Catering: A new hope

March 4, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the last week I’ve spent some time talking on the phone to caterers. Quite a lot of time, actually; selecting a caterer has been far more difficult than I expected. Here are some of the various pitfalls I’ve encountered:

  • Finding prices. 80% of the time, caterers’ websites are suspiciously devoid of pricing. I’m sure they’re flexible, everybody’s wedding needs are different, and they try to cater (no pun intended) their menus to individual needs. However, when you can’t find prices on the page it’s extremely frustrating. If you try, sometimes you can infer it from the website, though — Pink Avocado Catering, for example, mentions in passing that one of their clients was the government of Spain. Spain! They only mention it in the answer to some FAQ way down at the bottom of the page, but it did enable me to knock them off my list. Anybody who caters for Spain is probably not going to  be able to handle my little wedding at the sort of price I want to pay. Now Latvia or Kazakhstan’s caterer would be fine, I’m sure. But Spain? I don’t think so.

    Some delicious food

    We're not having this

  • Useless emails. So there I am looking at some pretty catering site and not finding prices. So what’s the natural thing to do next? Send them an email. So I type it up and tell them every relevant fact I can think of. Estimated number of guests, time of day, the sort of meal I have in mind, location, the sort of service (buffet or table), etc. And then I wait, of course, and after a day or so here’s what I get back: “Hi Sarah. I received your request for information, and I do think it would be great if we could chat a little over the phone first.   Please feel free to give me a call at your convenience.  Thanks!” (This quote is an actual example.) So I call. And guess what happens?
  • Looong phone calls. All of them are nice and friendly and congratulate me on my engagement (which still makes me really happy!), but they all have many, many questions. The initial phone call is often more than a half an hour, and at the end of it I still don’t know if their meals are $12 or $19 or $60 per person. “I’ll email you,” they say. (More on their emails in a moment.) Again, I understand that they need to know a great deal of information to know exactly what’s needed, and I would be perfectly happy to spend a very long time on the phone with my top three choices to help narrow it down and make a decision. But spending 30+ minutes with every Austin caterer Google shows me? It’s time consuming and frustrating and makes it very difficult to comparison shop. (Hmm, perhaps I’ve found a motive in all this…) So anyway, after I tell them all the details they say that they’ll process all the info and send me an email with some sample menus and prices. Sounds reasonable, no? It certainly would be. Except…

    Some sushi

    Also not having sushi

  • They don’t send me the email with the menus. They say they will and it took me several different caterers before I stopped getting my hopes up. But with each new caterer I’d say to myself, “Okay, this girl sounds sharp and nice and organized and on top of things. She said she was busy and would send it tomorrow night instead of tonight, and I believe her.” But then she wouldn’t send it. The first time this happened I called the girl back and she said she must have gotten my email address wrong and would send it a couple of days later. So I waited several more days to no avail. At one point I expressed my frustration to Blake and said I’d call her tomorrow, but he made an excellent point: “Don’t call her. It’s your wedding and you need a caterer that you can reach. And who will get back in touch with you. You don’t want a caterer like this.” And he was absolutely right. So I called a second caterer who had a slightly different problem:
  • Too flexible. She can make anything… what would we like? She was very nice and seemed pretty sharp, but she wouldn’t give me any meal choices! I asked for specialties or recommendations for side dishes, and she’d tell me how flexible they were and not give me a single suggestion besides one-word “dishes” like “broccoli” or “green beans.” Try though I might, I just couldn’t get a menu/meal/sugggestion out of her! After we got off the phone, I spent some time searching online for sample wedding menus, but all of them were for the really expensive caterers — “tuna tartare with a maple-caviar demi-glace and crab bisque.” So then I got all comfortable on my bed with a stack of cookbooks and looked for recipes that I guessed might not be too expensive but would be appropriate for a wedding reception… and I couldn’t find much. I have the Betty Crocker Cookbook and Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her? (which is a great book), but I just don’t buy cookbooks that have recipes suitable for fancy wedding food, I guess. A couple days later I told Dad with mild frustration how I was looking for more recipes, and he said, “You shouldn’t have to be doing that! That’s the caterer’s job!” And he, too, was right.

So the next day I sent about ten emails to different caterers around Austin and asked for info. Most of them responded with emails inviting me to call, but a very small number did something really great: they sent me menus! One in particular, An Affair to Remember Catering, sent me the following perfect email:

Hi Sarah,
I received a request from you for your event at Buescher State Park in Smithville, Texas. I just tried to reach you by phone to get a few questions answered but for now, I’ve taken the liberty to guess at a few things (see attached proposal). I would be happy to make suggestions to address  your budget concerns when we talk. Feel free to shoot me an email or use any of the numbers listed below. Thank you so much for your consideration and I look forward to working with you on your event.

Warmest regards,
Matthew Atchison
Event Planner
An Affair To Remember Catering
512-443-3422 ext. 226

A bunch of plates of food

Not this either, whatever it is

Bravo, Matthew Atchison and An Affair to Remember Catering! (Normally I wouldn’t post someone’s email and contact info up here, but I’d like to give them good PR. And I did remove the cell number which was originally included in the email.) The proposal included about twenty menus in assorted price ranges — and an itemized total cost which allowed me to see what was included and determine for myself whether this price range was acceptable. How wonderfully refreshing that Matthew was able to say, “I don’t have all the information, but I have some. Let’s see what I can provide based on that.” Furthermore, I looked over the proposal and had several questions which I sent via email, and Matthew answered them all thoroughly and promptly. I haven’t signed anything with Matthew (or decided on a menu yet, even), but I have been impressed with his professionalism so far and I plan to set up a meeting with him. I’m optimistic. :-)

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  1. Sarah, I got a google alert and saw your blog. John Cabot just catered our Chamber Banquet, and it was wonderful. He is a chef, and works at the Hospital and does lots of catering. There were over 250 at the banquet Saturday night and everyone loved the food. He is listed on line on the Smithville Chamber site. I could not tell when was your wedding, but if you still need a caterer he is great!
    Catering by Chabot /cell is 513 308-7131
    601 Mills St.
    Smithville, TX 78957

    And see if your guests want to stay in Smithville. We have about 5 Bed and Breakfast. The name of ours is Katy House Bed and Breakfast Good Luck, Sallie Blalock

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