Experts: The Dinner Doyenne

A seasoned party pro dishes about serving a crowd—and making sure everyone goes home happy.


Photograph by David Yellen

HOLLY SAFFORD wasn’t planning on being in the wedding business. In 1979, she and a couple of friends started catering small affairs out of her home in Scituate. “We were disinclined to do more full-service events, because they involved a set of skills we didn’t have — like hiring bartenders, and timing,” Safford says. But word of mouth and a stellar reputation kept the phones ringing, and eventually she signed on to do a 40-person wedding in Sharon. Today the Catered Affair, which Safford now runs with her two sons, is not just a catering company — it’s also a go-to resource for planning a wedding from start to finish. And since Safford’s been in the bridal biz for the past three decades, she knows what works and what doesn’t. Here, she shares a few insights she’s picked up along the way.

What should people look for in a caterer?

You want a guide who can bounce ideas around with you and give good feedback. My goal is for you to say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want; I just wasn’t able to articulate it.” But if you feel like the caterer’s views overpower your own, then get someone else. No matter how big their reputation, they should always allow your personality and taste to come through. After all, the event is about you.

How important is a theme?
I don’t think it’s that important. Sure, it’s charming if you love the circus and you want cotton candy and popcorn, but you don’t want to rely on a theme that you don’t have a connection with. I encourage my clients to think about what they love most, whether it’s a color, an ethnic cuisine, or a recipe from their grandmother.

What foods just don’t work at weddings?
We will only prepare what can be done with the facilities we have available to us. I would steer people away from soufflès, for example, because they are pretty intense. You need well-calibrated ovens and cooking equipment you can depend on. Frying is also tough. Lots of people want French fries, tater tots, or fried clams, but unless you can cook them right before they’re served, it just doesn’t work. I don’t like the idea of food being cooked at a commissary and driven an hour down the highway. It’s like serving leftovers.

What did you serve at your wedding?

I had the good fortune of having Jamie Mammano [now of Mistral, Teatro, L’Andana, Sorellina, and Mooo] working with us. I told him my husband wanted lobster quesadillas, I wanted clams in every conceivable way, and the rest was up to him. Jamie insisted that we also have a hot dog bar, and the most wonderful visual I have is of one of my guests, a longtime client, with a plate of five hot dogs, sauerkraut, relish, onions, pickles, and six kinds of mustard, just crowing as she walked to her table.