7 FACTS to know before hiring a caterer


Written by the Event producers at Feastivities

1. Fresh doesn’t always mean fresh


Couples today are food savvy.  They dine out regularly at chic bistros and BYOBs rather than settling for the local chain restaurant.  Fresh food, creative menus and plate presentation are important to them.  And these high standards get even higher on their wedding day.  The thought that their wedding food might be frozen would send them running.  Most caterers realize this, which is why few will admit to using frozen products.  Instead when asked, they say their food is fresh and yes, at some point it was fresh.  Right before it was frozen.  Is there anyway to tell if you’re getting a straight answer?  One way is to consider the bottom line.  Most caterers in an area use the same vendors and purveyors, so in general, the cost of purchasing the raw products is the same.  Ask the caterers you are considering to bid on identical menus and give you the price of the menu alone (without rentals, linens etc.)  If there is a big difference in cost for the same menu it should raise a flag.   How can caterer A charge $65.00 a person when caterer B charges $80.00?   If nothing else has been factored in then it has to be in the food itself.  Is caterer A buying cheaper cuts of meat, old produce or seafood that is a day away from being bait?  Scary, but possible.  It’s much more likely that the $15.00 represents the difference between paying trained chefs to actually prepare your meal from scratch with fresh ingredients rather than having a body tearing open boxes.  It may seem on the surface that you’re really getting a deal but in reality you are getting what you paid for – frozen food. Your meal should be prepared from scratch by chefs, just for your event.  Your hors d’oeuvre made by hand, not machine. 

2. Served fresh means cooked on site, not cooked elsewhere and carried in hotboxes.

This is the difference between green beans that are bright green and snappy and green beans that are dull olive and mushy.  Some caterers don’t have the trained kitchen personnel to actually cook the meal at the reception.  Instead your food is thawed and cooked at the caterer’s kitchen early in the day, put into hot boxes and then brought to the reception.  The cooked food sits trapped in its own steam for hours before it’s ever served.   We’ve all had food from a steam table.  Once in a while you have to.  But at your wedding?  The fresh ingredients for your meal should be prepped at the caterer’s commissary.  They should make the stock, clean the fresh vegetables, and trim the fresh seafood.  They should do everything but cook it, because we know that the finest food goes from stove to plate not from hotbox to plate.  If you want the food served fresh this is how it has to be done.

3. Service is a matter of math – the ratio of staff to guests is critical.

You’ve taken the time, allotted the budget and selected a wonderful menu so now you need to ask how many staff your caterer will provide to serve it.  Nothing is more frustrating than having to hunt for hors d’oeuvre or wait in line for a drink.  Service can make or break your reception.  Lack of adequate staff is very obvious to the guests and will undo all your careful planning.  Be wary if a caterer plans to send 5 staff to attend to 200 guests!  Call me crazy but I don’t want to have to look for waiters in order to eat.  I want them to look for me.  Which brings me to staff quality.  It’s important that staff is well trained.  Ask the caterer about their training sessions and manuals.  Your staff should be service oriented, pleasant and attentive because your guests should never feel as if their needs are an imposition. 

4. Style is significant.

The visual impact of your menu really does have an impact on your guests and the success of the reception.  But the best thing any caterer can bring to your table is the sheer enthusiasm and will to create a day for you unlike any other. With the right caterer your sense of style will show in your menu and its’ presentation, as well as in the surroundings and décor.  

5. Menu design does not involve picking your food from columns.

Some couples come to a caterer with definite menu ideas but far more come wanting the planner to take the reins.  And justifiably so.  Your caterer’s event planners should be well versed in menu design but if you want to be more prepared for the menu meeting think about some of the following.  What kind of a crowd is it?  Are they younger and more receptive to many cuisines?  Is it more the parents set who prefer familiar but at the same time fine dining?  "Meat and potatoes" is used to describe guests who prefer plain. Keep in mind that the hors d’oeuvres also contribute to the scope of the menu so if your budget doesn’t allow for a raw bar it probably does allow for butlered shrimp during the cocktail hour.  When you have finally chosen the menu have the executive chef review it.  Often he or she will be able to make welcome suggestions - a seasonal vegetable, a more complementary sauce, a striking garnish. 

