There is no denying that great food is one of the things that everyone looks forward to at a wedding. To get the rundown on everything you need to know before booking your wedding caterer I spoke to Jo from Mr Catering.
Below is the transcript from my interview Jo from Mr Catering who are based on the Central Coast. If you’d rather listen to my interview about all things gourmet and how to have the best wedding food on the Central Coast, Newcastle or the Hunter Valley, head over to this page.
Wedding Caterers and Great Food, What’s the Secret
Andrew: It’s Andrew here from Impact Images. I’m here with Jo from Mr. Catering, down at Terrigal. And Jo is one of the best local caterers around, that’s for sure. So I just want to get a bit of information Jo, about booking a caterer for a wedding? Maybe you want to just give us a little bit of information about yourself, and your business.
Jo: Okay, so I’m from a hospitality background. I’ve been in the industry since I was 18 so quite some time. And I’m in partnership with my husband and sister who, we worked out between us, maybe about 90 years experience in the industry. So we’re passionate and professional about what we do, we really enjoy the personal side of the business and our goal, you know is to bring great food in gorgeous setting to our brides.
Andrew: Beautiful, beautiful. So how long has Mr. Catering been going for?
Jo: The business has been operating for 7 years, starting, you know quite small and growing over these last 12 months or so, to moving to a larger, commercial kitchen-base and acquiring 2 of our own function rooms.
Andrew: Beautiful. So look, I know that when a lot of brides think about hiring a caterer for their wedding, they’re possibly got a marquee booked or maybe a surf club wedding booked. Are they the sort of main venues that you look after?
Jo: We do a large portion of offsite catering as well.
Andrew: When you say offsite, is that like a marquee?
Jo: Yeah, offsite is when we take our food to a venue. So a lot of that preparation is done in our kitchens and taken to marquees or other surf clubs and finished off onsite so the quality is really high and the foods transported in and we put together gorgeous menu in multiple locations.
Andrew: So that’s the main things, surf clubs and marquees?
Jo: Pretty much. We work out of a lot of peoples homes, as well. There are a lot of people that have big enough homes to have weddings for sort of 50, 70, 80 people. So we just require a domestic kitchen for that and we bring a lot of our gear onsite as well.
Andrew: Okay, awesome. So when brides look at booking you for their wedding, does that have to be done 6 months out from the wedding or 12 months? How long should they book you?
Jo: I generally think that a year out is a good idea. Particularly if you’re looking at a peak period for weddings and I would say that would be anytime from September through til the end of March, so Spring and Summer. Occasionally we get somebody organizing a wedding in a really short period of time but they often have their own venue at home, for instance. Or they’re looking at a Winter wedding when they know that the facilities are more easily available.
Andrew: So usually the girls will book their venue first, and then they come and see you
Andrew: So when they come and see you for that initial appointment, is it really just sort of getting prices? Or are they coming in to just talk about menus already? So what happens in that first meeting?
Jo: Yeah, so the initial contact generally is via email with our business and then we invite serious inquiry to our tasting day, and we offer tasting to serious inquiry and to clients who’ve already booked with us. And generally that’s because they have a confidence through word of mouth, or they’ve been at another function that we’ve done. So they’re able to come with their partner and their parents and try canapés. That’s an initial meeting where I would spend some shared time with them, because tastings can have up to 20 or 30 people. So we do that in a group and then from that point we arrange a further get together in a more 1-on-1 situation.
Andrew: OK, so that initial appointment or email, that’s really just to see if you’re available. And then they, so they don’t actually pay a deposit until the tasting day, until they’ve seen your food?
Jo: To secure a date, we require a deposit and we don’t generally hold the date without that deposit. Generally if they come to tasting, they’ll either pay on the day. That contact is really important for people to meet to try the quality of the food, to see, they get a sense of how we run our business just by coming to that day.
Andrew: So the tasting day can be like the confirmation of the menu they’re going to be looking for or to actually pay that deposit. OK, so either or.
Andrew: So that happen a couple of times a year? The tasting days?
Jo: Every month, we do tasting.
Andrew: Every month? Wow. So the tasting days, is it sort of a broad range of food? Or is it just canapés.
Jo: It’s just canapés. It still gives clients an idea of the quality of food, flavours and more importantly, if it’s the first contact they get to meet us, my sister and husband business partners are always involved in that day. So they really, they really get to meet the primary people in the business.
Andrew: So it’s canapés in the tasting days and then so when do they actually sit down with you to sort out their menu and the style of wedding.
Jo: Generally at tasting we can discuss style of wedding that they’re interested in. We can talk through lots of details at those days but we try to follow up soon after and not necessarily the entrée, mains, but just to talk further about, kind of their vision for what kind of day they want, what kind of wedding reception and feel that they’re looking for. And then after that, we book entrée, mains tasting. When they’re closer to selecting their menus, so they can come here to Trojans, enjoy a Saturday or Sunday lunch here with their chosen menu.
