Robert and I ran into all sorts of unexpected roadblocks when looking for a caterer — many I describe below. After deciding what we wanted from a catered meal — essentially a strolling (as opposed to sit-down) Southern-inspired menu — and narrowing down our catering options, we chose our caterer: The Chef & I. The chef being Chris Rains, while the “I” is co-owner and wife, Erica.
Here’s why we chose them — these qualities might help you determine which caterer is right for you during your search. And check out some of their offerings in the photo gallery above!
1. Flexibility. Many of the caterers I talked to seemed bound by rules that felt arbitrary and limiting, such as some foods can only be served in a buffet or passed or family style. I appreciated the Chef & I’s flexibility with our menu and presentation requests. It helped us achieve our goal of a free-flowing summer party.
2. Innovation. Our hope was to serve Southern food with a twist, but after talking to some caterers, the “twist” I was looking for didn’t seem in the cards. Many menus were very standard Southern fare, which we were open to but it wasn’t our first choice. More surprising were the many menus of generic wedding fare that was popular 10 years ago. So we were excited when we discussed twists on fried chicken and fried green tomatoes with the Chef & I, and they came up with fried chicken “lollipops” with roasted corn aioli and a Memphis rib BLT with charred green tomato relish and bacon dust — both now appetizers on our menu!
3. A balanced menu. Other caterers pushed me in the direction of a menu that seemed too heavy for a hot summer night, especially with many guests accustomed to eating light. But our menu with the Chef & I feels like a great combination of heavy and light appetizers and varied dinner offerings. We’ve dubbed the menu “Southern Small Plates” because portions will be small, so guests can try all the different offerings.
4. Vegetarians welcome! Some caterers recommended that my vegetarian guests go without a main course and eat only sides, but the Chef & I came up with a clever solution to vegetarian fare. Instead of serving straight-up shrimp ‘n grits, grits will be presented at a station with add-ins: shrimp, crispy mushrooms and candied spiced bacon — guests can choose their favorite or opt for all three. And the BLT appetizer mentioned above will have a vegetarian counterpart, substituting fresh mozzarella for the meat.
5. Savory dessert options. This wasn’t the case with many of the caterers. Some offered the usual desserts such as cheesecake, key lime pie and chocolate cake, and while there’s nothing wrong with any of them, we were looking for options that felt less standard and a little more Southern.
6. Good organization. Erica types up detailed notes on everything for the day of your wedding — it’s part of the proposal they send you. Other catering companies were less transparent and left us wondering whether they had logged all the details we had discussed.
7. Easy communication. The Chef & I were equally comfortable corresponding over the phone or email. I encountered a couple caterers who had a strong preference for the phone, and although I can appreciate that this establishes more of a rapport, it was a giant pain when they continuously called me instead of emailing. This was especially true during workhours. Email was much easier for me and it had the benefit of a paper trail.
8. No charge for serving items. If they had it, we could use it, with no extra charge. I really appreciated that.
9. Parents’ seal of approval. OK, so this is an odd one. I wasn’t in town for a tasting event the Chef & I hosted, so my parents attended on my behalf and literally gushed about it. I took that as an excellent sign. I was equally pleased when I tasted the menu at a later date.
10. No sticker shock. The caterer had fewer cost “add-ons” than other caterers, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw the final quote and very happy that their menu was within our budget!
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