Catering is stressful business. As a professional caterer, I’ve fielded many last-minute curveballs–some manageable, some downright ridiculous. There are numerous logistical considerations when it comes to on-site catering. And, as a caterer, you want to be as accommodating as possible, yet people need to remember that caterers don’t usually possess super-human powers. With that said, here are a few requests that drive caterers absolutely batty.
1) Changing Numbers
Last-minute changes in head counts can really throw a wrench into a catering gig, especially if you have already purchased the food for the event. I think people forget that it takes lots of planning (in terms of ordering the food products) for catering events, and that you generally don’t have extra food just lying around–in case of an emergency. Most caterers order just what they need, with about a 10-percent overage to accommodate the people who like seconds. I once had a stressed-out mother-in-law call on the morning of a wedding to tell me that there would be an additional 50 people at the event. This is not something a caterer wants to hear. Can you say Costco appetizers?
2) There’s a Storm Brewing
Weather is one thing that is definitely out of control for a caterer. I’ve seen all kinds of nightmare scenarios play out at outside events. When an outdoor wedding (slated for July) is planned in March, it’s hard to predict the weather. Usually, July and August are good months for outdoor weddings throughout the U.S. But a fast-moving lightning storm (with associated wind gusts and sideways rain) can really fuck things up. This is exactly what happened to me last summer, at a wedding I catered in Boise. I kept on asking the bride’s mother if we could possibly move the food tables inside, but she was adamant about not having that many people in her house. Instead, the food sat out under an awning and died a watery death. There’s nothing worse than soggy crostini and wedding cake. And the smoked salmon fritters looked like they were swimming upstream.
3) “He’s Deathly Allergic to Shrimp”
Shellfish allergies are serious business. When someone tells me that they want shrimp on the menu, and then drop the bomb that the groom’s father is deathly allergic to shellfish, I get a little stressed out. Shellfish, no matter how careful you are, can easily cross-contaminate other food, with a slight brush on a platter from a towel used to wipe the rim of the shrimp gazpacho bowl. I usually try to talk them into a finfish selection, like smoked trout or cod croquetas. Yet some people demand shrimp, no matter what the cost. “Hey, look, Uncle Carl’s face is red and puffy, and it looks like he can’t breathe.” Yikes! This is the kind of shit that keeps me up at night.
4) Power-tripping Wedding Planners
Most wedding planners aren’t chefs. So, in other words, most of them are totally clueless when it comes to the food end of an event. I’ve worked with some ridiculous wedding planners who (in their need to feel important) mess with the menu behind the caterer’s back–citing bogus logistical considerations. I’m talking about things like how many chafing dishes can fit onto a banquet table. Most chefs know damn well how many chafing dishes can fit efficiently onto a table, and they don’t need some stressed-out squeaky wheel following them around (yammering in their ear) during crunch time. As a caterer, you never want to get a frantic last-minute call from a wedding planner telling you that they changed the table configuration, which basically screws up your already well-organized plan of attack. Wedding planners should just stick to fluffing the flower vases, and stay the hell out of the kitchen!
5) “You Want it For How Much?”
Everyone wants a good deal. Whenever I negotiate a catering contract, people generally have a lower figure (per person, let’s say) than I have in mind. I charge reasonable rates for high-quality, well-presented food, yet most people forget how much food costs in this day and age, not to mention labor, transportation, etc. So, when someone asks me if I could cater an upscale cocktail party for $15 a head, I suddenly feel the need to bring them up to date on current food prices–nicely, of course. Artisanal cheese platters have been extremely popular in the new millennium, yet these regional high-end cheeses are damn expensive. Beef and seafood have also gone up dramatically in price in recent years. And if they say they want organic food for $15 per person. Forget it. Not going to happen.
6) “Aunt Sally is a Great Cook”
Inevitably, at almost every event, someone brings an Aunt Sally or Cousin Sam into the kitchen, exclaiming, “She is a wonderful cook, and she would love to help.” This well-intentioned gesture generally doesn’t work out that well, considering most home cooks just get in the way. Most of them don’t know the difference between chiffonade and shredded kale, and you sure as hell don’t want to hand them a sharp knife–to find out if they actually know the cut or not. I usually politely decline the offer, and send them over to help the wedding planner with the flower arrangements.
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