Monday, September 21st, 2020

Wedding Catering In a Post Corona World: How Chefs Are Still Making A Living

Published on August 10, 2020 by   ·   No Comments Pin It
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It wasn’t as if I decided to be a wedding caterer.

In the ’80s, I was catering mostly corporate cocktail parties. Everyone seemed to have money in the ’80s. It was the yuppie invasion. Then I catered a wedding. The wedding guests said things like, “Wow! I just ate good food at a wedding! I can’t believe it!” In the old days,  wedding food was notorious for looking good, but tasting like linoleum. It didn’t take long for my wedding guests to tell people, and so on and so on. I woke up one morning and realized I had become a wedding caterer.

So, yeah. I’m a wedding caterer in New York City. Normally I’d say I have a pretty darn interesting, sometimes thrilling, job. But.

Enter Corona.

2019 was a slow year. Brides and grooms are fickle about what moves them. I once had my florist tell me a couple refused to hire her because she’d been divorced. They didn’t’t want the divorcee karma on their wedding. If they were that nervous, I got a feeling they are probably now, you guessed it, divorced.

Last year, a boatload of couples decided, why get married in the year 2019 when the much sexier sounding year of 2020 is right around the corner? 2020 was set to be a smash. We already had more weddings booked by January 1, 2020 then we’d catered in all of 2019.

Our season was set to start in late March. Then we were booked straight through, all spring, most of the summer and into fall and winter with weddings. I stocked up on dry goods, got in a boatload of onions and carrots. And then…

Kaplooey.

The moment the CDC announced, “No large gatherings of more than 50 people,” our entire spring wedding season evaporated. I cried for a second. Then felt guilty. People were sick and dying. This was no time for self-pity.

New York City allowed bars and restaurants to do business with pick-ups and deliveries. Many felt the cost would be more than what they might bring in. Others seemed to do a thriving take-out business. Our neighborhood watering hole seemed to be raking it in. A lot of that moolah came from us.

Next up, was outdoor dining. Overnight my neighborhood morphed into a multitude of outdoor dining rooms. Indoor dining with socially distant seating is up next. I have cheered and applauded any chance to help our restaurants NOT go under.

But the elephant in my kitchen is, “What about us?”

When and how will it be okay to cater the large glorious weddings we are famous for?

What will the new wedding normal look like?

I’ve had time to think, lord knows and had a whole host of ideas for Weddings in the time of Corona.

Wedding Catering In a Post Corona World: How Chefs Are Still Making A Living

Wedding Catering In a Post Corona World: How Chefs Are Still Making A Living

Mask-o-Rama

The same way some couples have monogrammed paper beverage napkins, they could have monogrammed paper face masks. Okay, yes, most of our clients are far too “Brooklyn Hip” to monogram anything unless it’s a bottle of whiskey, but what about cloth masks made to match the color of the table cloths? My favorite idea was simply to make the wedding a masquerade ball! Come in costume with a fabulous Corona safe mask. I’d go as a cowboy outlaw with a bandana around my face, bandito style. I pretty much dress like that already.

Gimme Space, Man.

Maybe this isn’t such a huge issue for folks in Wisconsin. But in New York City, nobody has enough space, and if they do? Space is expensive. For weddings we’ve catered for 200 guests, an 8,000 to 10,000-square-foot space allowed room for seating, bars and dancing.  But to seat couples or families 6 feet apart? I think we’d need something closer to a football field. Not entirely a bad idea. Outdoors is safer anyway, right? Yo, New York Giants! Lend us your field! But lordy, that would be one big ass tent if it rained.

Commandeering raw outdoor spaces, is a great idea, but it also brings with it a host of expenses. The giant tent rental, for one thing, and unless you want to pray for good weather, you’ll need one or two or three. Running electricity, bringing in water, porta-potties … If you decided to use your uncle’s parking lot, you might wanna bring in a dance floor, too.

Outdoor, alternative venue weddings can work beautifully.  I call it Make Your Own Shangri-La.

I’m catering a wedding that was supposed to be a large, glamorous affair in one of New York City’s more swank venues. The bride and groom did not want to cancel their special day, so they shrunk the guest list down and decided to put the money they saved on all those no-longer-attending guests into transforming the bride’s parents’ back yard into a country wedding Shangri-La. With hanging lights, a fire pit, aged barn tables, vintage chairs, a kick ass band and upscale comfort food (barbecue chicken, smashed potatoes), the guests will feel as though they’re at a country wedding in another time, way before corona. The bride and groom will get married in front of a tree that the bride used to play on when she was a little girl. Makes the heart flutter, even for an old wedding pro like me.

