How to Cater to the Crowd: Must-Try Catering Tips and Trends
Peter Callahan is the iconic owner and Creative Director of New York City-based Peter Callahan Catering. Credited by many as the originator of the miniaturized comfort food mega craze and the slider itself, Peter has been a caterer, food stylist, and culinary innovator for more than 25 years. He has created events for Barack Obama, George Bush, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Regis and Joy Philbin, and Kelly Ripa, and is a frequent guest entertainer on The Today Show, among others. We sat down with the party pro to get his take on the must-try wedding catering tips and trends.
Photos courtesy of Peter Callahan.
So, are any wedding catering trends having a major moment right now?
Mini foods for cocktail hour are still hot, particularly if they are whimsical and thematic (think: short rib burgers and bourbon). Interactive stations are also fun; you can allow guests to snip their own herbs or choose their own finishing sauces. We’re also loving the return of “classic” foods — from rolling cheese carts and individual charcuterie boards to traditional wedge salads and perfectly-roasted chicken dinners. Why mess with a good thing? But it’s the continued push towards healthy, locally-sourced foods, particularly for the seated dinner service and kids’ meals, that are super trendy at the moment.
Any on-trend treats you recommend?
Believe it or not, donuts iced in pastel frostings and dressed with sugar crystals, edible flowers, etc. are crowd pleasers, as are beautiful and simple passed desserts like ice-cold Demi-Sec or Muscat poured over fresh summer fruits. And simple elegant crepes are pure magic; they can be made table-side with fillings like Nutella and bananas, or strawberry-rhubarb compote.
What is your number one favorite thing to serve at a wedding?
I couldn’t name just one, other than to say plenty of bubbly! But I am loving the craft beer trend that just gets stronger every year, as well as thematic spirits like whisky and bourbon. For food, I’d have to say serving all of my mini hors d’s — with or without mini cocktails — is always fun, as they are really awesome conversation starters. Most guests are not expecting such playful foods and get a kick out of them!
Brunch weddings are big right now! What menu would you recommend for a morning or afternoon affair?
We love serving breakfast and find that people enjoy our whimsical take on traditional brunch foods. We serve up fare they can grab quickly, like mini stacks of blueberry pancakes, mini Rise Krispie canapés with yogurt and blueberries, our tiny bagel profiteroles, or mini French toast. But even our crème brulee oatmeal rocks the house! One thing’s for sure: you have to have a delicious bar of traditional beverages like bloody Marys with bacon garnishes, a Prosecco bar with blood orange juice (for modern mimosas), and an entire coffee station where guests can get any coffee drink imaginable!
We also love a wedding with a good midnight snack. What’s your favorite thing to serve up late night?
If not the late night/early morning breakfast items noted above, I’d have to say all the bar foods you’d expect, from salty crab fries to mini hot dogs and tiny boxes of pizza. But we’ve done whole rooms of chocolate, stacks of sugary donuts, and flaming mini baked Alaskas too.
There seems to be a rise in cocktail-style wedding receptions. How can a couple pull one off?
Easy! Make sure there is more than enough seating, which means ensuring that there are enough cocktail tables, chairs, barstools, benches, furniture, etc. to let guests sit down even though they aren’t assigned to a dinner table. You also need to shorten the time frame of the event from the traditional five hour party to three hours. And no matter what, make sure there is enough food. I would recommend a selection of 10-12 passed hors d’oeuvres, with 2-3 food stations for grazing. Guests like to enjoy food in different ways, so mix passed trays with buffets and make-your-own stations. The same goes for beverages; some are passed, some are available at “serve yourself” stations, and others are available at multiple bars. Then, of course, make sure you have enough staff to make the service flow easily, efficiently, and consistently.
Pies or donuts: Donuts.
Plated or family-style meal: Both! Incorporating both into one menu keeps the food entertaining.
Classic white dinnerware or mismatched china: It depends on the event design, but food always looks best on clean, white plates.
Craft beers or fine wines: Both have a place in our events, but if it can only be one, go with fine wines.
Wedding cake or dessert bar: Yes, please! We usually see both. Of course, I love designing entire dessert bars; when it comes to sweets, we like to give guests what they want, which is variety… delivered in the same classic, playful ways we deliver our savory hors d’s!