Chef or Kitchen Assistant, waitstaff and a bartender to run the food side of the event.
In addition to these critical people, and depending on the type of reception requested by the clients, a number if specific food items are also provided. Some if these may include appetizers, main dish selections, salads, soups, and/or side dishes, and a dessert selection. Some caterers will also provide a wedding cake and other dessert options (groom's cake, pies, cobblers, cookies, pastries, wedding favors, etc.) if desired.
Traditionally couples are asked to choose 4-5 appetizers and can choose to have hot or cold appetizers, or have them stationary or passed. Stationary appetizers would be placed on a table for guests to serve themselves (i.e. fruits, sliced lunch meats, cheeses, and crackers). Passed appetizers would be placed on trays or plates, and waitstaff would walk around with them amongst the guests.
Passed appetizers (or hors d' oeuvres) are more expensive as extra waitstaff is needed to walk around with the appetizers. Hot appetizers are likely to be more expensive than cold, and the ingredients with which appetizers are created can also dictate the cost. Obviously vegetarian appetizers are the least expensive, while steak or seafood appetizers would be the most expensive. Veggie and chicken are the most popular ingredients.
Couples are also asked to choose 1-3 main dish options. Sometimes these are already served with predetermined side dishes. Most couples choose to offer their guests at least a chicken, a beef, and a seafood option, but there is no specific requirement. (These options are placed on the RSVP card in the wedding invitation for guests to choose ahead of time.)
Instead of a seafood dish, many couples are now offering a vegetarian dish. Just like the appetizer options, vegetarian dishes are typically the least expensive, and steak and seafood are the most expensive. Chicken dishes, specifically mushroom chicken, are the most popular chosen dishes by couples.
Salad and soup offerings are completely optional, and are usually considered an added expense. However, most couples provide at least a salad and bread to their guests to eat prior to the meal. As the wedding cake is usually the dessert of choice at weddings, other desserts are not needed.
Instead of simply a wedding cake though, many couples are now choosing to offer their guests a dessert bar as well, including a variety of interesting desserts like macaroons, petit fours, mini cheesecakes, tartlets, cupcakes, mini shortcakes, mini pies, brownies, cookies, mini cakes, S’mores, cake pops, chocolate mousse cups, dessert shots, and so many more. These types of sweets can often be eaten in one or two bites, and some without the use of utensils.
Any business providing food for weddings and events must consider different alternative menu options for guests, such as Halal, Kosher, Vegetarian, Vegan, and any food allergies that may exist. You can find an explanation of each of these in the Learning Center of our website (www.apieceofcakeweddingdesign.com).
Of course caterers are known for providing food, but you may not be as familiar with all of the services available from these vendors. Check out our next article on Wedding Caterers and What They Provide for more information on that.