Think outdoor wedding, and sunny skies, landscaped lawns and billowing white tents may come to mind. This being New England, however, the chance of this picture-perfect setting being intruded upon by rain, high humidity or unseasonably cold weather is a good one.
THINK OUTDOOR WEDDING, AND SUNNY SKIES, LANDSCAPED lawns and billowing white tents may come to mind. This being New England, however, the chance of this picture-perfect setting being intruded upon by rain, high humidity or unseasonably cold weather is a good one. Thankfully, local caterers aren’t easily intimidated by the elements. From what tent to rent to which drinks to serve, here’s everything you need to know to pull off the alfresco meal of your dreams for the Big Day.
RAISING THE ROOF
ASK ANY CATERER, AND THE FIRST THING THEY’LL RECOMMEND (or insist upon) when catering an outdoor wedding is a tent. “It’s a must,” says Emma Roberts, owner of Capers Catering in Boston’s North Shore. “From birds and bugs, to the fact that not everyone can be outside in the sun for a long time, you need a tent.”
Some tents are better than others. Instead of the bare-bones variety, go the distance and order tents with flaps to help keep out rain or let in air. “Also spend the extra money for someone from the tent company to be there to either raise or lower the flaps,” says Jack Milan, owner of Different Tastes in Chelsea. “You don’t want your guests fiddling with flaps in the middle of a downpour.” You’ll also want to think about renting fans or heaters to help keep temps bearable.
Val Shulock, chef-owner of Basil Tree Gourmet & Natural Catering in Somerville, likes her clients to think about renting a floor covering for inside the tent. “We’ve had several large events where people were squishing in the grass,” she says. She also suggests a runner of some sort connecting the tent to the house or venue for when people need to use the restroom. “We’ve seen a lot of guests get very wet and muddy without one.”
Even if you rent tents, caterers suggest having a plan B in the event of rain. “You should always have an alternative,” says Milan. “Don’t think, ‘We’ll all just fit under the tent if it rains,’ because it won’t be big enough and it will be total chaos.” One of Milan’s clients planned to have a beach wedding but had buses ready to transport guests from the beach to her home a half-mile away where a tent awaited in the event of rain—and rain it did. “It poured buckets, but it didn’t matter because we had plan B,” he says.
For buggier locations, Linda Blackmore, wedding specialist for Gourmet Caterers in Boston, recommends setting up tiki torches, and even treating for bugs a few days prior to the wedding. And for a super sunny day, one of her clients had a clever approach to making sure her guests were covered: “One bride had mini bottles of sunscreen as favors with labels with the bride and groom’s engagement picture on them.”
FROM AN ELEGANT SIT-DOWN MEAL TO A laid-back clambake, there are countless options for choosing your outdoor menu. Roberts takes her cue from the couple and tries to tailor cuisine to their likes, dislikes and heritage, but when given the chance, a classic New England clambake is her first choice. “We make a signature cranberry-based drink with frozen white and red cranberries stacked on a swivel stick to keep the drink cold,” she says. She also serves baby lobster rolls, mini hamburgers on homemade sesame seed buns along with barbecue chicken, New York strip steak, and gazpacho or clam chowder served in Irish coffee cups. For dessert, Roberts has set up a dessert tent to resemble a country 4-H bake sale with pies, whoopie pies, cupcakes, fudge, pink popcorn balls and homemade candy.
Milan likes to think little when creating an outdoor menu. “I love doing short plates—it’s just a miniature version of the main meal and easier for people to eat,” he says. Milan offers guests trios—three different treatments of the same food—such as grilled, poached and marinated shrimp, and strawberry, pineapple or chocolate raspberry shortcakes. He also offers a make-your-own-s’mores bar: homemade marshmallows and chocolate ganache squished between walnut or lemon shortbread.
Different food stations for guests also is ideal for an outdoor wedding. “I try to keep it as casual as possible. People don’t want to sit in one spot in a tent all day, and stations allow for people to move around,” says Linda Marino, co-owner of La Bonne Maison in Watertown. Marino starts with a pre-wedding, nonalcoholic drink for thirsty travelers such as cold lemonade or sparkling water, and for cocktail hour, she’ll serve signature drinks such as frozen daiquiris or margaritas. Food stations could include a seafood station of crab cakes, salmon ribbons (roasted salmon on skewers served with sesame oil and lime-ginger aioli) and shrimp shooters (shrimp served with individual shot glasses filled with spicy avocado dipping sauce).
But an outdoor wedding doesn’t mean you can’t have an elegant plated meal. In fact, some caterers prefer it. “I find that a lot of my outdoor weddings are sit-down, and it’s actually easier for me to run things when everyone is seated,” says Milan.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
WHILE BARBECUES AND CLAMBAKES ARE tasty indeed, they can be messy. Thankfully, most caterers have plenty of tricks for delivering these delicious dishes with minimal mess. “We can do a grilled split lobster with tarragon butter so all of the work is done,” says Roberts. “And instead of clams, serve clam chowder.” Marino likes to dollop sauces for you to avoid spills. “Dipping things can be messy, and we avoid thin dipping sauces like olive oil—people drip it on themselves and it can ruin their day.” And never underestimate the power of napkins. “Linens go a long way,” says Roberts. She makes sure plenty are available and brides can choose from fun summer prints and patterns like pink, yellow and green stripes with seashells and seahorses or flip-flops. “Also make sure there are plenty of Wet-Naps available.”
Even the most well thought out event can have its mishaps however, especially when set in the midst of scorching heat. Tips from the experts to avoid culinary mishaps include choosing your cake frosting wisely. “I had one bride who really wanted whipped-cream frosting on her cake, but it was so dreadfully hot that day,” says Blackmore. “As the couple approached the table to cut the cake, the groom accidentally kicked the table and the top tier of the cake flew off like
Knowing when to cut the cake on a hot day can also come in handy. “I had one bride who didn’t want to cut the cake because she thought the party would end once she did,” says Roberts. “At 2 a.m. the band was still playing, but the cake completely fell apart and there was a bullmastiff dog right there to dig in.”
And, hydrated guests are happy guests according to Marino. “One couple ran out of alcohol, so they sent the groomsmen out to buy more and we put it in a dinghy filled with ice,” she says. La Bonne Maison now uses this idea regularly. “We refer to it as the booze boat.”