Restaurant versus Caterer?

The question I wished more of my clients would ask before making a decision - Restaurant or Caterer?  Of course, it depends on your occasion and venue, but 9 times out of 10, I'd answer Caterer.  Then, I would recommend one, or several that I can confidently stand beside. 

 Full disclosure – I want to share how difficult it was to write this post.  I love dining out at a good restaurant, and hate to limit or generalize their abilities within a blog post!  At the same time, 5 years of my life has been spent working for a caterer, and I know what a well-run offsite machine looks like. The perspective shared here is my own and I offer it as advice, but not as rule.  If there are restaurants who are looking to improve their catering service after reading, I would be happy to have a consultation with you!

Seated Dinner at Private Residence Florals by A Private Affair, Furniture from Classic Party Rentals

Seated Dinner at Private Residence
Florals by A Private Affair, Furniture from Classic Party Rentals

Restaurants specialize in hospitality and service within their four walls.  From the layout of the kitchen, to the color of their napkins, they invoke an experience, and an atmosphere for their guests.  The best restauranteurs take great care that their dining room transports you to Tuscany, Bourbon Street, or the most exclusive modern haven imaginable.  A common mistake is to think “I’ll hire the restaurant, it’ll be just like we are there…” it won’t be – unless you have the budget to build it.

Caterers specialize in serving great food – outside of a restaurant.  Sometimes, people ask “why is a caterer more expensive than eating at a restaurant?” – it’s because they are bringing that restaurant to you – building a kitchen in a matter of hours, in a space that will return to it’s original condition as if that magic never happened.  Truly, magic.

The Kitchen

Being a Chef requires talent, but it’s a special skill to, for lack of a better term, roll with the punches.  My favorite caterers, I’ve nicknamed “Guerilla Warriors” – they take on the battle in unfamiliar territory and win!  To have a client that loves Grilled Cheese so much that there are 3 varieties on the menu, but you’re asking us to work in a space that either doesn’t allow for a griddle, or has little ventilation?  Solution: Hot Box, sheet pan, and sterno.  Some of you might not know what any of those things are – but its those Chef MacGuyver skills that execute a French Onion Gruyere, Blueberry Brie, and the Classic Cheddar Grilled Cheese to 120 guests, who are none the wiser.  Not all Chefs can do that.

Catering Chefs are regularly tasked with creativity.  Being outside of a restaurant means there is no set menu.  Multiple events in a week usually also means a different theme, with varying client tastes, number of guests, and occasion.  One day, it’s a barbecue, the next a soba noodle bar, and the next a high-end cocktail reception with caviar and blinis.  Ever-changing – and they need to stay on their toes for the next trend.

One of the most common mistakes a restaurant makes when “catering” – is not adjusting portions or cooking style, for their new environment.  Your favorite Italian place might make a great meatball – you know the one – as big as your fist, with the tastiest marinara sauce in the land...?  Well, when they make that same meatball, and serve it as an appetizer for your wedding cocktail hour – how do you think that’s going to work?

Giant meatball + Marinara Sauce + Wedding Dress = Disaster.
Giant Meatball + Marinara + Wedding Dress = Disaster

Giant Meatball + Marinara + Wedding Dress = Disaster

Similarly, a restaurant might assume they can execute the perfect salmon dish, x50, out of your Kitchen…  with a standard oven, and 4 burners – good luck!  Your cat will be going nuts when the smell is taunting them for a week afterwards.  A caterer knows how to prepare it offsite, finish it in your kitchen, and it comes to you – a la Mrs Doubtfire, perfect.  ;)  And afterwards, not a sniff that it ever happened.

The Dining Room

Service also differs between a restaurant and catering.  Front of House Staffing at a restaurant has a hierarchy – Host, Waiter, Food Runner, Busser.  In catering, every member of the floor staff must be able to do all of those things – they maintain finesse and composure to interact with guests, yet still be willing to bus a table without ego – because it needs to be done.  They move with intention and urgency – passing appetizers, refilling a wine glass, or managing a guest’s dietary restriction.  This is how a team of just 25 floor staff can manage 500 guests at a premiere.