6. Customer service counts.

How long did you wait for your information after you made your initial phone call?  Was it the information you asked for?  Are your calls and emails answered in a timely manner?  Do you feel important?  In a time when you pump your own gas, find it for yourself in the store and wait in line or on hold daily, service seems a thing of the past.   In terms of customer service the good old days really were better and it’s this old-fashioned customer service that you want from your caterer.  Planning a wedding is a big job and you should have your catering planner’s attention when you need it.  In addition to your planner’s attention you should also have the attention of their whole office team so if your planner is out of the office another planner can field your questions.  And while you most likely will work closely with just one person, your planner should have a support system behind them.  The unexpected can happen - a planner can leave, have an emergency etc.  If this happens what happens to you and your wedding?  If your caterer has a team approach the show will go on without a hitch.

7. Word of mouth is still the best advertising

What is your caterer’s reputation?  Look at the list of caterers for the venues you are considering.  If you see the same names at many up market locations chances are those caterers are doing something right.  An exclusive facility has its own reputation to uphold so the caliber of the caterers on its’ list has to be high.  Don’t hesitate to question the facility directors.  They have a real sense of the caterers’ abilities so their input can be very valuable.  They have seen it all – multiple times.  With just a little guidance from you the director can often hone right in on the caterer's that will make a fit with you. Between work, school and everything else on your plate who has the time or inclination to interview 8 caterers?  It’s much better to eliminate the 5 or 6 that aren’t likely to be what you want, right from the start.  Most places have short lists so the weeding out has already been done for you.  But some facilities that have ties to local townships have to have an open door policy.  Their directors are also required to “be fair.”  With them you might have to probe a little longer.  “Who do you use for your own events?” is a good question.  With access to so many caterers they themselves use is probably at the top of the list.  Industry pros also have a good sense of who’s who and who’s doing what in the wedding world.  Speak with the bands, florists and photographers you are considering.  They are at events from start to finish.  They see the service, eat the food, interact with the staff and won’t hesitate to share their thoughts.  Remember though, that perfection doesn’t exist in the real world.  Servers do drop plates sometimes, musicians hit sour notes, photographers take blurry pictures, and limousines get flats.  Look for a caterer who gets high marks time after time, year after year.  In the end this consistent commitment to quality will give you a great catering experience.

Top 10 Wedding Venues in the Philadelphia Area

According to the Event Producers at Feastivities Events

Philadelphia is one of the most historic and visually stunning cities in the USA - choosing a wedding venue in Philadelphia can be a daunting task owing to how many wonderful choices that couples have! If you are planning your nuptials in the Philadelphia area, consult this list of our top ten wedding venues.

1. Stotesbury Mansion
Stotesbury Mansion is an important and beautiful heritage landmark with a magnificent past located in Philadelphia’s historic city center. Renowned for its timeless glamor and gorgeous architecture, this venue has old world charm with chic urban style. 

2. Cairnwood
Located in Bryn Athyn, this grand country manor was completed in 1895, and is a private family home that is available for private hire. Cairnwood is the perfect location for a countryside wedding that still maintains the sophistication of the city. 

3. Greystone Hall
At the center of an expansive English country estate located in West Chester, Greystone Hall was originally built in 1907 for Philip Sharples. It still maintains its original furnishings and carpets, and is an ideal venue for couples who crave an authentic historic atmosphere.

4. Grace Winery at Sweetwater Farm
Country chic at its finest – the newly renovated barn at Grace Winery in Glen Mills is a winery, event venue and tasting room. Exquisite surroundings and a versatile location that allows for both a sit down dinner or a cocktail reception. 

5. Arts Ballroom
The timeless class of the 1920s art deco Arts Ballroom is unparalleled in the US – this venue is perfect for a black tie event or somewhat retro inspired. A two story Grand Hall, stunning mirrored ballroom and a mezzanine are all available to make a statement wedding. 

6. Appleford
This picturesque fieldstone home offers examples of 300 year old Pennsylvania architecture set on 24 expansive acres. Set on a land grant gifted by William Penn, the site is currently an arboretum and bird sanctuary complete with streams, stone walls and tranquil countryside. 

7. Washington at Historic Yellow Springs
Set in the picture perfect village of Chester Springs, the Washington at Historic Yellow Springs provides you with a 17th century atmosphere with all of the modern conveniences of the present day.  

8. The Fillmore
Looking for something with a bit more ‘edge?’ Then the Foundry, the club within a club at the Fillmore rock n roll venue might be right up your alley! Located in trendy Fishtown, the Fillmore combines a rock vibe with timeless elegance.

9. Power Plant
A converted industrial power plant/ early 20th century chocolate factory in Philadelphia’s Old City gallery district offers exposed steel beams, industrial windows, an interior smokestack and 25 foot ceilings. Perfect for anyone who loves architecture and wants something unconventional yet beautiful.