Andrew: So the Trojans is your café/restaurant here at Terrigal Haven.
Jo: That’s right, HQ café and bar. So it’s a great setting because it’s open 6 days a week. So it gives them lots of opportunity to find a suitable time to come and dine with us.
Andrew: And try your food.
Jo: Try our food.
Andrew: So tell me, I know that there’s so many different styles of weddings, but I guess traditionally there’s a cocktail style wedding where it’s basically canapés and bits and pieces all night. And then there’s a sit down or buffet or full service, isn’t it?
Jo: Yeah so we have buffet styles, so we serve from the buffet and you can start that sort of wedding with some canapés or some platters to begin when your guests first arrive and flow onto a buffet after that and have your cake served as dessert, if you choose.
Andrew: So you guys will prepare the cake and do the cutting?
Jo: Yes we will take the cake and portion it, we can plate it as a dessert with accompaniments, berries and cream. Or we may simply decide to have it cut and placed on platters, more casually and popped on the table for people to help themselves to or to take some home.
Andrew: And then you guys would do the dessert then in that case?
Jo: We do have a package that includes a dessert.
Andrew: Right, so there are different options?
Jo: Yep. Table service packages, you can have canapés, entrée, main and dessert. All of or part thereof.
Andrew: So when couples come to see you about, say, getting prices, they really need to know the style of wedding they’re after and also the number of guests I imagine.
Jo: Yep, yep we’re interested in the approximate number of guests. We’re interested in the location of the reception and that’s about it.
Andrew: So the cooking facilities doesn’t matter so much, you can provide everything you need.
Jo: Yeah we can bring some equipment in, obviously basic kitchen would be an advantage but when you do a marquee wedding, you’re working with the most basic amount of gear. So power supply and running water would be about the minimum requirement.
Andrew: Great okay. I know that a lot of girls listening to this or couples would be interested in some prices. If you could tell me roughly, say, 100 guests typical Aussie wedding, in a marquee for a cocktail style wedding, what are we looking at roughly?
Jo: For cocktail style wedding we would start at about, I think the cocktail package is $38 per person. That would give you some mezze platters to start, a choice of 8 different canapés, that’s a generous package and we also look at cutting your cake and offering it to guests, tea and coffee are included in that as well.
Andrew: Okay, and if you go to the buffet package, a little bit more?
Jo: Yes, so once again a basic buffet is $45 per person and then with that you have 2 meats, a pasta dish, example, lasagna, 2 roast vegetables, potatoes, pumpkin, crusty bread and 3 salads. So that’s the basic buffet once again, tea and coffee are included and we can handle your cake as well. You can upgrade that with three canapés to begin with for plus $9.
Andrew: So that’s a lot of options to begin with. So I guess the full service is the top of the range.
Jo: Yes, that ranges from $58 to $65. Canapés, entrée, main, you might want to add in a dessert or once again we can do the cake plated for you, which is plus $5 on to the package.
Andrew: So that’ll give couples a good idea what to expect. And I know that you guys are a little bit of a special position cause you have a couple of venues. So you can do some sort of special packages with your venues too, don’t you?
Jo: Yes, the venue called The Gallery at Greenway Gardens is in a gorgeous garden setting on 30 acres of land. It’s a uniquely rustic building, it’s mud brick with beautifully exposed timber beams. It’s a smaller, more intimate room, we have seated 80 guests there because we have just another level, an al fresco area that we can set up a dance floor, bar and music. Lots of our clients love that because it actually separates the music given that you usually have a lot of family at those sort of events. And sometimes the oldies would rather be away from the music. So we’ve sort of got a really nice balance there. It’s a BYO venue so there are some huge advantages for the clients with the BYO facility. We do bring in the RSA bar staff for that. But we have all our usual packages available there. With the BYO facility.
Andrew: And then you’ve got the Trojans all here as well, the restaurant?
Andrew: Which is a beautiful location.
Jo: Yeah. On the Haven at Terrigal. It has amazing ocean views and lot of green around. So the contrast and colours particularly for a photographer is quite incredible. Given it’s a beautiful day, but you know even in some of our cloudy days, the light here is always interesting and this venue at Terrigal seats 120 people indoors. And also has a huge balcony, which is a really nice area to gather and have pre-reception drinks and canapés and it’s a fully-licensed venue so alcohol is available.
Andrew: Okay, great. So just tell me, say, someone is listening to this from Queensland or WA or overseas even and they’re looking to have a caterer for their wedding and they can’t have you, what should they be looking for when they’re choosing their caterer? How can you tell who’s good, who’s not?
Jo: Somebody actually recently mentioned to me that they loved the way our website presented. They thought it was really professional. So you know, that’s a very initial thing that got a client kind of interested in us. That was some really nice feedback.
