Ask the Expert: Cozy Caterers
No matter where you fall on the picky-eater to self-proclaimed foodie scale, you’re probably (sometimes painfully) aware of the fact that wedding menus are more often than not a pretty big deal for all parties involved. You can go back and forth between using the Chiavari or Versailles chairs all you want, but it’s the food that will make a lasting impression on your guests for years to come. So, in order to make sure you get off on the right foot, we set up a ‘consultation’ with Mark Brown, Cozy Caterers‘ Wedding Coordinator extraordinaire, and asked him to dish (sorry, it had to be done!) on everything from when to reach out, what to serve and the benefits of a buffet line v.s. a sit down dinner.
How far in advance of my wedding date should I be looking at caterers?
September and October weddings need to be booked as soon as possible — they are the new June and July wedding season. You should always get your caterer a year in advance for every other month.
What details should I already have lined up before I line up a consultation with a caterer?
The venue, for sure, because your venue is your most important first detail. Everything is based on location, location, location and what your vision of your wedding is (i.e. is it beach themed, rustic, Victorian?) From there we can get a good grasp on your menu.
What are some things couples should keep in mind when exploring their catering options?
First and foremost, when meeting with a caterer, ask yourself these questions: Do I like the person I met with? Are they friendly? Do they understand my vision? Are they working for me or just for themselves?
You should also consider: How long has their coordinator been catering weddings? Do they have venue knowledge? Will they answer my questions at 3 a.m. to set my mind at ease?
Then there’s prices: What’s included? What’s not included? Be sure to check your options for alcoholic beverages– This part of your wedding can be very expensive, so do they have options besides open bar and cash bar?
When it comes to the menu, should I pick apps and entrees that I know my fiancé and I will like, or do I pick “crowd pleasers”?
You should definitely pick items that you and your fiancé love. After all, this is a celebration of the both of you. We will never forget this one groom that, as long as he had ketchup at his wedding, he was a happy person.
Your menu should reflect who you two are. Where did you meet? What are your favorite foods? Where is your favorite place to hang out? Are you from Rhode Island? Do you like Rhody foods? Or, if you have a theme, match your food to your theme.
You can also always pick from one of the caterers packages. If you can’t decide on what package to pick, do it based on cost.
What have been some of your more popular wedding dishes?
Chicken Marsala seems to be the ultimate favorite meal we serve at weddings. That and braised short ribs.
If we want to have an ethnic-specific wedding, can you help us create a menu that reflects our culture(s)?
Of course. We’ve done all sorts of ethnic menus, including Asian, Italian, Mexican and Dominican.
Below is a sample of an Asian American wedding menu.
Passed Hors D’oeuvres
Mini quiches; Thai vegetable spring roll served with apricot ginger sauce; Petite shepherd’s pie served in a baby Yukon gold potato, topped with braised short rib, potato puree and butter pea garnish.
From the Buffet
Autumn stuffed pork loin with granny smith apples, onion and celery with a cider gravy; General Tso’s shrimp glazed in a spicy and tangy mandarin sauce; Chicken stir-fry with oriental vegetables; Steamed rice fry dumpling pork or beef with soy dipping; Roasted squash and zucchini.
What are the benefits of a buffet-style dinner vs. the benefits of a served meal?
The Pros of a Buffet:
1. The guests get to eat a wide variety of foods and choose more of what they love.
2. Guests can get up and move around and not be stuck at their table (which may or may not be a good thing).
3. A buffet table can serve as part of the room’s décor . It usually has floral arrangements, gorgeous linens, etc.
4. Food is always hot on a buffet. Have you been to a sit down dinner where the service was slow and your food was cold by the time it arrived at your seat?
The Cons of a Buffet:
1. The famous, never-ending buffet line. Also, tables are usually called up one by one but this doesn’t always go as planned as some guests love to rebel and go up before their table is called.
2. It takes up more room at your venue. If you max out on the guest list, you will definitely have to put the buffet on the dance floor and that will be an issue when it comes time for dancing. You will have to wait for the staff to remove the buffet before the dancing can start, delaying your party. If you’re having the maximum number of guests/tables, a sit down dinner would be more suitable for you.
The Pros of a Served Dinner:
1. Being waited on can be less stressful for your guests than other service styles, namely buffet meals, because they do not have to wait in line or get up to retrieve their food.
2. You will not have any leftover or wasted food with these meals, since plates are pre-portioned by a hired wait staff.
3. Most will agree that this style of service offers an air of sophistication.
The Cons of a Served Dinner:
1. This menu will have less variety than a buffet. It is best to serve foods that are widely appealing in order to accommodate guests with dietary restrictions.
2. You have to let the caterer know who wants to eat what. It is best practice to color code the entrée selection on the back of each place card. We always tell the couples to put a red dot for beef, yellow dot for chicken and green dot for vegetarian. This will take up more of your planning time but will make your served dinner go smoother. When a couple doesn’t do this part of the planning, a served dinner can turn to chaos Guests don’t remember what they chose to eat two months ago, and when they see what the entrée looks like, they change their minds. We also recommend that you have an excel spreadsheet for the caterer and list guests’ names by table and what they are eating so if they change their mind the caterer can refer them to the excel sheet. When it comes to catering a wedding, we are not a restaurant so we bring what is ordered.
3. A plated meal will also take up more of your reception time, reducing the time available for ceremonial activities such as toasts, formal dances, cake-cutting and casual activities such as socializing or dancing. This does depend on the number of staff at your wedding. We always account for 1 server per 15 guest attending for a plated style meal.
Some of my guests have dietary restrictions (vegetarian, gluten-free, various allergies) – what can I do to make sure everyone gets to eat that day? What alternatives do you offer?
We never want a guest to not be able to eat at a wedding. During the initial consultation, we tell our couples that we do offer selections for dietary needs such as gluten free, nut free, vegetarian and vegan. We tell the couples that, when making their invitations, to include a section where guests can indicate that they have a dietary need.
For the vegetarians, most caterers will make them a pasta with vegetable dish. We don’t think that’s fair to them, so we serve an acorn dumpling squash stuffed with quinoa, pistachios and cranberry. It will come with the same starch and vegetable that comes with the meat entrees. This way we can please both the vegans and vegetarians.
I saw that you can provide alcohol — Do you do signature drinks? If so, what do you recommend?
Signature drinks are a great add on to your wedding. We recommend you choose one based on the time of year you are having your wedding.
You want drinks that just give you a warm feeling. We suggest either the Firewood, made with Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and Woodchuck Hard Cider, or a Honey Bourbon Apple Cocktail, made with Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey and Mulled Apple Cider.
Cozy up to a candy cane Martini.
You want to do something that is fresh and offers a fragrance of fresh flowers. A popular drink to have that can be a passed drink during cocktail hour is called the Blushing Bride. This has champagne, grenadine and peach schnapps with a lavender sprig garnish.
In Rhode Island there is nothing that can compare to having refreshing Del’s Lemonade mixed with with flavored vodka such as blueberry, strawberry or raspberry. We serve these in the traditional Del’s cups. For the couples that don’t care for lemonade, go for a drink we call On the Water. It has blue Curacao, vodka, peach schnapps and Sprite with a lemon slice garnish.
What other services do you provide?
We can help you pin down everything you’d need for your wedding including rentals, floral, cake, DJ and photography. This is because we have great relationships with amazing local vendors.We are a one stop shop for wedding planning.
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