10. National Museum of American Jewish History
The National Museum of American Jewish History is situated on Philadelphia's Historic Independence Mall. The Ballroom is an amazing venue to celebrate events such as weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, private parties, corporate events, and fundraisers. The adjoining outdoor terrace affords breathtaking views of the City and Independence Mall. 

Feastivities has established and maintained excellent working relationships with the facility directors in the area. Most of the sites at which we cater have historical and cultural significance. We respect the pride of place that these venues engender in the community. We also recognize that cooperation is one of the keys to any successful partnership and when we cater an event, we act as partners with the facility to guarantee a successful event. We have devised procedures which provide venue staff information prior to the event and which give them feedback afterwards.
Many of these venue relationships have been developed over a number of years and have allowed Feastivities to gain insight into buyer preferences and needs for events in the greater Philadelphia area. 

Wedding Venues in Philadelphia

Recipe of the Month NOVEMBER

Sweet Potato Box Filled with Apple Leek Relish

1. Peel and dice apples.                                       
2. Using whites and light greens of leek only, cut into 1/8" thick half-­‐moons. Soak in water to remove dirt and drain dry.                             
3. Sauté leeks in a oil-­‐ 25%, adding apples and raisins after a few minutes or until leeks start to soften.                                                    
4. Add wet ingredients plus the crushed red pepper and bring to a boil.                                    
5. Add remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and cool.                                            
Serving Instructions:
Re-­‐heat potato boxes until warm. Fill with apple leek relish and serve.

Ingredients Needed
50 sweet potato boxes (recipe below)
1 cup apple leek relish (recipe below)

Part 1: Potato Boxes
Ingredients for 50 Servings:
6.25 lbs. yams

1. Trim yams into 1” cubes
2. Use melon baller to scoop out some flesh from top
3. Deep fry until cooked and golden brown
Part 2: Apple Leek Relish

Ingredients for 1 cup:
3 red delicious apples
2.5 fl. oz. seedless raisins
1.5 fl. oz. leeks
1.3 fl. oz. plum sauce
2 fl. oz. duck sauce
Curry Powder to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste
Ground cinnamon to taste

shame on you bon appetit

 Bon Appétit is a well-respected magazine in the world of food and wine, a bible for those in the restaurant, catering and winery profession. It is our longtime love and support of this publication that makes their recent decision to repeatedly slam the catering industry all the more shocking and insulting. 

In their recent ‘Food Lovers Guide to Weddings’ issue, published in April of 2015, Bon Appétit staff writers made the egregious claim that caterers are a bad choice that brides and/or grooms should avoid if they want the finest food at their reception. Characterizing catered food as boring and bland, they wrote that, “the best way to make sure your caterer doesn’t serve bone-dry chicken: Don’t hire one.” In a sidebar for this story, they wrote that couples would do well to “lose the caterer.”

What do they think should the married party do instead? Bon Appétit chose to adopt the virtues of having an established restaurant provide food for the affair  - a solution that is far from tried and true. In fact, many people have their own horror stories about chefs, poorly equipped to cater a wedding, blowing a fuse at crying brides and being unable to deliver the quality that they promised.

Last week, Adam Rapoport published a quasi apology on Bon Appétit’s website, claiming that “We pissed off the Catering Industry – and we’re sorry.” But are they really? The 400-word screed seems to have been published with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as no real apology can be found within. Instead, Rapoport waxes poetic about his own sister’s irritation with the original article, and deflects Bon Appétit’s responsibility by claiming that this was, of course, only a suggestion.

He writes, “the point of this four-page primer is to get you to think differently about your wedding, to give you options…. Mind you, these are all things that a caterer can and will do. You just have to ask.” Exactly. You just have to ask – as industry leading caterers we can and do create wonderful, exciting and innovative wedding menus.

Rapoport goes on to say, “the fact is, most of us here at Bon Appétit have been to a gazillion weddings, the majority of which have been serviced by caterers. Some have been great, some have been so so. And that’s no different from restaurants—some are great, some are good, some are really…meh.” So why was Bon Appétit so eager to recommend a restaurant if they are equally “meh?” This contradiction is never explained, nor is it supported.

We want to firmly state our disagreement with the way that Bon Appétit has characterized those in the catering industry as being antiquated, poorly equipped and behind the times. The best way to ensure that the food at your wedding is delicious, unique and exceeds your wildest dreams is to do your research, taste the food and communicate with your caterer. And maybe, although we hate to say it, put down that copy of Bon Appétit - for good.