Tasting Advice: How to have the most successful experience with your caterer

The tasting with your caterer and your baker might be the most enjoyable moments of wedding and event planning.  What’s not to love? You get to stuff your face with lots of yummy food and be the “Chopped” competition judge you’ve always dreamed of being!  However, it might be surprising to some of you that I get calls and email from my panicked client asking how, exactly, they are supposed to go about completing this task.  It’s so much more than just tasting food, or going out for a nice meal.  Here are my thoughts on how to have the most successful tasting:

    • Do not eat a lot prior to the tasting. A light breakfast is all you need.  Please don’t underestimate the amount of food (and calories!) that will be served to you at your tasting.
    • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 🙂  You will receive small portions of each item to taste, so you might think it’s all manageable.  However, keep in mind that you have a LOT more coming!  It’s okay to just taste, and not finish each item.

  • What you can expect to see for the salad and entree courses are one full-sized presentation in the middle of the table, but you’ll each be served smaller portions. I recommend taking photos of the full-sized portion that is displayed in the middle.  It can help you recall lots of details later, especially as it relates to the presentation of the plates. If I’m there, I’ll be taking pictures for our files as well. Your caterer usually does, too.
    • You’ll taste things in chronological order: appetizers, first course, entree. When you taste the appetizers, keep a very open mind.  You’ll want to settle on your entree options before really nailing down your appetizers.  This is because the entrees will be the star of the show, and you don’t want to duplicate too much with appetizers.  As an example: Let’s say you really love a chicken appetizer, but then you settle on a chicken entree option that has a similar flavor profile.  You will probably want to nix the chicken appetizer at that point and replace it with something that gives you a bit more variety.
    • Try to have as much variety as possible. While you don’t have to make *everyone* happy with every aspect (it’s your wedding, not theirs) you should have a good selection of vegetarian, poultry, fish, and meat.  You should also have some gluten-free options for the appetizers.  Don’t worry too much about gluten-free or any other allergies for the entree selections, because you can always put in special requests for dietary restrictions when you submit your final headcount.  The kitchen can accommodate just about any special need without you having to adjust the overall menu selections.

    • When tasting multiple items at a time (like when a variety of appetizers are presented) try to taste each item together. For instance, everyone try the lamb chop at the same time, rather than one person tries the lamb chop while another is on the mac & cheese.  That way, you can all discuss.
    • You might want to circle around to different items several times. If you’re on the fence about a couple items in front of you, you might need to go back and forth between the two. (kind of like when you’re trying to decide between two dresses, and you need to try them both on multiple times to decide.)  Another reason not to eat each item in its entirety during the tasting.

    • Lastly, and possibly most importantly, give honest feedback! Chefs inherently want to make people happy.  It’s why they do what they do.  If you want to serve a certain dish at your event, but you don’t love something about it at the tasting, speak up!  Let them know the sauce isn’t flavorful enough, or the fish was too dry, or you found the garlic in the potatoes to be competing too much with the other fragrances.  While the chef may not agree with your personal preference, they are always willing to make adjustments and you should never feel shy about asking for what you want.

Please be aware that not all caterers offer tastings at all.  If they don’t, please ask them before booking them, how you can be assured of their quality of food and service, besides reading reviews.  For instance, a long-time favorite caterer of our, Chef’s Expressions, has wine suppers each month.  They also offer tastings, but I find these wine dinners to be a great way of experiencing the whole kit and caboodle of event execution, from welcome, to food service, to beverage service, and beyond.  Other caterers will offer tastings, but not complimentary.  Tastings are expensive to produce, so many caterers steer clear of the expense.  If you have the option to pay for a tasting, you might want to ask your caterer if that fee can be applied to your overall contract once you sign, as a payment made towards the event.  Most caterers would gladly comp your tasting after you sign on the dotted line.

A quick story before I go… It’s the Tale of the Great Rice Tasting of 2014.
We planned an ethnic wedding at the Legg Mason Tower back in 2014, and the tasting went great, with one exception.  The rice wasn’t up to par with their expectations.  There was a restaurant downtown that the couple loved, which had very flavorful rice.  The chef at Legg Mason was tasked with dining at the restaurant solely for the purpose of tasting this rice and attempting to dissect it and determine its ingredients and how they were prepared.  The couple later returned for a separate tasting for the rice.  They were happy with the result, but the whole ordeal was a bit over-the-top.  Just goes to show that most chefs will do whatever it takes to make their clients happy!  Never be afraid to speak up about what you want!