Lots of music venues are special in their own right: the Hollywood Bowl is iconic; you can’t think of punk music without picturing hordes of New Yorkers lining up outside CBGB in the East Village; Luckenbach, Texas is a one-horse town known mostly for it’s saw dust covered dance hall and the Waylon Jennings song that made it famous. But stepping foot into the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and one and only Mother Church, is a sacred experience. The fact that we, as a catering company, get to step foot through those doors so often, is an actual blessing.
A Brief History. Built in 1892 by Tom Ryman, the Mother Church was, in its origin, a church. Then known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, it housed thousands of people who gathered to hear revival lectures. The fate and future of the Tabernacle, however, was shifted when a stage was built to host the New York Metropolitan Opera’s tours of Carmen, Faust and The Barber of Seville – an unintentional foreshadowing of the little Tennessee-style “opera” with which the venue would later become synonymous. In the years leading up to the debut of the Grand Ole Opry, many a famous name graced the stage: Teddy Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, and Helen Keller – the first person to sell out the Ryman Auditorium’s 2,362 seats.
But it was in 1943 that the WSM Grand Ole Opry first premiered on the Ryman stage with the likes of Little Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl, Bill Monroe – names that instantly bring to mind the twangy country and western sounds of Nashville in its heyday. The show continued there for 30 years, airing live and homes around the country three nights a week, before it relocated to the larger Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland in 1974. Since then, the Ryman has become known as a world class venue playing host to the brightest names in all musical genres.
Flavor + The Ryman. As a company, we are honored each time we are asked to cater an event there – be it backstage for a show, a reception in the newly opened Soul of Nashville room, or a plated dinner on that infamous stage. We work hand in hand with Ryman staff to meet the catering and hospitality needs of artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Mumford and Sons, Jack White to Ed Sheeran.
But the Ryman plays host to more than just musical performances. We’ve catered a plated dinner on the stage for the Kennedy Center. Last summer, Interior Design Magazine held their Hospitality Giants of Design awards there, complete with three-piece string band and plated dinner on the stage. The Make-A-Wish Foundation and Kretschmar Deli granted the wishes of several children with a private concert and dinner in the Soul of Nashville Theater. Together we created a menu suited for kiddos (Mac & Cheese! Pizza!) using the company’s own products. But our favorite event at the Mother Church to date? Oh you know, just Ringo Starr’s birthday party. NBD.
Taking in a show at the Ryman is an experience every person who visits the city should have. You say you live here? You should go as often as possible. From the moment you step through the door to the moment you leave, you are guaranteed an incredible event. The most common refrain heard from any musician lucky enough to play the stage is, well, just that – how lucky they are to be playing the Ryman, to add their names to a roster as large and as legendary as any list. We are truly lucky this special place is in the heart of our fair city — what else is there to say? We love the Ryman.
And now, once you have decided the caterer you’d like to work with, some things to consider as the partnership begins.
Be upfront about budget limitations.
Natalie’s take: If you know you only have $5000 (as a random number) to spend for catering on an event, don’t be shy about this fact. It helps set realistic expectations of what can be done, which means you don’t have your heart set on something that you can’t afford in the end.
Jason’s response: I couldn’t agree more with you on the need to be upfront with budget and eliminate the little dance we do with clients trying to figure out where they stand. Nothing is worse than talking through the visions of beef tenderloin and sea bass only to find out the client should be talking chicken and tilapia. (No offense to chicken and tilapia it just is what it is)
Factor in costs other than food (staffing, rentals, alcohol/beverages, service/gratuity, etc.).
Natalie: With budget in mind, also realize that your $5000 doesn’t go just to pay for food. You’ll need to cover staffing costs in almost every case, plus depending on your venue, also the costs of renting tables/chairs/china/glassware/linens (which sometimes fall under the purview of the caterer), beverages and service or gratuities. Do you have separate line items for these other factors, or do they need to be covered by your overall catering figure.
Jason: Service is an area in the budgeting process that particularly gets neglected. There is nothing easy about picking up a restaurant, moving it across town and packing it up to do it all over again tomorrow. If your caterer says that they can feed 200 people with two servers be prepared for a fairly unsightly eating environment. It doesn’t do anyone any good cutting it short on service: your guests, the caterer or yourself.
Be prepared to serve a meal at mealtime.
Natalie: If you are having an event that falls during or over a mealtime, people will eat like it is a meal. Even if you mean to have heavy hors d’oeuvres or a late tea, your guests will still be hungry for dinner at 7 p.m. Which means they will all eat dinner amounts of food, and you’ll likely run out of food.
Jason: Amen – that’s all I need to say on that
Consider different formats (buffet, stations, seated/plated).
Natalie: Discuss with how to provide an optimal experience for your guests without going over budget or changing the mood of your event. The food costs for a seated/served meal are usually less than those for a buffet, because you are serving a finite and known quantity of food. The same thing goes for passed appetizers versus those served buffet style. But you might need more staff to make either of those happen. If your crowd is typically bad about RSVPs, a buffet allows a little more wiggle room for drop ins and is less awkward to work in extra people.
