Ask the Expert: Taking the Headache out of Wedding Details

Our catering guru gives brides the inside scoop on how to coast through the planning process.

A classic sparkling cocktail with St. Germain and a lemon twist. Photograph by Justine Ungaro.

The Expert: Eric Michael, co-owner of Occasions Caterers in Washington, DC

Let’s say I’m a bride who just got engaged and I have no clue where to begin. What are the first steps when starting to plan? 

First, enjoy every minute of being engaged; it’s such a special and happy time! Then set the date, set the tone, and set the budget. Once you’ve picked the date and the tone, whether formal, casual, or black-tie, it’s time for an honest discussion with your parents, if they have offered to pay, or with your groom, about how much you would like to spend on each aspect of the wedding and reception. Don’t take on more debt than you can handle.

Occasions just moved into a new space. Can you tell us a bit about it?

We took over and completely retooled the old Ottenberg Bakery building. The original flour-storage silos remain, but the rest of the building was completely redesigned to house our offices, equipment showrooms, tasting rooms, production kitchen, and warehouses. The benefit to our clients is that in just one visit they can sample our food in one of three tasting rooms and visit our showroom to look at linens, flatware, glassware—everything to set the perfect table, bar, and buffet. It’s a one-stop shop!

Food and drink trends can be fickle. Do you find there are perennial favorites that couples and their guests feel never go out of style?

Champagne and sparkling cocktails are always favorites at weddings; the Champagne toast is a must. Other sparkling wines, such as Prosecco and Cava, are very popular. Couples love our St. Germain cocktails, too, which are a festive mix of Champagne and St. Germain liqueur with a lemon twist. At warm spring and summer receptions, infused sparkling waters are a hit—we make our own with flavors like cucumber-lime, orange blossom, and raspberry-lime. We’re also finding that organic and “green” menus continue to be more than just a trend. It’s part of our philosophy to use local and ethically sourced foods whenever we can.

With so many details, how do you ensure the bride and groom aren’t overwhelmed?

Our wedding planners set a straightforward path; we get to know our couples in order to discover how they’d like to celebrate, and we design our proposals to offer choices based on their specific likes and interests. We’ll help narrow down menus, or we’ll select a look based on the setting of the reception. We can also coordinate other aspects of their event, from music and flowers to lighting and valet parking—all with the budget in mind.

Any new surprises or touches in the catering realm that you find could signal a lasting trend?

Receptions are expanding beyond the “traditional” dinner-dancing-cake format; couples are extending the fun with late-night snacks and stations. Comfort foods like mini burgers, steak frites, flavored popcorn, mac-and-cheese bites, Cuban sandwiches, freshly made donuts, tiny ice cream push-pops, and warm cookies with milkshake shots are all quite popular these days. Late-night stations such as s’mores bars, chocolate tastings, and pizza tossing are all fun, and they keep the party rolling!

Mini blueberry pies and blueberry pancakes at the end of a long evening make for delicious treats. Photographs by Tony Brown. 

Local crab and apple salad. Photograph by Molly M. Peterson. 
Mini-chicken and waffles. Photograph courtesy of Occasions Caterers.
The new home of Occasions Caterers in Northeast Washington, DC. Photograph courtesy of Occasions Caterers.