A guide to wedding catering
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Birchtree Catering is a small, woman-owned wedding catering company run by Allegra Derengowski and Rasa Stirbys Benefico, two friends that met as waitresses many years ago. We focus on local sourcing, seasonal catering menus, and scratch cooking in our kitchen in Philadelphia, PA. Our waste is composted and recycled in our kitchen and at events, and we choose sustainable options within our company whenever feasible.
Birchtree began slowly in 2008, as we built our brand by using rental kitchens, hosting tastings in our homes, and growing relationships with vendors and farmers. Building a wedding catering business from scratch and being involved in so many weddings and events has been a dream come true. Our team was honored to win 2015’s “Best of Philly” for Party Food, and our food quality standards have been recognized by the Sustainable Business Network of Philadelphia, The Chamber of Commerce, The Knot Magazine and Philadelphia Wedding Magazine.
Which wedding catering parameters are the most important to couples?
An initial conversation with couples usually includes the major pieces of the puzzle they’re trying to figure out. Do we handle rentals, decor, staff and bar service? Can they bring in their own dessert vendor? We cover the logistic details first, then go through the pros and cons of different catering menus, and what the flow of their day will look like.
”The wedding catering process is extremely important for us to maintain all of the details of each client’s event, and translate those details to our entire team.”
Are there things that differentiate wedding catering services?
Just like any of your vendors, you want to work with people that you feel good about, that you like talking to, and that take the stress away from your planning process instead of adding it on. If you feel anxious after talking to a wedding catering company, it may not be the right fit. If they’re not the right price point, or they didn’t answer your questions completely, trust your gut.
You should have the sense that you’re going to be taken care of throughout the entire planning process. We are also a mission-based company that cares for where our food is coming from and where it’s going after the event is over. I would suggest to anyone searching for catering to look for signs that your food provider isn’t creating waste just for the sake of show.
What discussions, tastings, samplings, preparation, and planning goes into a successful reception food offering at the wedding?
The wedding catering process is extremely important for us to maintain all of the details of each client’s event, and translate those details to our entire team. We are a 10-year-old catering company and we never stop talking through the best ways to communicate within our departments, from sales to admin to kitchen to waitstaff. We have monthly tasting events, and we build wedding catering menus with our clients to make sure they’re getting the flavors that they want along with allergy and dietary needs like vegan and gluten-free offerings.
Once we find out what local produce will be available that week, we’ll finalize the menu and send to our client. The last thing we do is have “deep dives” the week of each wedding, where the entire team of sales, admin, lead waitstaff and the chef go through the entire event from start to finish to make sure we’ve captured every detail.
”Our goal is to control waste as much as possible, so at the end of our events we feed our staff and the vendors, make a few boxes for the clients to take home, and compost the food that’s been sitting out for too long.”
What does your day at the wedding itself look like?
The kitchen staff starts extremely early in the day, prepping and packing for the event. Birchtree staff is on site 3 hours before guests arrive, and we’re bringing with us the catering, service items like chafing dishes and platters, our compostable wares like palm leaf plates if they’re being used, and minimal cleaning supplies.
All rentals are delivered to the event, usually the day before, and most other vendors like floral and music arrive after us for set up. We include a Day-Of Coordinator in our wedding catering menu price in order to relieve stress from the couple, and the rest of the team and that person handles the vendors, the timeline, and set-up of escort cards, guest book, and the like.
What are some of your most popular wedding catering menu items?
It is so hard to pick favorite menu items! Coffee-Smoked Brisket and Cheesy Mac ‘n' Cheese are a favorite combination, and I could eat our Short Rib Shortbread all day, which is basically meat on a cookie and shouldn’t work at all but somehow it is delicious. We try to keep our menus simple, with great ingredients cooked really well, and they vary often because of our local sourcing.
We don’t generally sell “portions” of food. We sell wedding catering menus by the number of guests, and then we plan accordingly. Our goal is to control waste as much as possible, so at the end of our events we feed our staff and the vendors, make a few boxes for the clients to take home, and compost the food that’s been sitting out for too long.
”We honestly love our couples, our job is easy because we understand that it’s up to us to handle the logistics, the nitty-gritty details, and any last-minute hiccups, and the couple only needs to have a great day and enjoy every minute of it.”
What is the most unusual wedding catering menu that you served?
In 2016 we catered a wedding on a couple’s farm, in which the groom hunted the venison that we served for dinner, bringing it to our kitchen before the event to prep. It was glorious.
What additional services are usually provided?
We offer seasonal catering menu customization, and all of the clients attend at least one of our seasonal tasting events where we display our favorite passed appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. We handle bar service, rentals, set up and break down, and all staff, including a day-of coordinator that comes with your menu price.
What's the typical budget that the couple should expect to spend on good wedding catering?
Our typical wedding catering pricing ranges from $150-$200 per guest, which includes all of the services we provide, plus tax and gratuity. A plated service where we can control the portion size on each plate is always going to be a little less expensive than a buffet or family style, where guests can take as much as they like onto their plate.
What is the one thing you would ask of the couples to make your job easier?
We honestly love our couples, our wedding catering job is easy because we understand that it’s up to us to handle the logistics, the nitty-gritty details, and any last-minute hiccups, and the couple only needs to have a great day and enjoy every minute of it.