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Side Dishes: Stormy weather rough on caterers


Getting hitched outdoors in Vermont has always required a sense of humor: Bugs, hail and random rain showers can throw kinks in the most fanatically organized wedding plans. But 2009, with its economic crisis and frequent heavy storms, is proving rockier than most wedding seasons, and the drama is taking a toll on local caterers.

“Business is probably down by about a quarter,” guesses Kate Taylor Hays, owner of Dish Catering. Because people are trimming their budgets, she says, items that used to be considered necessities at an outdoor ’do — such as a sturdy walkway between the catering and dining tents — are falling off the list. Sans walkway and in the rain, that well-trodden path can end up looking like “Woodstock junior,” says Hays.

During one recent wedding, lowland mud forced the caterers’ “field kitchen” up a hill, and one of Hays’ staffers had to run through the rain — wearing a white blouse — to deliver food. Who got the raw deal? “We picked the employee who was wearing the prettiest bra that day,” she jests.

But when caterers do their job well, Hays says, attendees stay blissfully ignorant of the Sturm und Drang behind the scenes. “The [guest] tent, if you get it from a reputable [company], is like a small city. You get a sense of community … It’s kind of an ‘us against the weather’ situation,” she suggests. While the guests stay warm and cozy, the caterers are on the front lines: “We’re turning into ducks and rolling with the punches,” Hays says.

Although Hays is willing to cope with knee-deep mud and equipment failures to please her clients, she hopes brides and grooms take safety into account. On one particularly brutal occasion in July, the wind uprooted tent stakes and blew over a table loaded with breakable dishware and food. “I’ve been catering for a million years, and I’ve never been scared,” says Hays — until that day. “A field kitchen has full electricity,” she explains. “There are power cords sitting on the ground everywhere. I had two employees who got shocked.”

Wearing trash-bag “raincoats” and fixing a broken convection oven on the fly is one thing. Dealing with high wind and lightning is another. “I would like to drive home a safety point,” says Hays. “If weather like that comes through, you should evacuate the tent.”