How to Avoid Catering Pitfalls

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Don't let the food derail the mood.

You have polled all your guests on their favorite finger foods, attended every tasting and could recite the reception menu by heart. You've done everything you could to prevent a catering catastrophe from happening, but sometimes even the most simple crab cake appetizers come out all wrong. Here are a few of the more common mistakes couples make, and ways to avoid them:

Misjudging the role food plays in the evening

"It's a big part of the reception and there's a lot of activity that goes on during that time like toasts, cake cutting," says Marla Ruoff of Bosc & Brie. "One thing couples don't realize when they're making the timeline is how their timeline and dinner service coincide."

In the midst of scheduling your first dance, tossing the bouquet and cutting the cake, don't forget to factor in how and when food will be part of the night. A lot of this is dependent on the vibe of your reception. If it's more formal, chances are you will have servers bringing out food and taking it away. If food trucks are more your style, your guests will be able to get up and serve themselves when they're ready to eat.

Whatever the overall feeling of your reception, be sure you have given yourself and your guests enough time to eat without feeling rushed or waiting too long to be served.

Not trusting your caterer

"Caterers do this every single weekend, so we know what works and we know what doesn't work," Ruoff says. "We want your guests to be satisfied with the meal and have fun."

"The biggest thing I would tell couples is not to stress and to have fun," says Karlie Halverson of Taste Hospitality Group. "Let the person that you're working with do all the key details."

But be wary of a catering quote that seems too good to be true. Ruoff warns of couples in the past who have jumped on an offer that includes a ton of food for cheap, only to be disappointed in the end when the quality was less than expected.

Going off menu without consulting the chef

Interested in using an old family recipe or trying something delicious you saw on Pinterest? Great. But make sure you've discussed this with your caterers and chef to determine whether the dish is appropriate for a large group of people. Your dreams of eating your great-grandmother's famous dessert won't turn out so well if only half the guests get to enjoy it because it takes so long to prepare.

"Chefs like going off menu and don't mind doing so, but they will tell you if it's not going to work, because catering is different from going into a restaurant," Ruoff says. "So if couples want to go off menu they need to make sure they consult with the chef and that it's something that, as a catering chef, we're able to do."

Forgetting guest allergies/dietary preferences

Be sure to check with guests beforehand about any special food allergies or diet restrictions they may have, like gluten-free or vegetarian preferences. Some leave room on the RSVPs for guests to mention those special considerations. It's especially important if you're utilizing a caterer who's preparing much of the meal offsite and may not be able to accommodate a guest if an issue like this arises during dinnertime.

"Most catering companies will make a special plate for guests in advance if they know ahead of time," Halverson says. Guests with special dietary concerns don't have to be an issue if you take care of it early on.

Underestimatingthe guest count

Hopefully you have a pretty good handle on the number of guests who will show up at your reception, but sometimes couples have to act fast when a few extra friends make the last-minute decision to show. Since most catering companies require at least a week for any last-minute changes, it's good to have extra food ready, just in case, Halverson says.

Accurate guest counts also factor into planning for serving staff and place settings during the meal. Round up to accommodate those unexpected attendees.

Forgetting the escort cards

When sending out invitations, sometimes couples forgot to request the guest's name or ask what type of meal the guest wants. If your guests have assigned seating, this can prove especially problematic.

"This results in couples calling guests ahead of time to figure out who's eating what. It's something a lot of people don't think about," Halverson said. "They don't expect it's going to be a big deal, but it is."

Save yourself the trouble and be sure you know how the meal will be done before you send out your invitations. That way you can account for things like special meals and dietary preferences.

Overthinking the menu

Although it is important to pay attention to the details, Halverson warns against going crazy over what food you'll serve. "Keep it simple. I see too many couples obsessed about pleasing every single guest," she says. "I always tell my couples, 'Pick what you guys want to pick and everyone else will go with it and be happy.'"

This also depends on the type of couple you are. If you're both big foodies, it makes sense that you'll be more involved in the menu, but don't let choosing the perfect side dish keep you up at night.