Editor’s Note: Washingtonian Online moderators and hosts retain editorial control over chats and choose the most relevant questions; hosts can decline to answer questions.
When Rob Goyena was growing up, he’d visit his parents while they ran the family business, Catering by Uptown. “The chefs would give me rocky-road brownies—I was hooked!” says Goyena, who’s now vice president of the company. “At age 12, I started working on entering the food orders into the computer, and then I worked in the kitchen and as a waiter, and I eventually started consulting on, planning, and running events.”
Catering by Uptown has been a family-owned business for more than three decades. In that time, it has served six presidents, members of Congress, a variety of embassies, and the Supreme Court, just to name a few. And weddings? Oh, yes—it knows weddings, too. In 30 years, it’s catered more than 10,000 of them. The company offers on-premise wedding catering services at its two company-owned facilities—the Villa and Celebrations at the Bay—as well as off-premise catering at more than 100 locations in the area.
Lucky for us, Goyena has agreed to swing by The Washingtonian on Thursday for a live chat. We know you’ve got questions—about catering and every other aspect of planning—so don’t be shy! Submit questions now and Goyena will answer them from 11 AM to noon on Thursday.
I am having a very non-traditional wedding--a tiny ceremony and a private dinner for about 20 guests. Do you work with clients like me who will be so low-scale?
Thanks for your question and good morning!
Typically, Catering by Uptown is best suited for weddings of 50 guests and up, but on occasion, we do smaller events. It's important to have a good fit with your caterer and your event, so that it will get the best possible service. We make sure that if we take on a smaller event, we do it only on a day where we can dedicate the full resources ANY wedding will require. It turns out that a 20 person wedding can have as many details and decisions as a larger wedding. For us, it comes down to a question of finding a good fit on the given date.
If you, or anyone, would like to e-mail me for more specific details on your particular wedding, I can be reached at email@example.com. I'd love to talk with you about your plans and dreams and help to bring them to reality. After we speak, if I can't be of service, I will work to give you a good referral to someone who can help!
My first answer would definitely be my own wedding cake! Maybe being in love with my wife made it taste better, but it was amazing! In fact, I'm not sure I remember the flavor :-) It was a beautiful design with cascading draped icing wrapping around a smooth French buttercream icing.
These days, I'm really fond of the Amaretto Raspberry Wedding cake with buttercream icing. Come try it! It's wonderful!
But all the cakes we have are wonderful, and I think the big thing is to choose a flavor you love. We usually do additional desserts which can capture other flavor profiles in case some of your guests would like to sample other delights! This is also very useful in the wedding because you can buy a little time after the dinner and before cake cutting by having coffee and sweets available...
I hear that Catering by Uptown is quite good ;-)
I know it can be a daunting task. It might help to cross-reference that list with the vendors here on Washingtonian, and also to do a quick home page survey and see who's home pages move you. It will take 30 seconds per vendor, so only about 10 minutes to go through the list of 20. That will narrow it down likely by 1/2. Then, spend a bit more time on the site, and look for PROOF. This is a big deal to us. My family wants to make sure that before you pick us, you can taste, touch, see everything, not just hear us tell you how great it is. Look at the galleries on the web sites, look at what the references on the web site SAY. How many references are shown?
Then... Call on the phone and see how people treat you. Don't expect an accurate price quote on the first call (sorry about that, I know it's what everyone wants--but it might send you down a blind alley)...but you should see whether you find a friendly, knowledgeable person.
During your selection process, you should expect that you could come in for a visit, have a tasting before the event, and perhaps come and see an event which is being set up to get a sense of the staff, professionalism of the organization, and execution of the plan.
We offer a number of other special features to our brides (private planning web sites, virtual on-line wedding rehearsals, in-house wedding coordination, thousands of choices for your tablescape), and each firm has their own niche. See whether the caterer works at the facility, or a similar one, frequently. If not, it may be that other brides have already done your research for you, in a sense...
I suspect there will be a few more questions on which I can touch on budget, so I'll leave off here for now.
It's a great question, and I figure there are as many answers to it as there are caterers to answer it.
From my perspective, there are positive points to buffets, to be sure, and these include the variety which is offered, and the ability to select portion sizes. Sometimes, they can also offer other benefits, such as a more free-form structure to the event, and sometimes can make the event more comfortable if the guests are to be seated in more than one room.