'Forest Foraged' Station at 2017 Grammy Celebration Catering by Patina Catering Photo courtesy of John Brice Event Photography

'Forest Foraged' Station at 2017 Grammy Celebration
Catering by Patina Catering
Photo courtesy of John Brice Event Photography

Most restaurants, I’m sorry to say, are stuck in the 80s when it comes to Food Stations, or a “Buffet”.  Chafers, while sometimes necessary, are not the only way to display hot food, and using more than 2 on a given station is just not attractive.  Hotels fall into this pitfall too. To my dismay, I recently worked an event featuring a Taco Station which had every item – tortillas, rice, beans, carnitas, chicken, beef, enchiladas – each served from a silver chafer, 7 of them, lined up down the table.  A Taco Station should be vibrant, with terracotta, painted pottery and wood bowls!  We have CB2, WestElm, William Sonoma, and so many other outlets that showcase how beautiful hosting can be.  Wood boards, colored dutch ovens, paella pans, woks - PLEASE insist on using something other than a silver chafing dish!  PLEASE!

Caterers that I’ve worked with, thrive within the challenge of a new space.  The best of them love the opportunity to have their food be a seamless, beautiful and memorable part of the event.  

To summarize, why I hire Caterers:

  1. Guerilla Warrior Skills

  2. Menu Creativity

  3. Appropriate portions for the client

  4. Adjusted cooking for the environment

  5. Staff & Hospitality

  6. Food Station Styling

 

I’d love to hear about your experience!  Leave me a note below –

Pantone Colors of Spring/Summer 2017 Inspired Styled Shoot

Pantone's Top 10 Colors for Spring/Summer 2017

Pantone's Top 10 Colors for Spring/Summer 2017

It's funny what might inspire you to do a Styled Shoot, and everyone seemed to be talking about Pantone's Color of the Year, Greenery Green.  Truthfully, my inspiration came the instant I got an email from BBJ Linen featuring Aquarelle!  I was hooked!  The pattern evoked Joy, with an abstract nod to Florals, then the colors made me think Bold and Fun! 

I love perusing the Pantone website... truly, who doesn't?  In researching the names of the colors I wanted to highlight, I realized these were their picks for Spring/Summer 2017!  Match made.  Kismet.  It wasn't going to be an easy task to balance this variety of colors, so I decided not to take it too seriously, and get creative!

Cake by Lizzie's Bakery
Photo by Julia Silva Photography

So often Styled Shoots are intended for brides, so I took the spirit of Joy and Fun, instead deciding on a Birthday theme.

You can't celebrate a birthday without cake!  Lizzie's Bakery, took on the artistic brushstrokes of the linen and paired that with the colors Island Paradise and Niagara.  Elegant, and yet I loved that it made me think of my favorite pair of blue jeans.

Florals by Sibyl Sophia Floral Design
Photo by Julia Silva Photography

Next up - the centerpiece.  It was definitely a challenge to see what flowers could complement this - so many bold colors and still a risk of it camouflaging into the background.  Sibyl Sophia Floral Design had the bright idea of separating the flowers from the table - a hanging arrangement!  Fun!  Her combination of ranunculus, tulips and poppies brought even more energy to the shoot.  I'll definitely be dreaming in Flame orange and Pink Yarrow for the next few weeks.

Onto the rentals!  I simply couldn't decide between Classic Party Rental's Contempo Blue and Italia Glassware patterns...  So why not both?  Fun, whimsical & bold. 

I added my own colorful touches with gift boxes, balloons, a birthday bear and greetings by Calligraphy Nerd.  The final surprise element was the Birthday Girl!  Sophie didn't tell any of us that she was spending her birthday morning with us - how special!!  Needless to say, we sent her home with the cake and balloons to celebrate with her loved ones. 

Bravo to our photographer Julia Silva for capturing the brilliant joy and bright energy of our morning together.  It was so much fun collaborating with such a fantastic team, and I look forward to the next one!

Design & Coordination: Abby Borden, Table Set Go
Venue, Linen & Chargers: BBJ Linen, Los Angeles
Florals: Sibyl Sophia Floral Design
Cake: Lizzie's Bakery
Rentals: Classic Party Rentals
Calligraphy: Calligraphy Nerd

Styled Shoot Etiquette

As an Event Planner, the idea of a Styled Shoot is FUN!  A chance to get creative -  showing off your style and aesthetic with no one else in mind but you and your vendors! 

