Weddings 2020: Catering for all

Chefs, staff and organisers go to heroic lengths to ensure a perfect big day, from baking last-minute cakes to sourcing alpacas, finds Jonathan Trew

Heightened emotions, lavish settings and family tensions – it is no wonder that weddings feature prominently in romcom films. But while a good wedding often has elements of theatre, few of those involved want to see the big day turn into a drama of season finale proportions.

For the venues and staff that make wedding days run smoothly, consultation, preparation and contingency planning are key. To put it another way, forewarned is forearmed and this can help prevent a fairytale turning into one of the Grimm Brothers more alarming stories.

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For the last seven years, event manager Karen McVeigh has been organising private events including weddings at Gleneagles. At the five star hotel, each wedding is assigned a dedicated event manager who works with the guests’ ideas, themes and budgets.

She says: “We start by having a discussion about the experience you want to create – whether that’s a simple candlelit dinner for six in our Broadcasting Room or a glamorous themed party for 180 in the Ballroom with a swing band and fireworks. Then we start drawing out your interests and pulling everything together to bring that vision to life.

And if Cossacks and caviar are on your wish list then so be it. Karen adds: “There are no standard ‘event packages’, because everything we do is tailored to the guest. A couple of years ago, we had an amazing event that reunited two sides of a family, from Russia and Scotland. My job was to blend those cultures, so we had vodka, whisky and caviar, Cossack dancers and Highland dancers, traditional Russian folk music and Scottish bagpipes.”

For many couples, their wedding is an opportunity to show their personalities.

Ring bearing duties, traditionally the domain of the best man, are ripe for customisation. Despite the old adage about never working with children or animals, page boys remain popular ring bearers and more exotic, animal-based variations are not unheard of. At Gleneagles, couples have had the ring delivered by a falcon.

Meanwhile, at Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel in Glasgow, staff once organised two alpacas to walk down the aisle with the all important ring.

A hotel spokesman says: “The alpacas added a touch of irreverence, personality and fun into a day which although wonderful, can be very stressful for the bride and groom. Anything that helps relax everyone, in a manner that is true to the couple, so that they can enjoy the day to the full is what the hotel is all about.”

At least with wedding days, both groom and bride are both aware of what’s happening and are happy to be there. When it comes to masterminding wedding proposals, things are slightly different. Happily, Gleneagles has experience of stacking the odds in favour of an enthusiastic “Yes” response.

The team once arranged a scenic, mountain-top safari as the backdrop to a proposal. The would-be husband popped the question on the cloud-covered summit. The moment his intended said “Yes”, a piper stepped out of the mist to serenade the couple.

History does not record whether the piper had prepared a lament had things gone the other way…

But after all, the course of true love does not always run smoothly. A couple of years ago, Barry Bryson from Cater Edinburgh was called in to save the day after the “Beast from the East” snowstorm scuppered one couple’s carefully laid plans for their wedding reception.

Bryson agreed to cater the wedding at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon. Some 48 sleepless hours later, he had pulled together the menu, the equipment and the team for the 3pm reception on the Saturday. To the 120 happy guests, he was a wedding hero, albeit a reluctant one.

The chef would stress that he is not a wedding caterer and commits to only two or three a year out of the 30 or so he is asked to do.

Campbell Mickel had a similar experience when working on a wedding a few years back. The chef is the owner of Edinburgh’s Merienda restaurant and catering company Exec Chef, a catering contractor. The reception in question was being held in a field in deepest Perthshire and everything was going swimmingly – until about an hour before the wedding party was due to arrive at the marquee.

Mickel was doing a final check when he noticed an empty space on the plinth where the wedding cake should have been.

Arranging it had been down to the bride. When the wedding party pitched up, discreet inquiries were made as to what might have gone awry. It turned out that the bride had left her phone switched off for the previous two days and the bakers had been unable to contact her and find out where to deliver
the cake.

The chef promptly jumped in his car, drove to the nearest village store and emptied the shelves of eggs and flour. By the time that the cake cutting came around, Mickel had created a two-tier wedding cake. Luckily, everyone was able to smile about it all, especially after a couple of glasses of Champagne.

Like everyone interviewed for this piece, Mickel is keen to stress that he will do his utmost to make sure that the couple have the best day possible. Whatever they request.

“Sometimes people can be very hard to please,” he reckons, “but that is to be expected. For the couple, it should be the best day of their lives. Why not make it perfect?

“When meeting the couple to discuss their day, the first response to any request is ‘Yes. Now what was the question?’ At the same time, we have to explain what is practical, especially when working from a field kitchen. It is about planning, working together and finding common ground.”

Of course, the heart wants what it wants and while wedding planners strive to provide the perfect day, it can sometimes be memorable for the wrong reasons.

One former hotel manager recalls a wedding reception from long ago that ended suddenly when the groom found his new wife in the honeymoon suite with the best man. A television went out of the window and one assumes
that the poor man’s marriage followed shortly after…

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Weddings 2020 supplement. A digital version can be found here.