Q&A: What should couples ask of a reception venue?

The Clarion Herald asked Adam Miller, director of catering and special events at The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, to explain some of the common questions he receives from bridal parties when planning a wedding reception.

What are some of the usual questions you are asked when an engaged couple or their family comes to you to plan a reception?

Hopefully, they’ve made up their own list of questions or they’ve gone out and found one online, because that helps. It’s always intriguing when they make up their own list or pulled one off line. I’ve been in the business of wedding receptions for 29 years, and the evolution has really tickled me. One of the top things I tell the bride is that she should prioritize what is most important to her – whether it’s the budget, the head count, maybe the amount of space she thinks she wants to occupy. It’s good to figure out beforehand what’s important – the number of people versus the amount of dollars. If they don’t have a glimpse of that, it’s our responsibility to show them how it works here. I spent the summer developing a PowerPoint presentation to show them that.

What’s connected with setting the budget?

Certainly, the head count and the space help create a certain budget, and the next question will be, “Well, what does all that get me?” As a full-service hotel, we have the ability here to provide all the catering, the linen, the tables, the silverware, the chairs and some décor options as well as some music options. We can tell them what that price includes, and then there are options if they don’t want any of the décor, etc. The only outside food items that can be brought in is for dessert time – that’s the time-honored tradition of the cake. We’ll do everything to serve the cake – cut it, plate it and pass it out. And, sometimes, couples have things other than a cake. It doesn’t always have to be a cake.

Dietary restrictions are big these days. How do you handle that?

We’re very conscious of dietary and religious guidelines for dining. We do everything we can to accommodate kosher, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian diets. Those are questions we normally get on the back end – after the space has been reserved – but that is something we can always do.

With your years of experience, how long does it take when you meet with a bride?

Our first meeting is the opportunity for them to get all their questions out, and I try to listen carefully. Often times, I have to budget from 30 minutes to two hours.

Is there a way budget-conscious brides can keep costs under control?

Always. We’re a very small business, but this has always been true: It’s always better to go ahead and get the space booked because “busy looks better than empty.” There is a business side to it. There are always 52 Saturdays in a year, which are top draw. But when you’re talking about a reception in July, are you kidding me? I’ll do everything I can to do that.

How long are most receptions?

When you boil it down, most people are happiest with the pace of a three-hour or 3 ½-hour reception. When you start talking beyond 3 ½ hours, there are other financial factors involved. You’ve got to keep pouring drinks, and the band’s not going to play for free. That’s not to say we haven’t gone longer. We had a 5 ½-hour reception once. I felt like I was at the Grammys. The whole staff was amazed. I told them, “I didn’t have anything to do with the music!”

How important is your staff in making sure the reception goes off well?

It’s critical. You don’t necessarily have to have the most experienced individuals working, but we are always looking for the right type of person, a person who is continually moving and who has an ability to change gears and keep the ball rolling. While they know they’re going to get a script and they read it, there’s always going to be something else to do. Aside from them having to serve food and drink and bus tables, like at any other restaurant, they also have to set up tables and chairs. You need to have the right attitude.

Are there any trends about the food that brides like to order for their guests?

I’d have to say I would stack up our gumbo against the world-famous Brennan’s family in the Quarter. We have a great crawfish pasta that can rival any crawfish Monica. We’re known for our crab cakes. I was a server here 20-plus years ago, and the crab cake recipe hasn’t changed. And there’s a reason for it. You don’t mess with success!

Adam Miller can be reached at 899-0506 or events@thecolumns.com.

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