Andrew: Looks professional, looks good.
Andrew: Yeah, so look for that?
Jo: Yeah, definitely.
Andrew: Food tasting?
Jo: Food tasting, most definitely. Personally I wouldn’t book an event unless I was able to try the food and obviously meeting the key people in the business is important as well. Maybe if you can see some photographs of different plated up food, particularly at an event, so there’s seeing multiple food plated up, so they know that you’re able to handle big numbers and the quality of the food looks the same as if they’re just feeding 2 people, a hundred people, is presented the same way. I mean testimonials are also great, we get some really nice testimonials. So it’s important to kind of, if available, read a little bit of feedback from other clients.
Andrew: And what about things like awards, do they matter in the industry? Like for clients? Or is that more for you guys.
Jo: Look, we’ve never entered anything like that.
Andrew: Okay so you don’t place a big…
Jo: No, do you know that built a business on word of mouth and it’s quite amazing where that has taken us in the industry on the coast here. In a short time, really, 6 or 7 years is not a long time to be in this business. So I don’t personally place a lot of importance on awards because sometimes they can be pre-notified and set-up. So of course you got to present your very best team and your very best of everything. I’m much more interested in that randomness, I suppose. Cause all of our events, we don’t prioritize any particular event to another, like they’re all really high quality.
Andrew: So really, then if you’re looking for a caterer, taste their food, meet their staff, they should have a professional website and hopefully some testimonials and referrals. It’s the same with anyone in the wedding industry. Really, okay that’s great. Just one little thing, I know that I’ve been to a couple of weddings over the years, certainly not with you guys, where you can hear some of the guests are still hungry, particularly with a cocktail wedding. How do people avoid that?
Jo: Yeah how sad would that be? I don’t know how you can stay in business by underfeeding people at an event, nobody wants to order pizza on the way home. Do they?
Andrew: I’ve heard people talking about, you know ‘We got to go to Macca’s on the way home.’
Jo: I suppose it is the most frequently asked question and I personally we guarantee that no one will be hungry at our events and I guess we demonstrate that by doing a full tasting for people and assuring them, particularly if you have a canapé style of wedding, there’s always a little bit more nervousness, but we’re able to manage the crowd by working closely with the staff to have the whole room covered. Even the sneaky sort of people having a cigarette in the corner, for instance. To make sure that absolutely everybody is offered every item of food. When you have a captured sort of clientele in the table service style wedding, we give substantial portions of food.
Andrew: Yeah, sure. I think it’s more cocktail weddings that become an issue. Especially if you get a few of those guys hanging just outside the kitchen door, that seem to get everything.
Jo: Well, sometimes I think you need to carefully manage the crowd because everybody is quite hungry at the beginning of an event. But we designed our wedding cocktail package to start with the mezze plates so that when they’re having their first drink and they’ve just arrived at the event, there’s something straight away to eat. So that’s a really important thing for a client to think about, to make sure that within that first 15 minutes to half an hour, there’s some food available.
Andrew: Definitely, definitely. And just last thing, with alcohol, is that something you guys look after? I know you mentioned that one of your venues is self-catered? So how does that work?
Jo: We’re not a licensed caterer, so a lot of venues we work at are licensed, for instance, the surf clubs. So that is, the bar is run separately to the food catering at those sort of venues.
Andrew: So the client will talk with the surf club or the venue about their alcohol request.
Jo: We are able to offer an RSA trained bar team at, say, a marquee event on a property. Or at someone’s house.
Andrew: So is that a requirement by council? Or if you’re having a wedding on a property with a marquee, can you just serve as much as you want?
Jo: I don’t think there’s any licensing requirement. I mean there is some responsibility by the host, I would say, with the safe service of alcohol or maybe some transport arranged or something like that, but it’s not a council requirement. They often ask us, ‘Can you supply a team of people, can you serve across the bar if we bring in our own alcohol?’ So we do follow responsible service if we supply a team.
Andrew: That’s great, awesome. Thanks heaps Jo, I think that’s a lot of information there and anyone should be able to book a great caterer. And how do people find you? You’ve got a website, obviously you mentioned.
Jo: We do, yes. They can on go to www.mrcatering.com.au or if you Googled ‘caterers on the central coast,’ you’d find we would pop up hopefully on the first page.
Andrew: So the actual website is www.mrcatering.com.au?
Andrew: And also you’re down at Trojan’s at Terrigal Haven.
Jo: Yes so if they Google ‘Trojan’s function room,’ they would find us as well and then again if they Googled ‘Greenway’ they would find us also.
Andrew: Okay. For people that are listening, if they’re having guests that are actually in the café at the moment and they hear a few little background noises and it’s an awesome day here at The Haven. We’re just about finished here, I think we’re going go and grab a coffee and relax. Thanks Jo
Jo: It’s an amazing day. Thank you Andrew!