Before you hit the ground running, here are 10 things that are important to consider:

Elizabeth Lin Johnson, Lizzie's Bakery
Photo courtesy of Julia Silva Photography

1. THEME/CONCEPT
Go outside the box
Be unexpectedly beautiful
Do something you are unlikely to have a client come up with on their own
This is where you can be the most creative, so go for it!!

2. PIN IT!
Put together an inspiration deck of images - by all means, use Pinterest!  Create a board to frame your vision - color palette, theme, aesthetic, shots...  This is to offer inspiration and create a mood for your team - I don't recommend asking vendors to copy or recreate - More on this in #3.  Share the entire deck to your vendor team which encourages cohesion overall.  Don't forget to Pin your own photos after the shoot is over - you never know what client is following you, or your board. 

3. CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL
Collaboration is key, so make sure this is an opportunity for your vendors to get creative too!  For some Artists, a florist for example, a pave of blush roses is likely to be something they are asked for on a regular basis, and photos of them already exist in their portfolio.  Ask them what inspires them about your theme, and what they'd like to contribute! 

4. SIGNATURE STYLE
Make sure you know who you're working with - and choose with intention.  Do not pick a baker just because they make cakes - they have their own signature style too!  Impressed with their skills on a rustic naked cake with berries?  Great, but don't assume that same vendor is interested in your modern, geometric theme.  If you are asking for something very specific - offer to at least cover cost of materials.  Creatives shine the brightest when they're working on something they're excited about! 

Conrad Haberland, Amy Haberland Photography
Photo courtesy of Amy Haberland Photography

5. YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
Similarly, choose a photographer who works in the style of your shoot.  If they're aesthetic is light and airy, but your shoot is bright and bold - its probably not a good fit.  Maybe there is a photographer who you've worked with in the past, or someone who's work you admire - reach out!  A Styled Shoot is a great opportunity to get to know each other when the pressure is off.

6. WORK YOUR PLAN
Make a plan!  Make a list of all the shots you want - tablescape from above, all those little details, full room, or behind the scenes of you and your vendors.  It's best to let your photographer know ahead of time, so they know what lenses they'll need to bring AND it will help you be organized day of: What needs to be ready first, and what's next? Maybe you have wardrobe changes - Make the most of everyone's time and energy.

7. HAVE FUN!
A Styled Shoot belongs to you, and your vendor team - so have FUN!  Turn up the music and dance in the background!  No one is watching, and there's no one to take care of - so relax and get to know each other!  What other opportunities are there to let your hair down and create together like this?

Abby Borden, Table Set Go
Photo courtesy of Amy Haberland Photography

8. SPREAD THE LOVE
Who doesn't love seeing themselves tagged in a photo or caption? Shout out to all your vendors, the venue, assistants and photographer - and they're going to be equally as excited to share the love back!  Make sure to check all your social media platforms - tagging on Instagram doesn't translate to Facebook.  Hyperlinks in a blog post helps both you, and them, with SEO - and who couldn't use more help there?!

9. CAPTION WITH INTENTION
Whether submitting to a magazine or blog, or simply sharing on your own - caption with intention.  Think about who you want to see it - foodies?  brides?  other vendors?  Make sure you're using keywords both in the article, and in your hashtags to attract that audience.

10. SAY THANK YOU
Styled Shoots take work, and still cost everyone a little bit - whether that be talent, time, materials - or all of the above!  The best way to thank them?  Call when you have the paying gig!  That's why we all do it - to attract the client, and be there when they call.  It takes someone giving, for another to receive - that is how the world goes 'round!

Left to Right: Conrad Haberland, Amy Haberland Photography Jason Lloyd, By Jason Lloyd Sabrina Fay Pierce, DIY LA Bride Aisha Harris, Katie's Kreations Events Photo courtesy of Amy Haberland Photography

Left to Right:
Conrad Haberland, Amy Haberland Photography
Jason Lloyd, By Jason Lloyd
Sabrina Fay Pierce, DIY LA Bride
Aisha Harris, Katie's Kreations Events
Photo courtesy of Amy Haberland Photography

Bride Sues Caterer for Inadequate Menu Options

As an Event Planner who specializes in food, I was shocked to hear about this bride in Australia, and wanted to weigh in.  To quickly summarize the story, the bride was vegetarian, and sued her caterer for neglecting to serve an adequate vegetarian menu. 

