Finding the Right Caterer

For today’s blog post, we interviewed Brian Doyle, owner and chef at SOW Food. In this interview, Chef Doyle will be sharing information ranging from current trends in wedding catering to important questions that you should be asking your prospective caterer.

SOWFood-Brian

How did you get into the business?

I decided to become a chef when I was about 8 years old. I worked in the industry as a teen, then went to culinary school at Penn State University. After that, I moved to Cleveland in 1996, and struck up friendships with many well-known chefs. By 1999, I was Chef for Lure, Inc. Then, in 2002, I was Executive Chef for Fulton Bar & Grill, and then Jack’s Steakhouse at the Marriott on W. 150th. I also worked for a large local catering firm as a Chef for hire. I eventually decided to strike out on my own, and I never looked back.

I’ve cooked around the world, and I specialize in bold world cuisine. SOW Food is a concept I created that allows for food access, food education, and food life. My focus is on healthful preparations using organic products.

I believe very strongly in being local and sustainable, which is why I also run a farm near West 47th in Cleveland, called White Squirrel Farm. Located in an urban environment, this farm provides SOW Food with the fresh, gourmet produce that we use in our Prepared CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program. We also sell this produce for fair prices at local farmers markets.

Why is local, sustainable food so important for a wedding?

Quality ingredients are the most important elements of good cooking. Using local farms ensures that you are getting the freshest product possible. It is also important to support local farms because the income goes directly to the families and not several middle men.

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Photo Credit: Full Bloom Photography

 

What are the best questions to ask to make sure a caterer is the right fit?

When searching for a caterer, there are so many choices, from large to small firms. There are different questions to ask each one, and everything in-between. For the smaller firms, you should ask what is the largest number of people they have catered for, where they’ve catered previously, and if they have their own facility and licenses, permits, and insurance. Your venue will want all of this information.

For the larger firms, you want to know what their product sourcing is. Are they using a lot of pre-made/pre-prepared products? Are they using a lot of frozen items or canned goods? If they say their beef is local, then they should be proud to share the name of the farm they’ll be sourcing it from. Also, is their staff professional and well trained? Larger firms often use temps, and sometimes they have zero experience as a server. We pride ourselves on staffing your wedding with people who are well versed on hospitality and will go above and beyond to accommodate your guests’ needs. If Grandma needs something specific, she should feel confident that the server will do everything in their power to make it happen.

What do you wish people would tell you before the day of the event?

Since we focus on customizing menus and services for wedding clients, we want to know about everyone’s dietary needs that will be in attendance. It is very difficult to accommodate special dietary needs when only informed the day of, or even 3 days, prior. Depending on the venue, we may or may not be able to produce a vegan meal, a meal for someone with a nut allergy, or other. I’d advise working dietary restriction requests into your invitations, so that guests can RSVP with their restriction, if they have one. We’ll do our very best to accommodate all of your guests. Our final guest count and information is due 14 days prior to your reception date.

I am also a certified health coach, and one of the only Chefs who is a member of The Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine (https://aihm.org), so I am very well versed on various dietary needs and why people have them.

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Photo Credit: Full Bloom Photography

What tips do you have for couples planning their weddings from your experience in the business?

Communication with all the different vendors can be overwhelming, so having a wedding planner take control of this is extremely valuable. Keep in mind that each vendor might have several projects they’re working on at any given time. It can take a lot longer than you might think to get everything nailed down with each vendor. Get the big stuff handled early (wedding planner, venue, caterer, etc). Consider FaceTime or Skype chats if you are far apart from each vendor. Generally planning about 18 months in advance (or more) is the norm, however some venues can already be fully booked that far in advance.

Communication with all the different vendors can be overwhelming, so having a wedding planner take control of this is extremely valuable. Keep in mind that each vendor might have several projects they’re working on at any given time. It can take a lot longer than you might think to get everything nailed down with each vendor. Get the big stuff handled early (wedding planner, venue, caterer, etc). Consider FaceTime or Skype chats if you are far apart from each vendor. Generally planning about 18 months in advance (or more) is the norm, however some venues can already be fully booked that far in advance.

What are the current trends in wedding catering?

Farm to table is a big trend. We like to do “Hyper-Local” food, so in the spring we feature things like asparagus, mushrooms, lamb, etc. In the summer, the bounty grows into all sorts of wonderful vegetables. September is a great month because you have the end of the year bounty plus you also start seeing fall ingredients becoming available. We steer clear of out-of-season ingredients (for example, no asparagus in October).

Signature cocktails are a great way to quickly get a drink in the hands of your guests at the beginning of the reception. There’s a trend to move away from the traditional wedding cake and into other styles of dessert presentations. These other styles include cookie bars, s’mores bars (by a fire), multiple flavors of pie displays, and assorted mini-dessert selections. We’ve done a creme brûlée bar, and we now offer a crepe bar.

What do you predict the future trends to be?

Wedding crasher receptions. We’ve catered weddings where we provide two menus for some clients. The first menu includes a more formal, plated meal for a smaller group of immediate family. The second menu is for the informal reception, for a larger group of guests, served after the plated meal.

The second informal reception, dubbed the “wedding crashers” party, is a great way to enjoy a reception for a larger number of people, without breaking the bank. The guests on the wedding crashers list will have typically eaten a meal before they arrive, and nosh on lighter fair while they dance, drink, and celebrate with the rest of the family.

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Photo Credit: Full Bloom Photography

Thanks, Brian, for the wonderful advice! For more information about SOW Food, visit http://www.sowfood.com.

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Welcome to our blog! Oak & Honey Events is a wedding and event planning company based in Cleveland, Ohio. We specialize in sustainable, unique weddings and events. Thank you for stopping by!

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