Lessons Learned from Serving Ourselves

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April 12, 2017

The 2016 weddings of three ICA members offer unique insider perspectives

For most people, it's only natural to be nervous on your wedding day. After all, it's one of the most significant days of your life, and you've probably (likely... OK definitely) been building it up in your mind as the perfect day. It'll be a day of magic, romance, love, togetherness, fun, and family. But what's that old adage from Robert Burns—the best-laid plans of mice and men...?

Try telling that to Hillary Brown, Rachanee Keovorabouth-Teipen, and Ken Barrett-Sweet. They are three catering professionals from three different backgrounds. Each one has a story, and each story shares a unique perspective on the wedding planning process, not only from the perspective of a sous chef, executive chef, and executive director of wedding planning (respectively), but also now from the perspective of clients. Through sharing the experience of planning their own weddings with their teams, they each gained new and invaluable perspectives on the work they do by experiencing the other side of the wedding planner-client relationship dynamic.

Incidentally, “dynamic” is an appropriate way to describe the overall experience between the three of them. It implies change, and for each of them, there was a fair amount of change in experiencing wedding planning from the client side of the equation. While each wedding had a plan in place, the execution of that plan was largely removed from their control.  

Executive Director Ken Barrett-Sweet from Boston-based BG Events & Catering discussed how he developed an understanding with his crew that on this day, his sole responsibility was to “just be a groom.”

The Barrett-Sweet newlyweds! Photo: Darlene Devita Photography

“We completed all of our details and tasks by Tuesday, walked out of the commissary and never looked back. When we were there for the rehearsal the night before, our staff wouldn't let me see the progress in the dining room or know what hurdles they'd encountered. I was a groom. They treated us with such respect and love. They even surprised us when we came out of the elevator that afternoon before the ceremony and were all lined up and cheering us on. I melted,” says Barrett-Sweet.

Ken Barrett-Sweet (right) with the staff. Photo: Darlene Devita Photography

The amazing dining room scene at 9OFS in Boston for the Barrett-Sweet wedding. Photo: Darlene Devita Photography

Executive Sous Chef Hillary Brown from Toronto's Daniel et Daniel Event Creation and Catering found the process of “just being a bride” to be even simpler.

“I didn't have to lift a finger on my wedding day! We were consulted a bit throughout the evening with regards to staying on schedule. But other than that, it went off without a hitch!”

Chef Brown and her dashing groom! Photo: Yai Photography

For these catering professionals, there was a clear advantage to planning their own weddings in having an established rapport with their planning/catering teams. But through this role reversal, they also learned a lot about communicating with clients.

“When it came to food, I wanted to create and control that aspect myself because I knew exactly what I wanted to serve,” says Executive Chef Keovorabouth-Teipen. She is executive chef at Thomas Caterers of Distinction in Indianapolis. “When it came to the rest of the planning and design, I really needed help from the team. They are the professionals when it comes to this field, so I let them help me make those decisions.”

A beautiful moment from the newlyweds, Mr. & Mrs. Keovorabouth-Teipen. Photo Erin Hession

Chef Keovorabouth-Teipen definitely required control over the food served to wedding guests. Photo Erin Hession

"But through this role reversal, they also learned a lot about communicating with clients."

The emerging trend throughout the wedding catering space has been a focus on the meaning of “full-service” and responsiveness to clients' needs. Those needs keep changing with the trends, and as they do, catering companies continue to integrate those new needs as normal expectations into their wedding plan packages. The practice is becoming instrumental to ensuring high-quality execution with a stress-free client experience.

A sweet (and no doubt delicious) moment in Chef Brown’s life! A cheesy take on the traditional wedding cake.  Photo: Yai Photography

“I work on the culinary side and help with menu development and execution,” says Chef Brown. “When the time came to plan my own wedding, it was very easy to decide on the food side of things. Having the opportunity to see many weddings from the kitchen, it made it easier to decide on things like décor, lighting, venues, and specialty items. But I relied more on the opinions and experience of our event planner Jake Curl. He knows how to plan a wedding day with his eyes closed, so it was great to be able to bounce ideas off of him. Having a friend in the business helped bring the vision in my head to life.”

Signature cocktails for the bride and groom—and guests. Photo Yai Photography

Experience sharing

Chefs Brown and Keovorabouth-Teipen raise an interesting point in sharing their experiences. By truly listening to our clients (not only to what they want out of their ceremony, but also the talents they themselves can bring to the creative/collaboration process), we open the door for them to participate in new and creative ways. Doing so could subsequently grant them the peace of mind that their ceremony and reception will be everything they want and more.

So what did they learn from their experience? What's more, what can we as readers and caterers learn from it? Wedding planning and catering are often characterized by an inner competition within ones self. We always want the next event/menu/venue/etc. to be our best ever. Many times, as culinary creatives, we also want to challenge what we see as possible or even realistic.

“It all boils down to trying to outdo myself and what I've ever dreamed. Looking back, some of my ideas might have been too 'pie-in-the-sky' and perhaps aloof. But my team's attention to detail was outstanding,” says Barrett-Sweet. “We all dream for the stars. I understand the push and pull between vendors and finances a bit better. But I also understand the importance of having a creative partner who can do more than food and beverages.”

This is significant, because learning to step outside ourselves—to see and think big-picture—and get a more comprehensive understanding of the wedding catering process ultimately makes us better caterers. It improves our client relationships, our listening skills, our anticipation skills, and so much more.

The scene was set for the Keovorabouth-Teipen reception.

Wood beams and exposed brick made a beautiful backdrop for the Toronto wedding of Chef Hillary Brown. Photo: Yai Photography

“I now have a full understanding of what happens from the beginning of the planning stages to the end. It really opened my eyes to how many moving parts there were and how important each team member was for the day to run smoothly. I have a better understanding of the big picture, which gives me the knowledge to be better at what I do,” says Chef Keovorabouth-Teipen.

And isn't that ultimately what we're all aiming for here?

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