I prefer sit-down dinners for weddings if space permits. The way that we offer a sit-down meal, you get the best of both worlds. We try to keep the dinner to 45 minutes to an hour and 2 courses served, with sweets on a buffet to get people moving after dinner. Longer dinners can be a problem if the caterer gets too involved in a 5 course meal with elaborate service. Most of our clients are interested in a lot of dancing at their parties, so we try to keep the dinner shorter. In addition, we offer two entrées on the same plate (a duet, duo, surf&turf) and then handle special dietary needs and children's meals as required.
Most of our clients choose the sit-down dinner when presented with those options, but we still do a fair amount of buffets, and in the right circumstances, they can be wonderful.
We love catering at a variety of venues throughout the VA, DC, and MD areas. We also have the blessing of our own facilities, thanks to my father's insight.
What we see at our own facilities is that we are able to offer a more comprehensive approach to the event in some cases. This can be most effective in the areas of price and flexibility.
As to price, we are able to offer our clients significant savings in several ways. First, because we are not transporting the equipment, staff, and food (not to mention the kitchen equipment) we can give a bigger bang for the buck. In addition, we have some significant discounts that we can offer for clients that are willing to consider off-peak dates and times. Because we'll still be doing the catering, someone can achieve a great savings by helping us to use all of our resources (space, equipment, staff, etc) on a date / time when we otherwise might not be doing an event. As a result, we now do almost as many Friday night weddings as Saturday night weddings. We do three dozen Thursday night weddings...
For the flexibility... because our facilities are specifically for weddings, we gear our policies and procedures solely for that. Many other facilities have a primary purpose other than weddings, and those things must be accommodated as well.
That said, there is no way we can duplicate the unique character of a space like the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Newton-White Mansion, The Galleria, Top of the Town, etc. And so we bring many of our clients to those locations, and because of our stable on-premise base, we are able to offer amazing values at these wonderful locations as well.
There are so many...a few of my favorites that we do at Catering by Uptown are:
Portobello Mushrooms Masquerading as a Filet Mignon
Vegetable Napoleons -- Grilled Squash, Zucchini, Eggplant, Tomatoes layered with Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil and served with a Roasted Tomato Coulis
You can also look to other grains such as cous cous, quinoa, basmati rice and other cuisines, especially Indian, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern cuisines for a starting place.
One other thing...if you have only a few guests who are vegetarian, you could honor them by asking one of them their favorite dishes and talk with your caterer about preparing one of these dishes in their honor. Your friend will feel like you really thought of her. It's really important to look out for individual tastes where you can (entrées, brands of alcohol, wines from the Italian countryside if he has Italian roots...)
I'd be happy to e-mail you a larger list of vegetarian entrées for your consideration. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you like.
All caterers have a wedding planner psychological complex :-)
That said, some can really help. Not everyone can afford a wedding planner, much as not everyone chooses to hire an interior decorator. There are excellent wedding planners out there who have been serving clients successfully for years/decades such as Rave Reviews or Shelby Tuck Horton or Diane George, and some others who have completed a short correspondence course and who say things like "I really liked planning my own wedding last year and I helped a friend plan her wedding, so i got into the business back in 2008." These are not in the same category, and the same can be said for caterers acting as coordinators.
Any catering company will tell you that they will help you with coordination aspects if you ask. To help you differentiate, look on the web site first, look at the literature. Do these sources of information focus heavily on wedding coordination, or is there not much mention at all. When you listen to the caterer in an initial consultation, do THEY bring up coordination, or do you have to ask about it (you might want to wait on that until after the presentation so you can see). Some catering account execs within companies are more interested than others, and you'll know it as you hear numerous recommendations from them about things which are not strictly catering. The one thing you want to be sure of, if the coordination aspect is important to you, is that the whole company has the culture of helping to coordinate weddings.
Our entire firm is based around the concept of making a "larger promise" to our clients. We don't simply say you can have this line item of food in this quantity and that line item in that quantity, we take care of the whole event. If I get any questions, I can give you some further details about weddings where we've gone well outside the catering perspective and made sure that our brides had the stress-free time of their lives!
I'm not a fan of a cash bar at a wedding.