Jason: Another great format is family style. It gives you the best of both worlds. Presentation of a plated meal with fewer servers and a great atmosphere.
Know your venue, its limitations/requirements, etc.
Natalie: Each venue (hotel, restaurant, concert hall, etc.) has its own unique set of requirements and rules. Some have exclusive vendors for outside services; others are very open to using whomever. Before you go too far down the event planning rabbit hole, be sure you are clear on all of those rules and expectations.
A big area that varies by venue and can either save or cost you a ton of money is the alcohol policy. Places that allow you to bring your own will save you a bunch on the costs, but then the burden of figuring out correct amounts is on you. A good caterer will know how to figure this out and will have trained bar staff that will work with you to optimize what you have.
Jason: We have a general template that we work from based on the alcohol options that will be served and timeline of the event. Check with the caterer prior to making your purchase. Some package stores or wine shops will allow bottles to be returned that have not been opened or chilled which will allow for a little more wiggle room on purchasing. Ultimately you know your crowd best. If keg stands are a tradition at family reunions, you might want to order a couple extra beers Just in case.
Don’t be shy about asking for a tasting or discussing specific requests.
Natalie: If you aren’t sure about how something is going to taste, or if you’re stuck between two entree choices, ask the caterer if they’d be willing to do a tasting. They’ll mock up the plates and let you sample before committing. This is a huge help when you’re not sure exactly what tarragon tastes like or what an “airline” chicken breast is. Seeing and tasting a dish will either lock in your choice or tweak it to suit your vision. Don’t feel shy about scheduling a tasting; it’s a much better choice than serving 250 people something you don’t love.
Jason: We always encourage clients to have a tasting on their menu if possible. Typically, a tasting is offered once we are both generally comfortable with menu and price point. There is a good amount of labor involved in a proper tasting and won’t be offered to everyone that picks up the phone to inquire about catering options. Our goal is to put your mind at ease as it relates to the menu so that the night of the event you are prepared to enjoy and mingle.
Be respectful of the caterer’s time, recommendations and concerns.
Natalie: With tastings and other special requests in mind, remember to respect the caterer (and really any event vendor or staff’s) time and expertise. If your caterer steers you away from a certain dish or offers an alternate way of serving it, they aren’t doing it to ruin your special perfect night. Instead, they’ve probably tried or seen something similar that didn’t work. Serving ice cream to a room of 300 might sound like fun, but the caterer knows that it would be almost impossible to get it to the tables fast enough for it not to melt but for everyone to enjoy dessert together. Some foods are too finicky or much more work-intensive to prep or serve in certain settings. The caterer’s reputation is on the line with each meal he serves, so he’s going to look out for what makes him look good and meets your needs as well.
Jason: We want to experiment and present guests with exciting new takes on food. We also want everyone to eat in a timely manner and have the hot food hot and cold food cold.
If you would like to set up a tasting/meeting with your caterer and they are in high demand around town, be prepared to look further down the road on the calendar. Tomorrow at 2 probably isn’t going to be available.
Have fun with it.
Natalie: After all, no one caterers a math test. It’s a party or other special occasion. So have fun. And realize, other than you, no one knows exactly how you planned things to go. So if someone forgets to put out the special pink cocktail napkins or mismatches the drink charms, it’s not going to be noticed. What’s more, as long as there is food, drink and a cheerful host, it’s really hard to have a bad time.
Jason: Double Amen!!
Just in time for the 4th of July. Chef Travis Binkley has whipped up a deliciously lite Halibut with Grapefruit Salsa – perfect for your pre-fireworks festivities. Check out the recipe below.
First make the salsa. Cut the top and bottom off of the grape fruit. Next cut the rest of the peel off. This exposes the different segments in the fruit. Cut the individual segments out and give them a rough chop. Squeeze the juice out of the rind into a mixing bowl. Add in the grape fruit, red pepper, onion, cilantro and Serrano chili. Mix the honey and lime juice in a small cup then add into the salsa. The honey is very thick and if not thinned out, mixing it with the salsa could tear apart the grapefruit pieces.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put the glaze mixture in a small skillet and heat just until it starts to simmer then set aside.
Mix together your spices (by the way. This mix goes great with pork tenderloin/ whole roasted chickens, grilled corn, ect). Season the halibut (the top side only) not too heavy but also don’t under season! Get a sheet pan ready and spray it down with food release. Heat up a nonstick skillet. Add about 2 Tbs. olive oil and let the oil get hot. Put the fish seasoning side down in the skillet. Let it get a good sear. About 45 seconds. Take the fish out of the skillet with a plastic spatula and gently flip it onto the spayed sheet pan. Brush with the glaze and pop that sucka in the oven. Cook for around 5 minutes. Take out of the oven and brush one more time with the glaze. Top with salsa and there you go. Glazed fish n’ salsa!!!