The Catering

by Anna Jones

Photo by Kelli Boyd Photography

The Details

You’re engaged! You’re thrilled. You’re in love. You’re ... overwhelmed. Whether you’ve dreamed of
 the big day your whole life or never thought about it until the moment you said yes, the actual process of planning your wedding is uncharted territory. Let this guide be your road map — and leave the details to us.
When choosing the food for your wedding reception, consider first how you want it served, either through a formal seated dinner or at different stations. The latter is more traditional in Southern weddings, but seated dinners (particularly al fresco) are becoming more prevalent in the cooler months — and the difference in cost between them might surprise you.

“Station dinners are more casual in nature, whereas a seated dinner definitely is more formal,” says Leah McCarthy, co-owner of Downtown Catering Company in Bluffton. “For us, it all depends on what we are serving. A client could pick several different stations with many different proteins, vegetables and sides, which will cost much more than a plated chicken dinner.”

CHOOSING A CATERER

Now it’s time to choose a caterer. If the reception is at a hotel, then this question is answered for you — just be sure to schedule a tasting with the catering team and discuss whether the food and beverage is charged per guest or on consumption (usually the former if it is a larger venue contract). If your reception location requires an outside caterer (as with Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum or Telfair Museums in Savannah), ask your venue for a preferred list to choose from.

“We keep a preferred rental company and caterer list for all of our events, and each company comes highly recommended,” says Madison Smith of Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

When creating your contract, catering coordinator Candice Carver of Cha Bella Catering in Savannah recommends identifying the catering budget up front to avoid any confusion. “Sometimes a bride and groom want a specific menu, but it could be $2,000 over what their budget allows,” Carver says. Keeping everyone on the same page in terms of budget will set the expectation from the start.

Courtesy Alexis Sweet Photography

MENU-MAKING

Creating a menu for your wedding is an opportunity to show some of your personality and showcase some local flavors. For a seated dinner, you’ll want each course to be a well-rounded dish with accompanying sides.

“Our favorite menus are the ones that put a modern twist on traditional Savannah cuisine,” says Miranda Merchant, marketing and commu- nications manager at The DeSoto Savannah hotel. “Prosciutto-wrapped grouper with Canewater Farm’s grits and braised collards, or truffle butter pan-roasted chicken with herb polenta, sorghum-roasted carrots and a thyme jus are popular choices you might find on the menu at a plated dinner at The DeSoto.”

If you’re doing food stations, incorporating fresh proteins and vegetables from the region is a way to give your guests a quick bite as they mingle. “I always recommend that couples incorporate seafood into their reception menus,” says Brad Syfan, owner of The Wyld restaurant in Savannah. “This is a coastal city, and we’re on the water, so all the seafood is caught fresh or locally sourced as much as possible.”

Additionally, a cocktail-style reception does not require seating for all guests, vastly trimming the need for extra chair rental.

Cha Bella’s Carver notes that she books many receptions where the passed appetizers are swapped for a display of stationary hors d’oeuvres, which are more photogenic. Family-style served dinners are becoming more popular than individually coursed dinners too, says Carver.

Courtesy Big Boy Cookies

FOOD TRUCK FUN

The food truck trend is here to stay. The advent of “late-night food” is especially lucky for weddings, and it’s easy to park a food truck at the reception exit to serve guests one more nibble before they depart.

“More and more, couples are offering a late-night snack, and more guests are expecting one,” says McCarthy. “The selection truly depends on whether the couple wants more salty or sweet options, but either way, guests love a small bite to nosh on after dancing (and drinking)!”

Something handheld like a cone of French fries or a paper boat of tacos makes the perfect parting gift for your guests — and may help reduce the likelihood of a hangover, too. If a late-night sweet is more to your tastes, rest assured there’s a food truck for that, too. “We bring our food truck to weddings and bake cookies fresh on site for a truly unique experience,” says Hannah Womack, co-owner of Big Boy Cookies in Statesboro. And because if you give a guest a cookie, they’re going to ask for a glass of something, Big Boy Cookies also serves organic milk along with their signature French-pressed coffee and bottled water.

BELLY UP TO THE BAR

No one wants to wait in line for drinks, especially at a wedding. Prevent any guest frustration by making sure your reception is fully equipped with enough bartenders so the drinks flow without interruption throughout the evening. Paul Ganem of Johnnie Ganem’s Package and Wine Shop in Savannah recommends hiring one bartender per 75 guests depending on the setup of the bars and the drink menu. If specialty cocktails are being made to order, he recommends adding another bartender to each bar to keep things moving. Check with your caterer and venue to understand their vision for the display and service of food and beverages, and make sure the floor plan is open and spread out to avoid any traffic jams.