My piece of advice is, if you are vegetarian or vegan, choose a caterer who specializes in that food!  Sounds obvious, but this particular bride hired a “dude food” van, who by this account, specialized in burgers.  While I am a big fan of the “late night bites”, burgers as the main offering does not quite match the occasion, in my opinion.  There are several different cuisines and menu options, whatever your budget, that could have been a better fit. 

If any guests have specialty diets, you must let your caterer know as soon as possible, and up front – these days, most diets, including coeliacs can be accommodated. 

Advice to the caterer – make it work!  No matter the event, client, or confirmed menu – always have a vegetarian option.  If you want to surpass expectations, a vegan/vegetarian option that would satisfy both is a great idea. 

meat-vegetables-gemuesepiess-mushrooms-111131.jpeg

Here are some Vegan/Vegetarian menu items that I love:

Buddha Bowl
Saffron Rice, Edamame, Beet Hummus, Roasted Sweet Potato, Roasted Broccoli, Purple Cabbage & Peanut Sauce & Thai Basil

Summer Rolls
Marinated Tofu, Vermicelli Noodle, Mint, Cashew Dipping Sauce

Gardener’s Pie
Roasted Winter Vegetables, French Lentils, Sautéed Broccolini & Kale,
Braised Butternut Squash, Phyllo Pastry, toasted Pistachios

 

To my fellow planners/readers out there - have you faced this challenge?  I'd love to hear about it! 

Why hire an Event Coordinator?

I am here to empower you, the host, in overcoming overwhelm, so you can truly enjoy the occasion you are celebrating!  I collaborate with my clients as much as they need me to – and am happy to be a part of the brainstorm, inspiration, and vendor sourcing process.  If you already have elements that you’d like me to work with – whether that is your home as a venue, or a multi-platinum artist singing ‘Happy Birthday’ – fine with me! 

Events are ultimately an expression of your hospitality – a gracious host, a gathering of people – all need food!  This element is my specialty, from menu development, to rentals, execution and service.  Whatever the occasion, big or small, there is never a missed opportunity to have great food that generates conversation and connection. 

A mentor of mine always said, “you are only as good as those you surround yourself with” – and so, for each celebration, I endeavor to put together the best team of Creatives and Artists to execute your vision.  I look forward to being a part of your special event!

The Importance of Food at an Event:

I was lucky enough to cultivate a love for food traveling with my parents from a young age – Ramen in Japan, Peking Duck in Beijing, “Barbie” Shrimp in Australia, and to this day, nothing is more satisfying than a British Sunday Roast – Yorkshire pudding and all.  This love and interest grew working alongside arguably the greatest catering kitchens in Los Angeles – and the Chef’s that commanded them.

Events are ultimately about hospitality – the earliest forms of this go back to biblical times when people open their homes to guests, even strangers and break bread.  This sharing of food is what the rest of hospitality is based around – a gracious host, a gathering of people, conversation and connections.  Don’t underestimate the power and value of the food – many events are built around what is being served – from the deliciously simple tea sandwiches at a luncheon, to the wedding banquet – who has a wedding without food?  No one.  It’s not just about feeding people – its about hosting them. 

Menu development is a joy to me – the creativity, collaboration with a Chef and then to taste it all in the end makes the process well worth it.  Whatever the occasion, big or small, there is never a missed opportunity to do something surprising.

  • A continental breakfast doesn’t need to be blasé – there’s so much room for creativity with food!  Think outside the “breadbox” – scones, artisan breads, spreads and fruits elevate a guest’s options. 
  • Instead of a plated dinner – try specialty food stations – people get to intermix, mingle, and talk about the food – what a great icebreaker!
  • This can be applied to your smaller at home gatherings too - having the girls over for “wine & cheese”?  Change it up with sake & sushi!