In the early 1990s, when it became apparent that my degree in English Literature was not going to result in a blockbuster best seller immediately, I began working in Public Relations for downtown Atlanta floral and design firms. One thing led to another and I found a passion in floral design. Within two years, I opened my own floral shop.
After designing flowers for wedding bouquets and decorating churches, I decided that I wanted the whole package deal and the money that came with it. Being pretty handy in the kitchen, I also began to cater weddings as well. I took a Wilton cake course and before long, I could throw together a decent wedding cake. I partnered up with an equally ambitious friend of mine and off we went.
Floral design and catering go hand in hand. Being able to do both was a bonus, especially when it came to the catering. The most valuable thing I learned is that presentation is 99% of the game, and as a florist this was came easy. If something goes wrong with a cake or a platter, you just add a piece of fern or a lovely rose to hide flaws. More goes wrong with large receptions than most people can imagine. The trick is to be fast on your feet with solutions before anyone realizes what has occurred. Word of mouth spreads quickly about caterers. You must hide any flaws quickly.
Yet, sometimes there is no fast solution. One of the craziest things we endured as a catering and florist team was also one of our most lucrative weddings. The event was on Christmas Eve and turned into a month long ordeal. No expense was spared. The wedding itself was held at one of the local churches and the reception was held at the very large home of the client, which was in an exclusive country club. The weather turned out to be bitter and cold that December in Georgia. The house had a large swimming pool in the back, and a dance stage was erected over the pool.
Tents were fashioned together to turn the pool area into one large reception hall. Plastic was draped over the sides to create an enclosure. The cake took hours to create. They wanted it to look like a Christmas tree. So between every layer, we placed boxwood and on the very top was a small boxwood tree. The effect was stunning, but we underestimated the weight of the boxwood. The more layers we stacked, and there were seven, the heavier it pressed into the large bottom layer and then it split open.
Using wooden dowels, we had to place it back together. We had no other choice. It was the bottom layer and the primary base for the entire cake. The one thing I learned from that experience was to always have backup layers for an event this large and a client this important. Finally assembled after extra time, we left to pick up the fifty white poinsettias that were to frame the erected dance floor. Poinsettias can be rather delicate in freezing temperatures so we had decided to deliver those last. We had a crew setting up the appetizer buffet and another company was providing the open bar.
When we returned with the poinsettias, we discovered that family members had purchased space heaters because of the cold and had set them up around the pool area. One was blowing directly on the boxwood tree cake, which had ended up being four feet high. To our dismay, the butter cream icing was rapidly melting. I always had extra icing, because you have to use icing to often make things stick and make repairs. We unplugged the heater blowing on the cake and my partner made repairs while I lugged in the poinsettias.
He was able to stabilize the cake but it was wobbly with the heavy boxwood. Instead of packing up and leaving, we hung around until the first guests arrived and then had to scoot because we were filthy in jeans at that point. The boxwood cake was still standing when we left. Two of our crew stayed to fill the buffet tables at the party.
We spent our Christmas Eve that year obsessing over the telephone with each other all night. I found that in the course of a business such as this, you are simply at work almost 24 hours per day. We waited to hear what had happened from our crew. The phone finally rang past midnight and we found out. Our employee informed us that the boxwood cake kept slanting to one side.
Apparently no one noticed the melting cake. It is in moments such as these in a catering business that you know that Divine Providence is on your side. Before the bride and groom cut the cake, it tumbled. Not because of the melting icing or the heavy boxwood, but because a tipsy guest slipped and backed into the cake table. It proved to be the final straw for our edible Christmas tree. It fell apart. We did not sleep that evening.
On Christmas morning, we called our client. She was thankful for all our hard work and was devastated over the distant relative that had ruined the cake, and that they did not get a photograph of it. She said it was delicious however and they had been able to salvage the boxwood tree on top. The day after Christmas, we went over to pick up trays and our check. She settled the account in full.
I sold my business quite a few years ago when I married and started raising a family. Catering weddings is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Emotions are so tied up with any wedding, big or small. Stamina and nerves of steel are needed to succeed in the business. Today, I write about entertaining and only cater small events for the closest of friends and family.