Online Exclusive: Making Catering Memorable—Unusual Requests

The hospital wedding, and other out-of-the-ordinary catering requests.

Strange catering requests don’t happen as often as one might think, and they are usually not as strange as you might expect. Whenever we ask operators to share with us their strangest catering requests, we hear our share of food stories, and they are surprisingly tame: cookies in weird shapes to fit a theme, ethnic foods such as oxtails or octopus, or ‘normal’ foods that are strange only because of the setting.

“The strangest request I’ve had has been for a wedding anniversary,” said Larry Bates, foodservice director for Riddle Village, a retirement community in Pennsylvania. The couple wanted us to do Sloppy Joes. I said, ‘Really? Sloppy Joes?’ We get asked for so many upscale things like shrimp and crab in a tomato with cilantro and a lime But Sloppy Joes? That was a new one for me.”

Bates admitted that this catering request has yet to be resolved. As of this writing, the couple hasn’t made up their mind, and Bates isn’t ready to give in.

Miguel Palacios, executive chef at the Griffis Faculty Club at Cornell-Weill Medical Center in New York, recalled that his time as a chef at the United Nations was fraught with peril, but not because of strange requests.

“At the United Nations, our biggest challenge was serving 200+ people at an event with a menu that doesn’t offend anyone,” Palacios noted.

But Palacios’ most unusual catering experience wasn’t so much strange as it was touching. There was nothing particularly special about the event itself, nor was the menu anything that would stand out in someone’s mind.

“We did a prom here,” Palacios said. “It was an event for children who wouldn’t have the opportunity to celebrate their schools’ proms for medical reasons. These kids wanted something special, and so we did it. We had people do makeup for them, and dress them in fancy clothes and so forth. It was one of the highlights of my career.

Sometimes, circumstances make an otherwise “typical” catered event memorable, as it was for Joyce Hagen-Flint, division director, food and nutrition services, for Parallon Supply Chain Solutions in Largo, Fla.

“I was working in a hospital in Michigan, when the patient advocate came to see me to see if we could cater a wedding in a hurry,” Hagen-Flint recalled. “It seems the wedding party had been in a car accident after the rehearsal dinner. The bride was in the hospital with a broken leg and some other injuries, and the groom was scheduled to leave for military service before she would be able to leave the hospital. Family and friends were gathered and they wanted to be married in the hospital chapel and have at least some kind of reception following the ceremony.

"We worked with the bakery that had made the cake to have it delivered, called the florist to bring some of the flowers that had been ordered," she adds. "We were able to work with their local caterer to obtain some of the food that had been prepped and we filled in the rest. We decorated a meeting room that was near the chapel and made it all happen—only a few hours later than their original plan and on the same date. It was not as elegant as they had originally planned, and the wedding dress was hung in the corner of the room on display rather than on the bride, but she was able to wear her veil, hold her bouquet and marry her true love on the day she planned and before he had to leave for his assignment.”

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