Tips from the Pros: Event Catering with Niki Paterno of Paterno's at the Park
One of the BEST parts about planning a wedding or event? Food! We love a good canoli or some delcisious pasta, so we caught up with Niki Paterno, owner of Paterno’s at the Park, to get the scoop on catering for your big event!
Rock Paper Sisters: Niki, thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with us! Tell us a little bit about you. How did you get started in the restaurant/catering industry, and what do you love most about your job?
Niki Paterno: Other than scooping ice cream at a local ballpark, I had no previous restaurant experience before opening Paterno’s. My parents had a restaurant in the seventies, which was very successful, and it was always something in the back of their minds that they wanted to do again. We have a large Italian family and we love to eat and feed people! A restaurant is really a perfect fit for us. My mom, dad, brother and myself took it on, and I was chosen to run it. Food is such a personal experience for people and my favorite part of my job is that I get the privilege of feeding people every day. Whether it’s a group of friends meeting up, a family enjoying a meal together, a first date or a 100th date, or even a wedding, I get to be a part of those special moments in people’s lives. That’s a privilege and the absolute best part of my job!
RPS: That’s an amazing perspective! How long have you been in the catering industry, and what drew you to wedding catering?
NP: We opened our doors on October 8, 2012. We’ve been in business for a little over five years. As much as I enjoy being part of the day to day service at the restaurant, one of my very favorite things to do is to cater. Who doesn’t love a party? When you cater events such as a rehearsal dinner or a wedding, you get to be a part of someone’s most important day of their life. I have always loved weddings and even started buying wedding magazines at the age of ten. I love everything about them from the invitations to the flowers, the dresses, the decor and now especially the food. When a bride trusts you to prepare the food for her wedding, it’s a big deal and one that we don’t take lightly. We love taking the stress and worry off of a bride’s shoulders and to take care of everything for her. If a bride wants surf and turf or a taco bar, we want to make her dream a reality for her.
RPS: A taco bar sounds delicious! As couples are looking for catering for their wedding, what are some things to keep in mind when it comes to a menu?
NP: When a bride and groom are considering a catering menu for their wedding, I think they need to consider the time of day for their event. If you plan a reception during a typical meal time, say 6:00, your guests will be expecting dinner. If you schedule the reception for 2:00, they will expect a bite to eat but not necessarily a full meal. That plays a big part on the budget. I’ve seen people try to do small amounts of food for a 6:00 wedding and they ran out of food really quickly because people were hungry. It was dinner time and the simple appetizers were being consumed like a meal. It’s also very hard to please everyone. Pick foods that you like, always include at least one vegetarian option (even if it’s a cheese display) and have fun with your menu. Your catering will most likely be one of the biggest costs of your wedding. It’s a good idea to have a per person budget in mind as you head to your meeting with the caterer. They will be able to point you into the right direction that fits within your budget.
RPS: Great things to keep in mind! There's always the big debate - plated vs. buffet at the reception! Which do you think is best and why?
NP: The buffet vs plated is obviously a big debate. I personally like a buffet over a plated dinner. It gives you the opportunity to have more options for your guests. A plated dinner for 200 people is tough for anyone. It’s hard to prepare 200 of the exact same meals and to make sure they are all cooked to temp, held hot and not dried out. Having said that, my very favorite way to serve is family style. The Italian way is to serve big platters of food to eat at each table and to pass like you would at a family gathering. It gets your tables interacting with each other, you get the benefit of options like a buffet, people can take as much or as little as they like and they don’t have to get up to do it. It makes for a really fun event.
RPS: We absolutely love the idea of family style. It satisfies everyone! How should couples interview their caterer? Tastings? References?
NP: In interviewing a caterer, I think it’s always important to meet in person. Meeting in person will give you a feel for whom you will be working with. Ask questions, lots of questions. Often times there are fees added into bills like service charges. Never be afraid to ask what additional costs will be involved. Taste the food! Any caterer should be happy to provide samples and to schedule a tasting with you. Something can look great and sound great on paper but until you taste it, you don’t know what it’s going to be like. We love when a bride and groom want to do a tasting. It gives us a chance to show the couple what we can do. In our case, we have a full service restaurant as well so we would love to have potential catering clients come in and eat. They need to get a feel for the food!
RPS: Such great information, Niki! As we close out, What are one or two pro tips that you want every couple to know when it comes to catering for their wedding day?
NP: The best tips I can give are to again, consider the time of day for your event. That will play a big part of what you will want to serve! Also, I can’t tell you how many times a bride and groom forget to eat on their own wedding day. Plan ahead with your caterer to have two meals packed up to go for you and your groom. Even if you get a chance to eat, it will be nice to have some food for later!
RPS: Thank you so much for all this great information, Niki! Tell our readers where they can find out more about Paterno’s at the Park.