Two ways to come to this conclusion:
1) Imagine that whatever facility you've chosen was actually connected, in some way, to your house. If I had a ballroom at home, for example, I'd never pick an outside wedding site... then I think about what we do as caterers as an extension of in-home entertaining. Most of us wouldn't do a cash bar at home, and by extension, I wouldn't do one at the wedding.
2) Another perspective that I've heard people come from is that it's expensive to throw a wedding, but it's really expensive to go to a wedding-- a gift, perhaps a hotel room, a flight, a new dress perhaps (and new shoes, maybe a new purse while we're at it, and get your hair done, get your mani / pedi, ladies?)... by the time it's all said and done it's several hundred to several thousand dollars to come to a wedding for most of your guests. Then it's best not to have them reach into their pockets for a $5 bill for a beer...
Better alternatives include non-alcoholic bars, beer & wine bars, or a non-alcoholic bar with a specialty drink...not as much need for top-grade alcohol in a fruity cocktail..
We love to do this. We've done dishes from every corner of the world, and in some cases, as many as 3 tastings of the dish prior to the wedding...after all, many family recipes are a pinch of this, a dash of that...
My favorite one eventually became a mainstay dish at our firm. We called it Chicken Devonshire, because the bride's grandmother lived on Devonshire street. It's basically a stuffed chicken breast with roasted peppers, spinach, onions, feta, and provolone and a tarragon cream sauce. Even at the end of a party (when I would get to eat) it was amazing!!
(From the editor: We're coming up to noon, but there are more questions to get to. And we've got good news! Rob is having so much fun answering your questions, he wouldn't think of leaving before they're all done. So stay tuned and keep reloading the page, this chat isn't done yet!)
Macadamia Nut encrusted Shrimp with Passionfruit Honey
Jalapeño Rice Cakes with Smoked Salmon
Mini Plantain Sandwiches with Jerk Chicken wrapped in a leek ribbon
Salvadoran Pupusas with Spinach and Farmer's Cheese
Pieces of Fresh Maine Lobster, Drawn Butter Sauce. It's almost too simple, but it's SOOOO good!
We get this from time to time...less often after people try the cakes we have to offer!
But still, for flavor or the icing or to move away from the traditional, it comes up on occasion.
We've seen a few kinds of solutions to this question:
1)Cupcake trees...who doesn't like cupcakes, after all?
2)So you say you don't like cupcakes...we have also seen non-traditional cakes used as wedding cakes. There was a popular style some years ago where the cakes weren't stacked vertically but rather in a "spiral staircase" design. In that design, or with other tiered stands, we were able to use cheesecakes, for example for the wedding cake.
3)If you'd like to avoid cake altogether...we've seen ice cream cakes (timing is everything, though), or on occasion, people just doing dessert displays.
4)However, we do see that many of your guests will prefer to see the cutting of the cake by the two of you. So, many brides who would never go out of their way to eat anyone else's wedding cake will have a small bite of theirs for the pictures and applause, and then they will enjoy a variety of desserts on the side!
Keep in mind, the best-tasting wedding cake is always yours--see my first answer!
If you're having difficulty finding a great bakery that makes you happy, look at Cakes and Other Desserts on this web site, or feel free to e-mail me.
Surprisingly, the cake can actually be quite good even after a year in the freezer! It's not always the prettiest at that time, but it's usually pretty good.
The harder thing, sometimes, is getting someone to take proper care of the cake after you leave the reception. Talk with your baker about the best care for the cake after the wedding.
Because that part can be a hassle, we offer our brides a complimentary anniversary tier if they wish. It's a nice way for us to re-connect with clients who have become friends during the planning process, and the tradition is worth upholding. Get your photo album out (if you've picked your pictures by then) and look at the wedding video, and eat cake!
We've had grooms that have contacted us on special anniversaries to duplicate not only the cake, but the entire meal. Sometimes, we've even been able to do it at the wedding site! Very romantic!
The answer here varies a little based on where the event will take place, as each facility or caterer has their own pricing policies, but it's generally acceptable to do a beer & wine bar, and perhaps add a specialty drink or two. These can be prepared in batches and generally don't require the most expensive alcohol.
