Thursday, November 5, 2009

On the process (or challenge) of self-catering.

When we were planning on hiring a caterer, things were easier. She would have taken care of all the dishes and coffee machines and food and everything. Even tablecloths and candles.

But that all comes at a price. When she came back to us with a quote that included prices like $4 for each serving of dessert (and considering most people might want to try a few desserts at an event with a dessert BUFFET) and almost $3 a person just for utensils/plates/etc, and of course the price of servers and coffee and the various costs associated with the champagne toast, etc, S and I stopped and did some quick math. And the grand total estimate we made was WAY more than we thought reasonable for a dessert reception to cost. It would have been appropriate for a heavy hors d'oeuvres buffet or a dinner reception held at a restaurant. We thought that there had to be a less expensive way to do a dessert buffet. It turns out there is. But that has a cost too.

But we made the decision to self-cater, deciding it could not be that hard to self-cater a dessert reception. Which is somewhat true...and also deceiving. Because it is hard. It is difficult as an amateur to figure out all those little- and not so little- things that caterers make a living doing. Like how many pieces of dessert do you need for a dessert buffet for a group of somewhere between 110 and 150 people? How much coffee does a group that size generally drink? Where do you buy those little individual plastic things of creamer? Do they need to be refrigerated? What percentage of the coffee-drinkers drink decaf at a reception that begins around 9 pm? What about herbal tea? And how many people will use two or more plates/glasses/forks/etc because they sat the original down somewhere and lost track of it? Do you need "protein" at a dessert reception? (My dad really wanted those little bread-wrapped-mini-hot-dog things at our reception. As a mostly-vegetarian, that just was not appealing to me. Besides it was a dessert reception, and even a fancy, dressed-up, version of a hot dog does not make it a dessert.)

So we went to Costco with S's dad and girlfriend to buy lots of yummy (we hoped!), pre-made, frozen desserts and Brie cheese (often served after a meal in Québec, like a dessert). My bridesmaid M and I bought cake mix and icing at the grocery store to make cupcakes. (I will do a post about the yummy cupcakes later!) And instead of the hot dogs, I bought almonds for my dad to have some "protein." :) And we had fruit and fresh baguettes, thanks to S's dad and his girlfriend bringing that the day of the wedding, in addition to the frozen dessert items we had stored in their freezer since S's was full. Plus we added gummy bears in little bowls, which were left-over from what we had bought for the Out-of-Town Bags. And apparently the gummy bears were a hit. Who knew? :) Below is the detailed list of food and drinks we had at the soirée.

Dessert Buffet:
  • A mix of 200 mini and normal-sized cupcakes in two varieties: chocolate with chocolate icing and chocolate with cream cheese icing, made by the wonderful bridesmaid M and minister M.
  • Homemade treats from S's mom (fudge, yummy tofu dessert squares, cookies)
  • Brie and baguettes
  • Fruit
  • Almonds
  • Mini cheesecake squares
  • Full-size slices of cheesecake
  • Mini eclairs
  • Bowls of gummy bears
  • Maple cookies (which were also packaged our favor because it is the maple cookie that brought us together!)
Drinks we provided:
  • Champagne toast right after the ceremony (with a bubbly water alternative)
  • Coffee
  • Decaf coffee
  • Herbal tea (called "tisane" here)
  • Tea
And then there was a cash bar with bartenders (run by the venue) for red and white wine, beer, soda, water bottles, etc.

We hired two friends of our friend, V, to be our waitstaff. V found them for us, which was wonderful, since I had NO ideas on who to ask to help. They had experience as servers and they professionally managed serving the champagne toast and maintaining the dessert buffet at the reception. They didn't stay during the whole reception, just during the first few hours, but having them (and V) there allowed me not to worry about the food not being replaced on the buffet and that was fabulous. It turns out that we even had leftover food and drinks, as we must have over-estimated the quantities needed. But that is okay, and certainly better that than running out of food. And we sent people home with leftovers at the end of the evening- well, by then it was well into the early morning hours. :)

And if we had it to do over again, I think I would still self-cater. But, I would set-up the tables, tablecloths, serving trays, etc, the day before (which we were not able to do) and hire or recruit more people to do all the set-up and clean-up on the actual day of the wedding so we wouldn't have to do any of that. But I learned a lot through the process and at least I have the assurance that we weren't being ripped off and that we got great results for our money: a fun reception with good food.

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