Chef Nisa Lee
How far in advance should you book a caterer?
You can book the traditional year in advance, but it can be as short as two or three months.
How should a couple go about finding a caterer?
First, they need to know if their chosen venue requires an in-house caterer. If they don’t require it, brides-to-be have to go by word-of-mouth, because you need a caterer you can trust.
What should happen in the initial meeting with a potential caterer?
You have to know what kind of event you want. Is it a garden party with a cocktail reception? Is it a multicultural event? Are you looking for that modern flair? What is the formality of the event? Then, when you go in looking for caterers, you have to look for someone who will work to design the wedding you want on the budget you have. But the couple needs to make sure they have an idea what they want beforehand.
What else should happen before the couple books a caterer?
Well, they have to taste the food. A lot of the time, caterers only have a tasting with appetizers. Appetizers are always great, but if you’re paying for a sit-down dinner, you need to taste the dinner food.
How should a couple go about designing a wedding menu?
Now, it’s all about fitting the menu to the couple’s personality. When I get new clients, I ask them how they met, where they like to eat. I have one couple who’s getting married on a boat, so their menu has lots of sea flavors—but they also love barbecue, so we’re having nice, simple barbecue chicken, too.
How many servers should staff a wedding?
You can’t skimp on servers. If you’re just having a cocktail reception with an open bar and heavy hors d’oeuvres for one hundred people, you’d need three bartenders and six servers. If you have a buffet dinner, you should add two captains to that. For a sit-down dinner, you need the bartenders and the captains, plus two servers for every ten people.
Who gets tipped at the end of the night?
There should be a service charge in the contract. Twenty percent of the total invoice is standard, and that covers tipping all of the staff, but it can be negotiable.
What are some recent trends for the hors d’oeuvres and cocktail hour?
Lots of brides try to stick with the traditional choices to meet the taste of the older crowd. But we can spin it and put a modern twist on it. For example, instead of lobster rolls, we’ll do lobster on a lettuce leaf and have a lettuce wrap.
Are more couples doing sit-down or buffet dinners?
We’re actually doing a lot of family-style dining. That’s a seated dinner, but the portions aren’t plated. We’ll bring out three or four courses, one at a time, in larger serving bowls and trays and ask each guest to take his or her portion and pass it down. It’s a great way to engage the guests at the table, and it breaks the ice between the guests. Plus, the couples I see now are so family-oriented that it just fits them—it’s like the family Sunday dinner.
So many people have food limitations—kosher or vegan or gluten-free. Is the couple responsible for providing meals for Everyone?
Yes. We’re not going to have someone with no meal.
What about dessert? is it better to get that from the caterer or a separate baker?
That’s a personal choice for the bride and groom, but the caterer should have that kind of flexibility.
How can a couple save money on catering?
With me, they can buy their own alcohol and we can just serve it.
What Other trends have you noticed?
In the past two years, I’ve seen more and more couples go organic. That includes organic wines and organic spirits; you can get organic tequila and vodka.
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