Copyright © 2012 Karen Rhodes
This is one of those subjects thats really tricky. If you don’t know a caterer, what’s the best way to check if they are any good? Ask for a tasting, right? Well that’s what all the magazines say so it must be right, right? Well maybe not….
In reality anyone with a flair for cooking or a love of food can put together a delicious, beautifully presented meal for you to try. However what’s the bet if you asked them to repeat it for 40 or 80 or 200 they couldn’t do it, because when catering for a wedding or special event that’s where the skill lies. Every dish should replicate each other whether its for 70 or 700. The plates should be warm, the food piping hot, the food beautifully presented and the wines cold. If that’s achieved, along with good service, friendly staff and someone that cares you are halfway there. In fact the food side of things is one of the easiest things to achieve. How many times have you been to a great restaurant thats been let down by slow or sloppy service. Do you remember the food or do you remember the experience? We’ve got a great restaurant near us that does first rate food and its full of tourists. Why don’t the locals go when the food is so fantastic? Simple really, it’s because the service is rubbish. You wait for your order to be taken, you wait for drinks, your food comes in dribs and drabs, half of the orders forgotten so by the time you get the rest of your meal the first parts cold and no-one puts up with it. It’s not because they don’t have enough staff, it’s just badly run.
From a logistical side tastings take time, if every event wanted a tasting we would have to employ a chef simply to offer this service. The reality is that if you wanted rack of lamb as a main course for your wedding we would roast the bones on a Wednesday, make a stock which would cook for 24 hours and on Friday chef would make the most delicious gravy ever. If you came for a tasting its totally infeasible to do that for 2 portions of gravy so hence you would get a poorer product than you would on the day. A lot of the dishes made aren’t made from a recipe book, chef simply cooks, tastes and rectifies them until you have the perfect dish. Next week the dish may be slightly different so the dish you tasted in January may not be the same as the dish you taste on your wedding day.
In the summer any decent caterer with a good reputation would normally be turning away more work than they can do and may not offer tastings in the summer. Take that as a positive rather than a negative. If they are so busy there must be a reason why.
And what about unscrupulous caterers? There are plenty of them about. We have a competitor that has built a tasting room. They offer great service, complete with wine, employ someone just to do this service and gets plenty of wedding bookings. Its a well known fact that on the day when its mass produced, they use frozen veg, frozen roast potatoes and bought in puddings! It doesn’t matter to them because they probably won’t see the family again, the bills been paid in advance and they move on to the next one. Funnily enough they don’t get that many complaints.
The reason for this is that on the day its about so much more than food. We recently went to France and were sat outside a ski lodge in the spring sunshine with a glass of wine and had the most wonderful lunch. I was describing this to a client and telling her that it was one of the best meals I had eaten. My daughter was in the meeting and she asked what we had eaten and I can’t remember. The point is that it was the atmosphere, the weather, having a good time and thats what weddings are about. We get so many letters about the quality of the food, the delicious food, the great service and although its lovely to hear I wonder how many people can actually remember what they had. They remember the day, the emotions, how happy they were and what a fantastic time they had. Don’t get me wrong if the food had been poor they’d have noticed, if the service they expected hadn’t materialised we would get told.
Its funny what people notice. During the wedding season I nearly always get a call relatively early on a Monday morning, usually from a bride saying that she had been to a wedding on the Saturday and she didn’t like this, that and the other and wanted confirmation that it wouldn’t happen at her wedding. The most common issue were that the drinks or jugs of water didn’t come quick enough, guests had to keep asking for things as there didn’t seem to be enough staff and also the little things like butter or sugar being served in wrappers or no ground pepper. I always ask about the food and pretty much most of the time they say the food was good, which is surprising when I know for a fact that the standard of food in certain establishments isn’t anywhere near as good as it should be. But in wedding food, good seems to be good enough, because the day is about so much more!
My views differ. I think the wedding meal should be one of the best meals you ever have. It should be a reflection of your personality and tastes and you should have what you love having. You need to choose a caterer that you can trust, that will turn your dreams into reality and sometimes thats a case of gut instinct. But gut instinct backed up by a few phone calls usually works even better. Ask for references, get some phone numbers of recent couples that the caterer has worked for and do your homework.
If it all stacks up and you are still having doubts ask for a guarantee. A caterer that believes in their product and is dedicated to customer service should give you one.
Karen Rhodes has been a wedding planner and caterer for twenty years, mainly for marquee and venue weddings. To discover how to plan the perfect wedding from organising the marquee to choosing the perfect meal go to http://www.karenrhodes.co.uk