Guest Post: How to Save Your Event from 3 Common Catering Mistakes

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We only get special events catered — and that’s the central issue when things go wrong. A dessert coming out a bit late on a standard Tuesday night at home doesn’t rattle anyone’s cage, but make that dessert a wedding cake and that day a wedding that’s been planned down to the second for months, and suddenly an extra few minutes can threaten to ruin an event.

Unfortunately, these things happen. When things goho wrong, keep a few tricks up your sleeve. A late wedding cake can be the perfect opportunity for a distractingly impromptu toast to the couple while things get figured out.

Family style table setting

Fixing catering mistakes before they become the star of the show

Throughout high school and college, I picked up catering jobs for extra money with a local steakhouse whose chef had attended a culinary school in Texas and had been in the business for years, which meant the plates were big and everything came out like clockwork. Since then, I’ve seen my fair share of catering catastrophes – as well as creative fixes. Here are my three favorites:

1. This isn’t what I ordered. Catering menus should be agreed upon well before any event, and they should take into account any and all dietary restrictions (gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, nut allergy, low carb, no carb, shellfish allergy, extreme aversion to shortbread – you get the idea). For whatever reason, well-planned menus sometimes don’t make it all the way to the cooks, and they crank out some delicious, but ultimately incorrect, dishes. As a vegetarian, I’ve dealt with this issue many, many times.

The fix: You need the chef for this one (and an adrenaline shot if you tried to pick out the walnuts and rescue the dish). Get something new and in-compliance made up for any guests with restrictions as quickly as possible. Avoid this debacle next time: Before the event – and right at the beginning, just in case – double check that everything is set and the agreed upon food is actually what’s on the menu for the affair.

2. We’re out of food?! It’s been suggested that there is a grand reason for the number of guests who have RSVP’d to an event being different from the number you end up with – but it’s still not easy to deal with. Even if your guest list stays constant, occasionally the caterer just gets the number wrong. Probably the worst case of this I’ve heard about was a plane that loaded ten fewer meals than there were passengers on board. (There was almost an airborne mutiny fueled by low blood sugar.)

The fix: Get the count right as early as possible. For boxed lunches or situations like the plane, you’ll need another meal all together, but for more typical events, an extra quick side dish spreads the main course out further. If you’ve got a feeling that you’ll have gate crashers (or just famished guests) have a contingency plan ready.

3. I feel sick. Food poisoning shouldn’t be what everyone remembers about the corporate retreat, but it will be if proper care isn’t taken with food handling. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to set in, depending on several factors. If it doesn’t set in until your guests are home, you can just apologize later. If that’s not the case…

The fix: Imodium or some other fast-acting medicine for unhappy stomachs is your best bet if it’s too late, so keep a box handy. Health and food safety are big topics in culinary programs, and keeping certified employees on staff is the law. That said, occasionally things happen. If you see something sitting out too long or a dish doesn’t smell quite right, say something.

From a clumsy waiter dumping red sauce on a wedding dress to caterers not showing up at all, there are plenty of other mistakes that can put the brakes on an event. The two best weapons in your arsenal: being prepared and keeping communication open with the caterer. Remember: you’re getting it catered because it’s a special event. Keep calm, and don’t let a little food mix-up ruin the celebration.


About the Author

Karl Fendelander  cut his teeth on web writing in the late nineties and has been plugged in to the newest technology and tuned in to the latest trends ever since. When he unplugs, Karl cooks up a storm for friends
and family, considers running away to culinary school in Texas, and explores the West.

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