Fall/Winter 2009: The Experts


Years later, your guests will remember the toasts, the dancing, the late-night
karaoke…but the food? Not so much. Unless, that is, you hire a caterer who knows wedding meals don’t need to be expensive afterthoughts.

By Amy Traverso

The typical reception resembles a classic family holiday fiasco: Generally inexperienced hosts are suddenly expected to pull off a multi-course gourmet odyssey for a roomful of discerning guests, each with a clear idea of How It Should Be Done. (Trust us, nothing evokes criticism like tepid leek soup or undercooked rack of lamb.) Smart couples pass off the decision-making to a well-tested caterer like Stephen Barck, who co-owns Boston’s Tables of Content with his wife, Linda. He might not be able to limit Aunt Debbie’s chardonnay intake, but he sure knows how to placate picky eaters.

Money is on everyone’s mind these days. How can couples save without going the buffet (or Thursday afternoon) route? Try to go with a caterer who lets you purchase liquor on consignment, which means you can return any unopened bottles and save from $20 to $40 per person. Limit the number of main entrées to one, and then have several vegetarian options ready to go on-site. Finally, once you’ve selected a caterer, ask if he or she is doing another event close to yours. Often, you can piggyback your menu off of another party’s, and the caterer can lower production costs by creating mirror-image meals. We do this all the time and save our clients at least 5 percent.

Limiting entrée options sounds good, but what about guests with food allergies or other dietary restrictions? Some allergies are easy, like keeping nuts out of everything. But other than that, you can work with your caterer to create a few separate, risk-free plates. To accommodate celiac disease, for example, you could do risotto as a pasta alternative, tempura made with potato flour, or tenderloin dredged in chestnut flour. We also regularly bring in kosher food for Jewish weddings—though I did once have an Italian-Jewish couple who went with pork dumplings and shrimp scampi…until the mother-in-law nixed that. In general, though, we’re not in favor of adjusting the entire menu just to satisfy a few.

That sounds pretty reasonable to us. You’ve been at this for while—have you had many near-disasters? I once worked for a caterer who made his own cakes, and I was helping him transport one in his truck. While driving, he had to stop short, and the whole cake slid over. When we got to the venue, which had a big garden, he said, “go keep the event manager busy while I cut all her flowers.” And he did. He covered the cake in blooms, and it looked great. Another time, a tent company put up the covering at the wrong venue. We arrived to set up for our wedding, and…no tent. We had mere hours to fix everything—it was nip-and-tuck until the last moment.

What are some big food trends for 2009 and 2010?
We’re getting lots of requests for organic vegetables. And at more and more weddings, up to 60 percent of our menus are made from locally harvested foods. This is where the creativity of the caterer comes into play. We had one client who wanted to grow all her own vegetables, and she chose us because we were willing to work with her. In general, people want their weddings to be more eco-friendly. They’re asking for live centerpieces that can be repotted, as opposed to cut flowers. We’ve done eco-friendly linens versus polyester, and compostable plates. I even had a couple who used paper plates and then collected all the trash to bring to a recycling center.  

Tables of Content, 2 McCraw St., Boston, 617-363-0404, tablesofcontent.com.

Disasters, Averted
Stephen Barck’s tips on how to avoid common catering mistakes.

Stick to the Game Plan  
Food crises usually occur because an event’s timing is thrown off and no one notifies the kitchen. Group photos are the worst offender: You’re trying to get the big family shot, but you can’t find Aunt Debbie and, meanwhile, you’ve asked the caterer to have the food ready ten minutes ago. Likewise, if you’re planning on having twenty toasts, tell your caterer ahead of time.

Don’t Bank on Good Weather  
Mother Nature can wreak havoc on wedding food. Some couples ask to have their first course pre-plated to speed up a meal. I like that idea, but you have to plan carefully. Imagine a salad sitting in 85-degree weather for thirty minutes. Not good. Also, never put your wedding cake near a sunny window or a tent flap. Ditto for sushi.

Don’t Skimp Too Much  
If you really want to avoid disaster, get a company you can trust, one that has been doing weddings for years. In today’s economy, every restaurant advertises itself as a caterer. (Even your next-door neighbor who makes delicious pasta probably now fancies herself one.) Ask for references and make sure to have at least one tasting beforehand.