So you want to be… A Caterer?

HER Profile / Stories / November 20, 2013

Sarah Coe is the co-owner and catering manager of A Catered Affair. She grew up in the Jefferson City area, graduated from Blair Oaks High School and went on to college at Hannibal-LaGrange. After returning to mid-Missouri, Sarah continued working in retail and sales, spending time in management positions at Gap Inc., and Helzberg Diamonds. Once she had kids, her schedule drastically changed and she began working behind a desk all day. After just a year of that, Sarah realized she preferred working directly with people and being out in the public. She and her husband, Mark, opened A Catered Affair just three years ago, partnering together to mix their two passions — business and cooking. Mark is the head chef, while Sarah takes on the business and organization side of things. They cater to crowds small and large in Jefferson City, Columbia and the surrounding areas. The couple has five kids and one on the way so their lives are hectic and fun. As a mom, wife, and business owner, Coe happily juggles all of those responsibilities.  

Photo by Julie Smith

Photo by Julie Smith

 What services does A Catered Affair offer?

Sarah Coe:  Anything from traditional drop-off and go catering to upscale events.  We offer pre-plated meals, buffet meals or whatever the client requests, along with a beautiful disposable table service or full service china, glass tumblers and fluted water glasses, real silverware and linen napkins. We have a full wait staff that works the entire event from start to finish doing whatever the client needs us to do. We stock the food, cut the cake, dispose of guest plates, re-fill drinks.

 What are your main responsibilities?

SC:  I am the main sales person, the one with the business phone on me at all times. I try to make time to go around to local businesses and talk to them about our company and our services for employee events, luncheons, and any other type of event they have scheduled. Four our wedding clients, I work with the bride and groom throughout the entire process leading up to the big day. We have numerous meetings going over final details prior to the event. The day of, it is my job to get everything organized, coordinate the different teams we have going to events and make sure they understand their duties and timelines. I run the events to make sure everything runs smoothly and stress free for the family. I also have to do the fun stuff like rolling silverware, dishes, loading and unloading vans, etc.

 What is a typical day like?

SC:  I try to set up everything ahead of time, at least the day prior to a big event. We usually pack our vans early and do as much prep work as possible, arriving a few hours before an event starts. We stay through the entire event, after midnight for some weddings because we do bar tending as well. Also prior to events we set up tastings in order to book events. We cater everything from office and dinner parties to weddings and banquets. May, June, September and October are usually our big months. We also have three events scheduled for New Year’s Eve this year.

 What does it take to be a caterer?

SC:  A lot of time, patience, and understanding. I have to be available at all times for clients to call or email and set up last minute events, answer brides’ questions and concerns, and whatever else comes about. We have meetings at all times of the day, and days of the week. We have to be flexible and understanding of our client’s schedules and needs. We have to make changes at a moment’s notice. I work very hard to gain the trust of my clients and we have to work with them every step of the way, whether it’s budget, set up, timing or service. They need to know that I will do whatever it takes to make their event one they will remember forever. This is a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it and we love what we do.

 What are some popular menu choices, trends or special requests you hear often?

SC:  Our Mediterranean Chicken is very popular (once people taste this, they are sold on it — we serve it at approximately 75 percent of weddings.) People usually choose one chicken option and a beef or pork dish. Pulled pork is a favorite, pork steaks and roast beef, just to name a few. Another popular request is the kids’ meals we do. As a parent, it is a nightmare trying to go through a buffet to fill several plates at once. The kids’ option is chicken strips and fries, put in separated containers with lids that can be closed and reopened. We do get special requests for themed events as well. We have catered Jewish dishes, Filipino dishes, and many others. Our menu goes way beyond what’s printed on the tri-fold brochure that we hand out, we can do about anything requested.

 What are some of the challenges you face?

SC:  Keeping track when the customers change their minds, especially in the little details from the color of their plates to the timing of the meal. We have to be prepared for anything. We work with awesome people and want to make it perfect for them. (When catering weddings or other special events) we don’t want the family to worry about anything. Another challenge is just juggling a career with a total of (soon-to-be) six kids under the age of six, and working directly with Mark, at events where we both need to be in attendance. I love every part of being a mom and being able to run a business with my husband and support all of our beautiful children. It’s hard, but we love it and look forward to growth in the future. As a relatively new company, it is also challenging to get our foot in the door. I spend time on the road, trying to get our name out there, dropping off fliers, and doing tastings.

 What keeps you motivated?

SC:  It means the world to me when my clients come to me during or after the event and express their absolute appreciation and thanks for a job well done. These events really do matter to me, down to every single detail and we want to help make it perfect for them. It is so rewarding when the family and guests compliment a job well done because no matter how big or small it is we work so hard for each and every event. The best thing is to ask a new client how they heard about us and for them to say ‘they were at an event and saw how amazing the service and food was,’ or for them to have been referred to us by another client that just raved about the services we offered. That is so much more rewarding to hear than, ‘I found your name online or in the phone book.’ Supporting my family also keeps me motivated!

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Alvin Leifeste

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