Another option is to focus on wines--it's relatively easy these days to find some interesting, relatively inexpensive bottles to serve, and offer a variety of choices to your guests. Those who drink most heavily tend not to consume as much alcohol when wine is the focus instead of beer or mixed drinks...keep in mind I say they TEND not do consume as much...
Also, consider a daytime wedding and see if that helps the cost factor a bit. A brunch can get you into mimosas and the like and save considerable money.
Absolutely. We LOVE traditions at the wedding, and feel that going to your heritage and honoring your grandmother (and her cooking) is a wonderful way to incorporate something which is unique to you.
You can refer to the above answer for more detail on how we handle this.
I'll take the second part first.
I have it on good authority that Catering by Uptown hasn't run out of food in the last 25,000 events they've catered. :-)
Sadly for us, we won't be selected as the caterer for every wedding, and I'd like to give you some thoughts about this question, which influences so much of what we try to do.
For me, the responsibility to have the proper quantity of food lies with the caterer or the hotel (country club, etc)
I am not a fan of forcing clients to decide, for instance, how many hundred pieces of a given passed hors d'oeuvre they would like to serve. The quantity decision is not one that most brides and grooms are informed well-enough to make.
Unfortunately, because we all (myself included) like to have what we want, how we want it, yesterday if possible, many caterers and hotels take this "modular" approach. Then, if the food runs out, not only is it embarrassing, to answer your first question, but it's YOUR FAULT!!! Ugh! This is not right, this is no good. I don't tell my dentist how much Novacaine to give me, or my mechanic when it's time to change my brake pads.
The only way to be sure of not running out of food, unfortunately for the budget, is to make sure you have too much. And the only way to know that is to have the caterer be responsible for not running out and give you a proposal with that assurance. Some caterers may balk at this suggestion, but the most experienced caterers will know how to ensure proper food quantities for any event given number of guests, time of day, and many other factors.
I hate to see a bride with a nightmare, so if you would like to e-mail me a current contract that you have with your caterer, I would be happy to review it for you and give you some feedback as to what might be augmented in order to be sure to avoid your nightmare. In the process, maybe you can even work toward the dream, where everyone tells you how wonderfully ABUNDANT the food was! I may be opening myself up a lot of e-mails, but if anyone is going through this concern, I'll be happy to help: email@example.com
Having children at a wedding can be great! They add a sense of family and energy, plus they get out on the dance floor even if the band isn't that good...
For activities, consider crayola magic coloring books where the markers ONLY write in the books, as opposed to on walls, tablecloths, statues, etc.
For food, stay really simple and kid friendly--chicken fingers, mac and cheese, applesauce, corn on the cob, carrot sticks with ranch dressing, etc.
If you have the budget and the space, go ahead and hire a "baby-sitter" or three as a facilitator for the kids activities. We've also had great success with caricaturists, face painters, jugglers, magicians, sing-along musicians, etc. if you have a separate room.
The short answer is "Yes!"
Sometimes, your caterer may provide this service. We do, and so do several other caterers and hotels. That said, see the notes above on coordination at the wedding to determine if it's something they are just doing for you (nice, but not necessarily good) or that they do all the time (better).
However, if your caterer doesn't offer this service (which many don't), or if you have your ceremony at a separate location. you may wish to hire someone dedicated to your needs.
You may have someone in the wedding party or your family who can help, but it's always nice to have a professional who also has a kit to handle emergencies, etc.
In closing, I wanted to thank the Washingtonian for the opportunity to chat with you all today, and to thank all of you for your wonderful questions. While my job is helping people who hire our company, I'd be happy to take additional questions off-line whether you are using our services or not. On behalf of my parents, my sister, Suzanne, and my brother-in-law, Ray, I invite you to visit our web site at www.cateringbyuptown.com or call us at 301.572.7744. You'll find that there are even better answers on offer from my sister (always) and everyone else at my firm (often). We work with each of our individual clients and potential clients to find just the right fit for their wedding.
You can set up appointments on-line on our web site to consult with us at The Villa or to see our facilities at The Villa or our waterfront site in Maryland, www.CelebrationsattheBay.com
We also have a great many Frequently Asked Questions on our web site at www.cateringbyuptown.com.
Thank you again. I hope you can tell that we love what we do, and perhaps we can be of service to you to make your wedding dreams come true.
All my best,
Rob Goyena, Jr.