Dinner is Served

Caterer Taylor Buckley offers up some food for thought on wedding cuisine.

Whether it’s a casual pig roast for thirty the night before the big day or inviting 200 friends and family members for a lavish sit-down dinner, the food you serve during your wedding weekend can make a lasting impression. Taylor Buckley of Buckley’s Gourmet Catering breaks down the art of catering timelines, the differences in serving styles, the importance of local ingredients, and whether clambakes really are a good idea for a New England wedding.

You took over your family’s catering business, Buckley’s Gourmet Catering, in 2018. What’s that been like? Is this what you always envisioned for yourself as a career?

It has been quite the adventure taking over the family business. Despite growing up in a family of caterers, my first career was as a research scientist in the biotech industry.

After ten years in science, I needed a life change and decided to move to the Vineyard and take the reins of the company from my mom [Jessica] who, with my dad [Steve], created a thriving business with an impeccable reputation for delivering amazing food and service. I work alongside my dad (our chef) and a loyal crew of some of the hardest-working people on this Island.

While I never in a million years thought this is what I would do with my life, considering where my career started, I am loving this trajectory!

How has your business changed since it’s switched generations?

Two words: social media! When I stepped into my mom’s shoes back in 2018, while we at least had a website, we did not have a company Instagram or Facebook page. My first goal was to refresh our website and establish a social media presence.

It is now common practice when I meet with clients to reference our Instagram [@buckleyscatering] when someone is looking either for menu and décor inspiration or asks me something like, “What is a cheese puff?”

The saying that you eat with your eyes could not be truer for this business, and I have found that social media has allowed us to showcase our labor of love to a broader audience with some really beautiful images.

How would you define your catering style?

Versatile. Whether it’s an elegant black-tie affair, a casual backyard BBQ, or a themed dinner, my dad is such a creative chef and there is no cuisine he hasn’t mastered.

I’d also describe our style as genuine. I always offer my clients kind and honest guidance and a sophisticated dining experience without the pretentiousness or arrogance typically associated with the fine-dining industry.     

How many weddings do you cater per year?

We cater twenty to thirty weddings a year in addition to wedding-related events.

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How many months in advance should a couple book a caterer?

I would say it depends on which month you want to get married. I have clients inquiring about the coveted months of June and September as far as two years out. Early spring and late fall don’t book quite as feverishly, so at least one year in advance is usually enough time. That all being said, we’ve booked weddings with as few as two weeks’ notice owing to the well-oiled machine my family and crew have built together.

How do you work with couples to create a menu? Any foods you caution people to steer clear of, or options you encourage them to add?

All of our proposals are customized; we do not offer cookie-cutter packages as each wedding is truly unique and we want the menu to be as well.

I typically start by meeting with couples over coffee or by phone to chat about the nearly limitless menu options we offer, and sometimes couples will go through our website and send me these crazy long lists of things that sound good to them. I love taking their ideas and creating something cohesive with the goal to balance land and sea so there is a little something for everyone.

The only thing I caution couples to steer clear of are clambakes. No one in formal attire wants to have to work that hard or get that messy to eat their meal!

At what point do couples need to finalize meal choices and head counts?

Meal choices for plated service need to be solidified prior to sending out RSVPs so guests can choose their meal option and indicate any allergies and dietary restrictions. This style also requires assigned seating charts indicating dinner choices so our servers can place the correct meal in the assigned seat.

Meal selections are not necessary for buffet or family-style, but it is still good to ask if your guests have any allergies just in case. We do not technically require these final numbers until about two weeks before the event, but it is helpful to have this information more than a month ahead of time for the purpose of sorting out rentals.

Do couples request buffets, family-style, food stations, or seated dinners more? What are the pros and cons of each style?

Seated dinners are by far the most popular option. Plated meals require the least amount of effort from your guests; it creates the most formal atmosphere, and provides the most structure for integrating traditions like speeches and dances.

Buffets and stations, on the other hand, bring a much more casual vibe to weddings.

Family-style can be tricky logistically, but when done correctly, it offers the best of both worlds: formal service but with options on the table to choose from. You need larger tables to create more space to accommodate different platters of food, and menus need to be coursed out strategically because there is not enough room to put an entire meal on a table set with a typical wedding tablescape.

How much should a couple expect to budget for catering?

It is really the complexity of the menu chosen and head count that drives costs. A typical wedding menu consists of a selection of passed hors d’oeuvres, a first course, and a main course, but we also offer other options such as raw bars and stations. On the lower end, couples can expect to pay $175 per person and on the higher end, closer to $250.  

We’ve noticed caterers are incorporating a lot more ingredients from Island farms and local waters into their menus. What’s it like working with regional food on the Vineyard?

There are so many hardworking folks on this Island producing some really great ingredients. We slow-roasted a whole Fork to Pork pig for a wedding one summer. Not only did it come out so good, but it was gratifying to be able to offer one of Jo Douglas’s locally raised pigs and support her business. A bride and I once designed her entire salad around Grey Barn [Farm]’s famed Eidolon cheese and the salad has since become a popular first course for other couples. And let’s not forget we live in shellfish heaven! Raw bars featuring freshly harvested oysters and clams are as Vineyard as it gets.

An unofficial tag line for your company is, “We love a good party!” What makes a party successful and fun?

A good party, for us, is all about exceeding everyone’s expectations. It starts with thorough and thoughtful planning with clients to make sure they feel confident. We provide attentive, friendly, and professional service from setup to cleanup so hosts can be worry-free. Clients and their guests will remember how well my staff took care of them. Delicious and beautifully presented food created by my family will wow even the most discerning of palates. It is common for attendees at our weddings and events to tell us that they’ve never had food like ours. It is this pairing of amazing food and incredible service that makes an event successful and fun!

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