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Professionals cater to individual needs
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Couples may think tight wedding budgets mean only friends and family can provide food for receptions, but professional caterers offer options at any price level.
Vicki Leach, chef instructor in the Culinary Arts Institute at Mississippi University for Women, said caterers may even be willing to work with the couple’s family and friends.
“Business is business, and most caterers are looking for opportunities for people to taste their food,” she said. “Caterers can get referrals from even the smallest jobs, and that helps them build their client base.”
Leach said planning for a reception always begins with a realistic budget.
“Professionals can often provide an affordable menu because they do not have to rent or buy dishes, glasses or other items for the reception. They also are efficient and have experience working within a budget,” she said. “Many have specialties they will allow prospective clients to sample ahead of time, especially if they are preparing them for another event.”
Leach teaches MUW students who are enrolled in a new bachelor’s degree program that is administered jointly with Mississippi State University. The culinology program is one of only 12 in the country.
“It is not enough just to enjoy making food. Successful catering is more than a hobby; it is providing a custom-made product,” she said.
“Selecting a caterer with experience or training brings more professionalism to the event. They are also trained in food safety and legal issues, which should not be taken for granted,” Leach said. “Don’t overlook food safety. Make sure there is a plan for keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold.”
Brent Fountain, nutrition specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said experience counts.
“Do your homework. Talk to people who have used the caterer for receptions that are similar in size and budget,” he said. “Be sure you know what the caterer’s responsibilities will be in terms of set up and clean up.”
Fountain said most issues that impact the cost of the reception are under a couple’s control. Those factors include the time of the wedding and reception, the location and the number of invited guests.
“Most guests will expect more substantial food when the wedding is near a meal time,” he said. “The length of the reception also can impact how much people will want to eat. Serving alcohol at the reception will drive up the cost unless it is a cash bar.”
Fountain said the location of the reception can impact guests’ expectations.
“Receptions in the fellowship hall of the church are less expensive than most at off-site locations,” he said. “You may have fewer guests if they have to drive elsewhere, or they may come en masse with higher expectations.”
Fountain said these factors are key reasons couples should establish a budget before making decisions about the reception.