Working knowledge What a banquet server thinks you should know Cake, coffee are not caterer’s problem

Sarah Ann Nunn (right) and Cynthia Green with Hamby Catering and Events prepare flatbread pizzas for a wedding reception recently at Wingate Plantation on Johns Island.

Sarah Ann Nunn has worked on corporate meetings and conventions, but as a member of the Hamby’s Catering and Events team, she’s responsible for the parties that people consider the most important events of their lives. She shared a caterer’s perspective on wedding receptions, and what she wishes brides, grooms and their guests knew.

Just because the table settings are exquisite and the food is delicious doesn’t mean guests can expect the same accommodations available in a restaurant, especially if the meal is being staged in a field 20 miles from Hamby’s headquarters. Nunn is accustomed to hearing “What do you mean, you don’t have coffee?” Caterers bring only what’s needed for the planned meal, so if the couple didn’t pay for coffee service, the caterer can’t brew a pot in response to a guest request.

Caterers are adept at improvising fixes to unanticipated problems, but they can’t control everything: At one wedding, Nunn says, “the cake from Publix imploded, and then they were upset with us.” In that kind of situation, she adds, it’s best for the bride and groom to postpone their indignation. “If something goes awry, enjoy yourself; stay calm,” says Nunn, who once watched an outraged groom e-mail a vendor during his wedding.

“So frequently, people say ‘we’ll skip the passed appetizers and save some money,’” Nunn says. But then the wedding party runs off to take pictures, leaving behind a gaggle of hungry and thirsty guests. She thinks cocktail hour is a good investment. But if the wedding starts at 6 p.m. or later, she warns that guests will expect dinner: Hors d’oeuvres alone won’t suffice.

If wedding guests wait until mealtime to announce they’re vegetarian or gluten-free, and Nunn says a few guests always do, caterers can typically scramble to put together an acceptable alternative plate. But again, a catering service is not a restaurant: It’s best to tell the bride and groom beforehand if you can’t eat butter, flour or salt, which were just three of the 17 dietary restrictions presented by a guest at a recent Hamby’s event. “We brought a special plate just for him,” Nunn says. “It’s a challenge, but it’s exciting.” (The guest was served raw vegetables.)