Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest Post: Catering as a Wedding Gift

Oh how I wish I lived next door to Anna! What an inspiring person. I love this post about how she catered her friend's wedding. I mean, what's not to love? She has a list of 100 goals for her life. She uses Google Docs to organize her friends. She believes in the power of community. She shows appreciation through crafting. You're awesome, Anna!

By Anna Zeide

Earlier this year, when my best friend from high school and I each drafted a list of 100 goals we have for our lives, one of my items (#93, though there was no particular order) was “cater a friend’s wedding.” I figured, in some daydreamy way, that this was the kind of thing that I may do five or ten years down the road. But then, less than a month later, two of my closest Madison friends were scheming a wedding on fairly short notice and were having no luck finding an affordable and suitable caterer. What could I do but say “I’ll do it!”? So, I jumped right in and starting planning a catered event for 90 guests, without any real background or experience besides a love of food and weddings.

Although my own wedding took place almost two years ago, I’m still reading my two favorite wedding blogs (this one and APW), and continue to be inspired by the messages they share about community, goal-setting, and creating a wedding to fit your dreams rather than those depicted in the media that surrounds us. And so, I owe my ability to make this big event happen partly to Sara and Meg and the example they have set.

Despite these great blog resources, when I began the planning, there were still a lot of questions I had about menu ideas, catering supplies, and the nitty gritty of making this kind of thing happen that I wasn’t finding answers for. So, now that it’s behind me, I’d like to share a few reflections and resources (and check out my blog for the full low-down on my wedding catering experience):

Location, location, location! Just like when planning a wedding, deciding on a location, along with its benefits and limitations, creates the outline for what you have to work with. Because this wedding was in a park shelter without any cooking facilities at all, and even without convenient running water, I knew that I’d have to bring all the food in fully-prepared, and that room temperature dishes would be best since there’d be no fridge to keep things cool or oven to heat things up.

Comfort as a priority. In choosing a menu, I came up with a long list of appetizers, salads, sides, and entrees (others were making all the desserts) that I had made before or was comfortable making. Trying something brand new when you’re cooking for 90 people, for a wedding, is probably too much! We also had an all vegetarian menu, and wanted dishes that were fairly accessible to meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters alike, that didn’t rely too heavily on non-local ingredients, and that could also be easily made vegan and gluten-free for the other dietary restrictions among us. The full list of options I proposed to the couple is here. And the final menu we chose is here.

Staying supplied. Some of our main issues with regards to supplies were keeping the entrees (we settled on these enchiladas) hot, having enough fridge and oven space during the cooking, having enough bowls, platters, and serving spoons for all the dishes at the wedding itself. Our key supplies ended up being inexpensive chafing dishes from this site, warm pancarriers from a local rental company, and lots of bowls/platters/spoons that we borrowed from friends and bought at a local thrift store. The chafing dishes and warm pan carriers were great, and ended up keeping all of our food piping hot. One tip for borrowing supplies: label the bottoms of all the bowls with a small piece of tape and initials; also keep a spreadsheet of all your supplies, so you know who to return things to! Other kinds of dishes and supplies that we found indispensable were foil pans of the full-size and half-size varieties, cutting boards, knives, food processors, large pots, a huge Rubbermaid container for mixing large quantities, and large cookie sheets for extended work surfaces. We also ended up having to store food in three different neighbors’ fridges and cooking in two different ovens—so make friends with your neighbors in advance! Read more about supplies here.

Communal Cooking! Although I suppose it would be possible for me to do this all on my own (or with only my husband for help), I knew that it would be most fun, and least insanity-inducing, if I got a lot of helping hands in the kitchen. So, I invited all my friends in town to a big cooking extravaganza, and had them all sign up for 2-3 hour shifts on a Google Doc spreadsheet. I knew our kitchen could only handle about 5-6 people at a time, so this helped to make sure the aid was spread out. Sharing my kitchen and fresh food with most of my favorite folks in town was gratifying in a deep-down kind of way. It all gave me an overwhelming sense of hope in the power of community and what can happen when people band together. And I made little personalized Polaroid magnet gifts (inspired by these) for everyone who helped, to make sure they felt appreciated.

Organization is key. Another piece of advice, that again applies to wedding planning as a whole, is that the more work you can do in advance, to organize the process, the easier the actual tasks will be. In addition to dividing my shopping lists into categories based on grocery store, I also broke each of the recipes down into discrete tasks and determined which day the task could be completed (Thursday, Friday, or Saturday--the day of the wedding). Further, I labeled each of the steps with a letter that corresponded to a particular dish, whose full recipe was on the fridge, for cross-checking purposes. So, when friends came over to help cook, rather than having to ask me what to do, they could just look the list and say, "Ah, yes, now I will 'husk, rinse, and halve 200 tomatillos'." See the full Google Doc version of the task list here.

Enjoy and eat! The wedding itself was a remarkable success, with so much visible joy and appreciation running through the beautiful park shelter. We got the food there and set up in time, everyone seemed to enjoy eating, and we definitely didn’t run out of food (we had tons of leftovers, in fact!). Being able to do this kind of thing for our friends was so gratifying and so pleasurable. It cemented our friendship in a way that I think few other things could. We are now irrevocably part of each other’s stories!

Lots of people have been asking me if I’d do this again, or if catering is now my back-up plan if this whole grad school thing doesn’t work out. And although I don’t yet quite know the answer to either question, I do know that taking on this kind of project, and having it succeed (!), has made me feel much more confident about my abilities, and has made me smile on a daily basis. So, if you love to cook and love making people (including yourself!) happy, I’d say go for it. I’d be happy to answer questions!

Anna is a graduate student whose whole life—personal, academic, and political—is wrapped up in food. Read more about all of it at her blog Dining and Opining.

A huge thank you to Anna for sharing her insights with 2000 Dollar Wedding kindred spirits! If you have an idea for a guest post you would like to write, please send me an e-mail!

REMINDER: Registration is now open for the next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy, which starts on June 5. Register today!

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andee said...

What an amazing thing to do! Seriously incredible! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

The food looks amazing! Your friend is so lucky to have you in her life.

Catering can be very expensive when trying to plan a wedding. I think it was wonderful of you to help your friend out.

I know the feeling of trying to find an affordable way to have food at a wedding reception. I've emailed so many caters and every person I emailed has came back to me with a ridiculousus price quote. Not only that, they want to charge extra for clean-up and labor.

I was lucky enough to discover that my moms friends brother is a cater. When my fiancé and I have our wedding reception my moms friends brother will cater our event. He caters to people who can't afford a lavish wedding. I'm so excited to be using this guy. It's family owned business, plus the cater loves to shop locally.
The food is amazing and yet the price is wonderful. Most caters want to charge $30.00 or more per person to cater a wedding receptiontion. Yet, my moms friends brother only charges $12.00a person.

What is so wonderful about this cater is that he suggested that we hire someone to be a bartender instead of using a bartending company. He read my mind! He also suggested that we hire three people to help do clean up for the wedding reception. So I plan on hiring three people in my community to help out with our wedding. I couldn't be more excited! I'm having the community and my closest friends and family be appart of our wedding. That puts a smile on my face.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, Sara and commenters! It was a very fun and rewarding thing to do. Let me know if anyone has any questions!

Neva Modzelewski said...

I like Anna’s idea of catering for her friends as a wedding gift. Catering to our friends and relatives is one of the best gifts that we can give on their wedding day. As a person close to them, we exactly know their preferences and favorite food. Including their favorite food in the list of menu and making the reception a memorable one, can be a priceless gift that we can give to them.
Neva Modzelewski

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