A good caterer can make a huge difference in the success of your most memorable party and often does much more than just provide delicious food and drinks. The cost you will incur in hiring a caterer depends on the type of cuisine served, the number of guests, whether you plan to provide an open bar, how elaborate you want the decor to be and what other services you ask them to provide.
"We are a full-service caterer," says Roberta Sharpe, owner of Willow Catering (8220 Willow St., 861-9174). "We can act as their events planner as well as their caterer. My advice to people getting married is to look for a one-stop shop. Then they can turn to just one or two people to get their questions answered. It will save a lot of time and energy."
The key, she says, is finding a caterer that understands what you want your reception to be and will work with you and your budget to achieve that goal.
"We have a nice, long conversation with the people involved with planning the wedding (bride, groom, parents or events planners), and we'll do a menu proposal," Sharpe says. "Usually it will take a little fine tuning and a tasting. [The tasting is] important. We describe to them what the look will be and we have photos of how we decorate the tables, which gives them an idea of what their reception will look like."
Lea Freeman, co-owner of Partysist, agrees the tasting pulls things together for the bride and is necessary to finalize the menu, even though many of her bridal couples are from out of town and the preliminary arrangements are made over the telephone or via email.
"This is the perfect opportunity for the bride to see how the menu comes together with the decor, place settings, linens and (the bride) can ask all those pertinent questions," Freeman says. "We find this tasting is most helpful to the bride in finalizing these details."
Partysist Executive Chef Max Bouzaid has a quarter-century of experience in French, Asian, Cajun, Creole, Pacific Rim and Eastern European cuisine and tailors each menu to the specific couple, adding a fusion of regional flavors with international undertones, she says.
After menu decisions are made, Willow Catering's Sharpe meets the couple at their reception site and outlines the fine details, such as where buffet tables, tables and chairs, bars and musicians will be located and what the room will look like.
"We take care of everything," she says. "We do all the decorating, florals, votive candles ... anything for a party."
Partysist also is full service, with a creative director in house who adds drama to the venue with flowers, table decor, lighting and fabrics. A beverage consultant helps pair wines with the menu, and can devise specialty drinks to enhance the couple's reception theme. "Partysist pays special attention to all the details that go into making a bride's wedding day beautiful and unique [so] she can focus on more important things like her hair and makeup," Freeman says.
Although it's not traditionally part of a caterer's purview, Sharpe says Willow's staff can arrange for invitations, provide edible party favors for guests and even book bands for entertainment at the reception.
Many venues, such as hotels, provide their own catering services but Sharpe says there are certain advantages to contracting with an independent provider. ""What's nice about using your own catering service ... is they can get the party more fine tuned," she says. "People are doing more themed weddings and they want the food and decor to [complement] their theme. They want the guests to have a whole feel for what they're doing with their wedding."
Both caterers agree that the more time allowed for planning the better, and the preferred lead-time is a year or at least six months, particularly if the couple hopes to book a popular reception site. Shorter notice can sometimes be accommodated, however.
And the budget? Sharpe says that depends on what type of event the couple wants and what they are willing to spend. Other events planners say the reception cost is often 50 percent of the total wedding budget.
"They really need to look at their party as a whole and what they can afford," Sharpe says. "They need to be up front with the caterer and what the budget is and what they'd like to have. We'll work with that and tell them what is doable. We'll make it as nice as possible for what they want to spend."
If both parties are realistic and flexible in their thinking, the event can come off without any shortcomings, she says. "I think the brides and their fiances are getting more involved in the planning (than in the past)," she says. "I talk to as many grooms as brides; in the last few years they're getting more involved.
"We love weddings. Everybody's excited; it's the anticipation of the day. The planning is really fun."