The Appeal of Reception Food Stations and Bars
Lately you’ve noticed that some of your most fun group dining outings are at food halls. The perfect compromise for the picky eater, the adventurous foodie and the steadfast dieter, the variety and range that the concept provides has so many positives that couples have started to incorporate a similar style into their wedding food service by way of roaming stations and bars.
Danielle Lee, partner and chief of experience operations at My House Events, considers this a calling card of modern couples’ approach to a reception. “Roving food stations allow guests to dictate the food portion of their night as opposed to everyone doing the same thing at the same time,” said Lee. “Some guests may decide to spend the majority of their night dancing, while others may relish the food options. It allows everyone to do their own thing!”
KICK IT OFF AT COCKTAIL HOUR
One of the ways to start the night on the right stilettos is to make sure that your guests always have a drink in hand, a bite in mouth and are circulating around the festivities. Katie Morris, owner of of Black Pearl Catering, says strategically placing stations for guests to visit will get people moving all about the venue, which makes for an energized and engaging atmosphere right from the start. “We encourage clients to introduce roaming food bars during the cocktail hour,” said Morris. “This is when guests are typically on their feet and a bit more mobile, socializing.”
LIVE BEFORE YOUR EYES
What could be more fun to a guest than to get to roam from station to station with exciting live-action visuals at every turn? Morris has found that interactive stations are huge for crowd appeal. “The live stations become a sensory experience for guests,” said Morris. “The smell of a wood-fired grill, the flip of a wok over open flame, the careful plating technique of a chef, all encourages guests to engage.” Some ideas she’s incorporated are jamón serrano carving stations where a uniformed chef carves the cured ham to-order for guests to sample, whole pig cochon de lait displays, made-to-order arepas, as well as a live oyster shucking bar. Says Morris, “Out of town guests may not have tried a local shucked oyster before so for them this is unexpected, entertaining, and presents a natural avenue to interact with other guests.”
INTRODUCING THE CRESCENT CITY
New Orleans is a prime spot for destination weddings and your guests will not only be expecting, but anticipating an introduction to the flavors that are so pronounced and celebrated in the city. For this reason, Colleen Page, associate director, meetings and special events at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans has adopted the use of a “Louisiana Classics” station, which features favorites such as jambalaya, gumbo and mini muffulettas as a way to spotlight several quintessential favorites. “Locals will of course appreciate familiar flavors, and it also serves as a good introduction to New Orleans cuisine for those visiting or unfamiliar,” said Page.
Walker Geoffray, executive chef and owner of Black Pearl Catering, notes that a rice bar is one of his favorite ideas to incorporate a variety of New Orleans flavors. “Rice is such an integral part of southern culture and translates to many other cultures,” said Geoffray. A nod to traditional southern dishes but with plenty of variety, he recommends items like jambalaya fried rice and smoked oyster fried rice. “This type of bar has also been an effective way to offer an assortment of proteins and also accommodate vegetarian and vegan dietary restrictions.”
A SWEET ESCAPE
It’s a party so calories don’t count, right? Let your dessert offerings tempt all your invitees by creating several set ups for them to indulge in. “We have seen an increase in couples veering away from the wedding cake being the only dessert and providing guests with multiple small bites,” said Lee of My House Events. For the sugar o’clock portion of the festivities, she’s noticed an uptick in small bites and pies. “Pies – both mini and large format – have seen a resurgence over the past few years.” She recommends eye-catching stations of petit fours, mini doberge cakes and make-your-own ice cream sandwich stations where guests pick out their cookie flavor and their ice cream as a draw for partygoers. “Flavor profiles are vast, thus the bride may love cookies and the groom may want all dark chocolate,” said Lee. “Stations allow for variety and compromise, a key for planning!”
The Do’s And Don’ts When Working With A Caterer
We caught up with Sheila Tahvildari, director of food and beverage at QED Hospitality Group for the Pontchartrain Hotel to get her take on what to avoid and what most to consider when booking a caterer for your wedding.
Q: What are the top three questions a couple should consider when sitting down with a caterer?
A: What sort of mood do you want to create? How much fun do you want to have with the menu? Have your guests ever been New Orleans?
Q: What is the No. 1 misconception from brides regarding their caterer during their reception?
A: That they need to be worried about running out of food. We want your guests to enjoy the day and be well fed just as much as you do! This burden shouldn’t fall on a bride on her special day — the professionals will handle it for you.
Q: What is the No. 1 mistake couples make when hiring a caterer?
A: Not trusting your caterer’s advice. While this might be your first wedding, it is not theirs. They know what works best for the flow of the room and how people dine at weddings.
Q: What one piece of advice would you provide to a bride bringing in an event caterer?
A: Make sure your caterer is well-versed in the style of food you want to provide your guests. You want to allow them to play to their strengths so that all parties involved are happy with the outcome.
This article originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of New Orleans Bride Magazine.