We hear a lot of brides say that one of the most important aspects of their wedding day is having good FOOD! You want to make sure your guests enjoy the hors d’oeuvres, dinner and maybe even a late night snack. Plus, you recognize that in order to keep your guests groovin’ on the dance floor they’ll need some good sustenance!
Good on you, girl! We’re all about making sure you and your guests thoroughly enjoy themselves and every part of your big day. If you’re in the same boat and are trying to figure out how to make that happen, we’ve got some good news for you! Sarah, owner of Mountain Laurel Catering & Events, shared some insight that will make your life SO. MUCH. EASIER. Read on to learn what to look for in a caterer, new food trends, and how to know if a buffet or plated meal is best for you!
1. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into catering?
Patrick, my husband and the mastermind in our kitchen, and I grew up in the hospitality industry in and around Central Pa. Although apart of the same circle of friends in our early 20’s, it took us both moving to Montana – separately and 2 years apart from each other, and coming across each other out there for us to start looking at each other with intentions greater then friendship. Once we knew we were going to tackle life together, we tackled our first restaurant – Izaak’s in Craig, MT. Craig, MT is about 6 blocks big, but sits on a blue ribbon fly fishing section of the Big Mo, so in the summer, the little town of 50 was bursting with 3-400! That was a fun summer of Fishing, slinging prime ribs & fun cocktails, and falling in love.
From there, Patrick was called back to the Forbes 5 Star resort – Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, MT to be the Sous Chef. Patrick had taken a line cook position with Paws 2 years prior, which is what sustained his move from PA. I got a job as a server, though as Patrick became increasingly important in Paws’ kitchen, I moved to the lodging side of operations. There I learned Front Desk, Concierges, Reservations, and first dabbled in Wedding & Events. After a few years, I accepted the Sales & Front Office Manager’s position at Inn at Dos Brisas (Forbes 5 Star, Relais & Chateaux) in Brenham, TX. It was there, with being so close to Houston & the oil money, I really got my feet wet with selling and coordinating high-end events. Two years later, we wanted to return to the mountains of Montana, but took a pit stop back home (now married) to really get to know each other’s families. While here, we catered my cousin’s reception, and BOOM (!) we were getting requests non-stop to keep doing so, so we smartened up and created Mountain Laurel Catering & Events to have business expenses. Fast forward 7 years and we have 3 growing boys and 37 employees!
2. What’s your favorite food Mountain Laurel serves?
Oh, tough question! The real answer – whatever new and fun dish the chef’s create! All of our menus for our couples are custom, we really want their food to reflect who they are, where they’ve traveled, and their general style. Many times me and my sales team will rope in a chef to come up with something completely new to really wow a couple. Recently we’ve been doing Crispy Chicken hors w/Brie, Wildflower Honey & Candied Jalapenos – the perfect bite of deliciousness! A tried and true staple is Chef Pat’ Tender Beef Brisket, or a gigantic antipasti display – we now have Mediterranean, Italian, French, Indian, or Middle Eastern themed antipasti options.
3. What should a couple consider when selecting their wedding caterer? What makes a good wedding caterer?
There’s a lot that should be considered in this decision. I think what makes a good caterer is the ability to roll with the punches – timelines run late, or cocktail hour is cut 45 minutes short due to a storm, or half the guest list dropped week of because of COVID (again 🙁), or the baker backed 2 days before, can we now do their desserts? You gotta roll with it. One wedding, the DJ showed up and none of his equipment worked. Granted, this DJ was the least professional we’ve come across, but he left the venue to go buy new plugs. We ended up using our Kitchen trailer speaker to play the ceremony songs & first dances! So general attitude of your caterer should be considered when choosing when making this decision – are they team players? Do they cook on site or hot transport? Everyone’s had that piece of cold rubbery wedding chicken; that caterer is a hot transport caterer. Is your caterer full service? Do they have bartenders & the needed insurance? How flexible are they with menu revisions and how in control are you of your menu? One of the most important items of consideration is the satisfaction of past clients – read their reviews! It is also important to note that the caliber of venue to choose will most likely coordinate with the caliber of caterers they allow there. 90% of venues have preferred vendors that you are either required to choose from, or pay a hefty fee to go off of. Don’t book a $20,000 venue and expect a $2,000 caterer.
4. How far in advance should a couple book you for their wedding?
We are currently booking heavy for 2023 – all the way through 12/31/2023. Two years in advance is needed if you’re looking at the hot months & dates (mostly May, June, September, October & now even November). And then again, of you don’t want to have a long engagement, there are deals to be had for year-of bookings – most notably in the “off season” (January-mid April).
5. Is it important for a couple to have a tasting with their caterer? If so, when do you recommend they schedule this?
YES! The tasting will give you the confidence in advance you need in your caterer so that is just one less worry for you on your big day. We host both private & group tastings.
At our private tastings, you will taste your entire menu. At group tastings, we host 5 couples and pull items from all of their menus, you’ll taste a lot more at group tastings, but not your complete menu so there are pros and cons to both. Our couples also get meet a lot of our staff at their tasting – both back and front of house. It’s always nice to see familiar faces on site! When to schedule tastings is more complicated. We are a small family company – on purpose, and it is very important to Patrick and I as owners that our staff has time with their families; meaning in those heavy hitter months (May, June, September-November) we may not be able to accommodate a tasting and rely on our reputation to get that signature on our contract. Then, come the turn of the new year, we’re hosting 10 tastings a week!
6. Are there any unique food selections or serving methods you’ve seen recently? What was your favorite?
We’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with active Chef Stations at Cocktail hour – handmade pierogis or crepes or brick oven flat breads made to order, anyone? Most of our couples want great food and superior service, and also want to get to that dance floor. We’ve found plated meals are the most effective way to get to the party (perhaps with a family style pasta course or intermezzo), so we typically get our creative style points on the front and back of dinner. We also LOVE to do smaller events on our own. We’ll jump an opportunity to do an upscale garden party. This past November we hosted a ROY G. BIV dinner. My staff turned a blank white room into a dining masterpiece with hanging florals, chandeliers, long white farm house tables, etc.; and Chef Pat created a seven course menu, each course being a different color of the rainbow. We asked our guests to wear all white, and we did also, so the only color in the room was the food, and the up lighting that changed with the courses – that was SO. MUCH. FUN!
7. What deciding factors should a couple think through as they pick between having a buffet, stations or plated meal?
With the escalation of food pricing, buffet is no longer a cheaper option, so it really just depends on how you want your reception to flow. Is the focus on the food? Then how about plated and coursed or stations. Do the uncles in your family compete in the annual hot dog eating contest and you don’t want them to be left unsatisfied? Buffet. If its all about the dance floor, then stick with what works and do a preset salad and pre-determined choice of plated entrée.
Well, now we’re officially hungry. We’re seriously trying to think of any excuse to call Sarah and have her cater literally ANYTHING! 🙂
Brides, we know this whole wedding planning process is a lot to think through, costs a chunk of change, and yet is one of the most important days ever. We hope some of these Q&As are helpful in making the process seem just a little less stressful! We’re always excited to chat with you further and share how we can alleviate your overwhelm by sharing our recommendations, managing the vendor calls, and making a kick-butt timeline!
Of course, if you’re still deciding on a caterer, make sure to check out Sarah and her team! Your big day is important to them, too, and we know they’ll take care of ya 🙂 You can find their info on their website, Facebook or Instagram!
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