And what if you already rented your dream venue and don’t want to lose it? You could shrink your list from 200 to 50 guests as some of our clients did. Not sure how they handled telling the other 150 wedding guests they were no longer invited.

“We love you, but you didn’t make the corona 50. Would you mind sending a check, anyway?”

What if you don’t want to disinvite any of your guests? I had an idea called the “Everyone Comes Wedding.” The invitations come with numbers one through four, and arrival times for each number are spaced two hours apart. Number ones are the first 50 guests, the immediate family and closest friends who will be seated at the wedding ceremony. The ceremony will also be on Zoom for everyone else to see. After the ceremony, number one folks will enjoy hors d’oeuvres and drinks, then be given their supper in cute to-go containers and be courteously directed to leave. The doorman then will invite number two guests, who get to air-kiss the bride and groom, enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres, a bit of dancing then receive to-go dinners, and off they go and so on until all the guests have enjoyed, air-kissed the bride and groom, and most importantly left a check. The bride and groom will be able to share their special day with all 200 of their wedding guests and then live, happily ever after. I admit, it’s not always easy to get people to leave once they start drinking. You might have to get them to sign on their RSVP card, “We promise to get out of Dodge by 2:00.”

Mangia, Mangia, but How?

There are countless wedding experts weighing in on the safest best ways to feed people at a wedding.“Goodbye, food stations. Hello, plated meals in disposable containers.”

There certainly is some sense to the idea of getting rid of a large, self-service, grazing table in favor of sanitized, plated food on disposable plates, but, oy. How depressing. I’d feel like I was buying food at the airport. Also if those plates were plastic?! Oh, mama earth. I am so sorry about what we’ve done to you! Forgive us and make Corona go away!

We’ve been famous for years for large, bountiful grazing tables of cascading cut cheeses, fruits, berries, flat breads, olives and more. It breaks my heart to see them go. For now, anyway. But another thing we are famous for, which I may have invented 28 years ago, is the floating supper. The floating supper was my answer to a dilemma in the early ’90s when I was hired to cater a dinner event for 700 guests in a space that only held 500. Instead of trying to eat one big plate of food with a fork and knife, why not eat three tiny plates of food that only need a fork?

Guests do not have to be seated. It’s a cocktail party with a dinner amount of food. I named it THE FLOATING SUPPER, and it’s been the hallmark of my catering company ever since. For the first wave, I love to send out a vegetarian course everyone can eat. My favorite for this was always vegan, gluten free, Pad Thai in Chinese food containers. Bonus to the client, no need to rent plates. A fabulous Floating Supper with all three courses passed in Chinese food containers would not only save a mint on rentals, but also allow for more room; only partial seating would be needed. It’s the everybody wins wedding!

Get Down and Boogie? But How?

Once all the eating, drinking, speeches and toasting are done with, the highlight of every good wedding reception is the dancing, and lots of it. But how do you get down and boogie in a post corona world? The answer is something like a larger version of the Twister game boards we used to play on when I was a kid. Map out the dance floor before the guests arrive, and place a large red circle every 6 feet. For couples that do not need to socially isolate from each other, you can have some double size circles marked with a large 2. Guests simply find a circle and dance on it. When all the circles are full, guests will have to wait until one opens up.

Keep a Sense of Humor!

If you can’t find a way to laugh at all this, you’re gonna cry. Sanitizing gel wedding favors that read, “Corona is not invited, but you are.” Why not? Invitations printed around a roll of two-ply toilet paper? Sure, but save some for me, for crying out loud. We just got 2-ply back!

Many years from now, folks who got married during corona will be showing the pictures and telling their grandchildren about it.

“Can you believe it. There I am, lifting up my mask to eat my first bite of wedding cake!” I can just see the stunned faces of their grandchildren, “Wow!!”

If you get married during corona, nobody will ever forget it.

My motto for our new normal is not to waste energy fighting what is, but to say, This is our world, at least for now. Let’s deal with it and have a fabulous time while we’re at it.

Rossi (aka Chef Rossi) has written for The Daily News, The New York Post, Time Out New York and Mcsweeney’s. She is the writer of the “Eat Me” column for Bust magazine, hosts a hit radio show on WOMR in Cape Cod called “Bite This,” has been featured on “The Food Network” and “NPR” and is a popular blogger for “The Huffington Post.” She is the owner and executive chef of “The Raging Skillet,” a cutting-edge catering company known for breaking all the rules. In 2015 Rossi’s first memoir; The Raging Skillet/The True Life Story of Chef Rossi was published to rave reviews. “The Raging Skillet” was adapted for the stage in 2017 and has been touring the country ever since. Rossi has just completed her second memoir “Queen of the Jews.” She has written two full length plays, a bounty of short plays and has just completed her one-woman stage adaptation of “Queen of the Jews.”

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