More wedding catering trainwrecks

Readers and friends write in with their stories of matrimonial parties horrid and triumphant

Published April 19, 2010 1:01AM (EDT)

This wedding cake is doomed.
This wedding cake is doomed.

Last week, I was transported to the heady days of youth and wrote a few choice memories of my wedding catering career, where a good day at work was one in which the bride and groom did not physically assault you for shutting down the open bar a half-hour early.

I asked some friends and readers, though, to write in with tales of wedding catering disasters they've seen, and the crazy train kept right on a-rollin'. Here, for our perverse entertainment, are some of the, er, best ones.

From commenter Pastryqueen, a story of fiery ashes:

I was an on-site catering chef for many years. One disaster that really illustrates the magic of catering is when we did a wedding in a vineyard in mid-July. 102 degrees. The wedding coordinator from our own company planned the kitchen on the other side of a stone wall so we were blocked from being seen by the wedding guests. Our "kitchen" was atop the area where they burned the grapevines at the end of the year so our footsteps kicked up microscopic particles of black soot that got on EVERYTHING. The bonus was that there was a wasp nest near us. Wasps love meat and we had 100 pounds of filet mignon going in hot boxes. It was the worst day of my life but we got it done and done well. At the end of the night, the very happy and drunk groom called out to the kitchen crew to come and take a bow. We refused. He kept calling us out. Nope. He came around the corner, and took one look at us: we looked like the chorus line from an Al Jolson movie, complete black face. We were covered with soot and one of my eyes was swollen shut from a wasp sting. He gasped, giggled and said into the mic, "Nevermind" and just started laughing. We soon became like a museum exhibit with all the wedding party coming to see us.

Food writer Brandon Fox's own un-fabulous wedding:

I should have gone with a local caterer like the cute and clever "Cateraide," but I had a kind of ongoing nervous breakdown from my brutal graduate program and chose, instead, the one with the most overblown name, "Fabulous Foods." I didn't have much time to dwell on the details.

Because my great-aunt Edith was going to be there, I chose a pretty conservative menu: ham biscuits, chicken salad, spanakopita, and a few other unmemorable (because I can't remember them) hors d'oeuvres. But Fab Foods was very excited about the menu. This made me uneasy but that nervous breakdown thing was still in operation, so a lot of things made me feel uneasy. And the caterer said that along with their "very popular" sangria, the free-flowing wine and beer, and the amazing spread they was going to lay out for us, they'd also make sure to pack up a lunch box for us, because brides and grooms never have time to eat at their own wedding. I was touched by her thoughtfulness. I still had flowers to think about.

So let's cut to the chase and skip the congratulations, the dancing and the presents: The food, of course, was terrible. The chicken salad was dry and the spanakopita was soggy, greasy and bland. Virginia country ham is supposed to be thinly sliced, but these slices were barely visible on their (possibly store-bought) biscuits. The "very popular" sangria turned out to be wine with powdered mix stirred into it.

But the real tragedy was that although none of the food was very good, it didn't last either. In fact, less than halfway through the reception, there wasn't any food left at all. The Champagne ran out before the ceremony, so that meant no Champagne toast (NONE) for the happy couple. The wine ran out shortly thereafter. In fact, the sodas ran out, as well as the coffee, and the only thing that lasted until the end was the beer (have a porter, Grandma!). In fact, there was so much beer, one of the bartenders gave an entire case away to one of our guests as they were leaving.

Obviously there was no boxed lunch waiting for us as we drove away in a shower of bird seed.

It's the most annoying memory I have, but if you're looking for drama, I also have this to offer:

I once went to a wedding at one of those wedding factory kind of places in New Jersey (the kind that have about 10 wedding receptions going on at once) and the electricity went out. This meant there was no A/C. In July. And we were trapped in a giant room with sealed windows (but lots of lovely chandeliers). When we left to get some air in the relative cool outside, we saw the father of the bride next door on the landing of the grand staircase try to punch the owner in the face. By the time we got to the front door, the police had arrived. But, I have to say, the food was good.


From SheilaTGTG, an uncomfortable mystery:

Our wedding was interesting, at a country club: lovely food, great band, etc. But my mother-in-law was not happy about the marriage. An elderly couple mistakenly sat at the wrong table and this unbelievably ended up in seating my in-laws with my parents, whom we had sought to separate. Okay. You can imagine. Anyway, we get the proofs back for the wedding pictures and here is this couple in several shots, dancing, eating, drinking and then waving in a table shot. Who the hell were they? Don't know. Probably some couple who wandered in for this afternoon affair, off the golf course. Beautiful event in spite of that.

From commenter Thinking, a note on gay florists:

Posh country club. To-die flower arrangement* atop a round table with a delicious-looking fajita buffet. Cockroaches crawling around and behind the deep fried tortillas that held the condiments. The groom and I looked at each other and said, "Are we going to mention these to someone? Not today..." So we just rapped the table so they would go hide for awhile.

*We had been frugal about most of the wedding stuff but I did tell my Mom that I wanted a "gay florist" by which I meant someone who would go over the top. Not realizing that within ten years I would myself begin to come out and prove that gay/bi-ness does not automatically improve one's design ability.

From Lynne Abbot comes a multicultural shitshow, where sometimes cultural diversity is not the easiest thing to celebrate:

The bride, an occasional Jew, completely offloaded the menu to her mildly Baptist mother-in-law-to-be for a wedding on Good Friday/Easter weekend that intersected with Passover. I sat at a table with strangers and one thing that bonded us all together was that not a single one of us was able to eat the anything on the menu at the same time.

The wait staff was overwhelmingly Cuban (with limited English skills) who could not understand why the non-shellfish-soup-eating woman could also not eat the crouton-covered Caesar salad (Passover, no leavened bread) and several of them circled the table urging her for 10 minutes that they could just remove the offending squares and all would be well, the way a grandfather would. She wasn't buying it.

I'm a Catholic and can't eat anything from the sea (a holdover from a rotten shrimp while a teenager), so the shellfish soup, the salmon entree and the offer of the beef-based staff meal --Hello, a Friday in Lent, but thank you, gentlemen for offering to share your supper -- meant I went without, so the Jewish girls kept passing me their dinner rolls and wedding cake which they couldn't eat.

The obligatory vegetarian at the table was much more of a stoic, having run into similar situations before, but the poor waiters brought everything they thought could tempt her (unsuccessfully). These lovely guys tried their best, hovering around us for the length of the evening.

The bride subsequently wanted to know what we'd all thought of the catering and none of us had the heart to say that we had no idea ...

And then, finally, from a reader via-email, a wedding that could well have been another multi-culti trainwreck, but would only qualify as the kind of trainwreck where everyone dies immediately, painlessly, and goes directly to heaven. This is just great:

I went with my then-girlfriend to a super-Italian-Catholic wedding in Queens, and to save money they held the reception and dinner at the local Orthodox Jewish synagogue, which meant the wedding was on a Sunday and all the food was kosher Chinese served by men in yarmulkes.

Kind of awesome, really. And it was in the flight path of JFK, so in the middle of conversations (and toasts) the speaker would stop to let the plane pass.

Oh, and there was a 20-piece soul band. I danced a lot, ate very little.


By Francis Lam

Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.

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