pastry catering display

When the bride’s dress has been revealed and the groom’s face captured, there’s one other person most wedding guests can’t wait to see: the caterer. But when the trays of hors devours begin to circulate, weeks of preparation are concluding, not beginning. Here are a few of the secrets they learn along the way.

1. They have a secret superpower: math.

Profitable catering is one giant math equation. How do you have meat to feed a crowd without having too many leftovers AND without eating into your profit? Careful calculation is key. Those who master math are those who make it in the long run.

2. Their job is one heck of a stressor.

Wedding caterers, in particular, have among the most stressful jobs out there. Expectations are sky high, and mistakes simply aren’t tolerated. As such, many caterers have Type A personalities. That creativity stuff? It’s secondary.

3. Those gourmet eggs might be powder.

Caterers are expected to prepare food for crowds of hundreds, and occasionally, thousands. Making everything from scratch isn’t realistic. Good caterers know which shortcuts keep quality high while making time reasonable. That means powdered eggs and store-bought sauces might be on the table.

4. They’re expecting something to go wrong.

Experienced caterers always have something up their sleeves. Anticipating that which can’t be anticipated–a tray of quiches falling into a pond, a guest spilling their beverage into the lasagna–is their job. In preparing for the inevitable disaster, caterers say that nothing replaces experience.

5. Shrinking is their friend.

When we’re hungry, we all love a good helping of food. For appetizer receptions, that can mean filling a plate with 5-8 different hors devours in short order. The caterer’s trick? Present items in miniature, like tiny grilled cheese bits. Hungry guests can come back for seconds, while waste is reduced.

6. They think vertically.

The presentation is a significant part of the art of catering. One of the things that sets fine catering apart from your home cooking: food is displayed at varying heights. It may sound simple, but the impact is literally three-dimensional.

7. Many catering staffs are aspiring actors and singers.

Sure, their faces may communicate that there’s nothing else they’d rather do, but most catering staff have other ambitions. One common category: the arts. Your waiter’s delight? It could all be an act.

8. Picking an unusual date could save you big money.

Catering, like most categories, is a balance of supply and demand. To save big on your budget, ask the catering company which dates or times would result in the biggest discount. The result could be an appetizing win-win.

9. That gorgeous vegetable spread wasn’t expensive at all.

Savvy event planners know that one of the highest impact, lowest cost features of a cocktail hour is the vegetable spread. Well presented, creatively displayed carrots, olives, and cheeses look fancy without being fussy.

10. The predictable salmon and prime rib absolutely was.

Salmon and prime rib may be commonplace at formal weddings, but the price tag is anything but routine. The fancy staples come with a big price tag. Caterer Peter Callahan’s advice? Serve aged rib eye instead.

11. Alcohol is one of the biggest markups.

In the negotiation stage, ask if you can supply your own alcohol. Ordering drinks through a caterer is a quick way to break your budget. Bringing in cases of wine and hiring a bartender could save you thousands.

12. They really do want to serve.

Despite all the stress, long hours, high expectations, and slim profit margins, most caterers love their work. Part art, part math, and part management, theirs in an industry fueled by passion. And delighting their guests is the ultimate reward.