December Skirt Table: Get the Party Started

By Helen Mitternight 

With the holidays approaching, I was hoping to get some home entertaining tips from the wizards at The Cedar Room, which hosts some of Charleston’s most glittering events.  

I had wandered into The Cedar Room in the Cigar Factory, seeking director of sales Graham Ervin and senior catering services manager Caitlin Caserta, and finding only burly men tearing down from a previous party.  

Downstairs, at Mercantile and Mash, both women greeted me with a smile and Caitlin went to The Cedar Room while Graham offered me water. By the time Graham and I got back upstairs, Caitlin waited at a table with more water, napkins and even a centerpiece. You would never have known that the table had been upended and set aside only moments ago. Of course. That’s part of event-planning magic.  

Graham and Caitlin are the folks who ensure that you have a successful event at The Cedar Room, Mercantile and Mash or Bar Mash, whether it’s a wedding or a fundraiser. They’ve recently held a trial run with birds of prey swooping through the cavernous windowed room in preparation for a fundraiser by the Center for Birds of Prey, so it’s hard to ruffle their feathers with any event. Caitlin, in particular, has been named Indigo Road restaurant group’s top 2016 Charleston-area front of house employee. 

Graham says The Cedar Room hosts between 150-175 events a year and about 75 of those are weddings with guest lists of between 125 and 250. That has the potential to be a lot of drama, but Caitlin says the goal is to reduce guest stress.  

“I work with people 12 to 18 months,” Graham says. “This is a big event in their lives. To see it all come together is very fulfilling.” 

If you’re entertaining at home this holiday season, their advice can help your own event be fulfilling rather than something that you endure only through secret belts of alcohol in the pantry.  

Caitlin says a successful guest experience is driven by food and music.  

“People remember terrible food and they’ll remember whether the music was good or bad,” she says.  

The menu should include a vegetarian option, a seafood option and a protein, and hosts should inquire as to whether any guest has a dietary restriction. A well-stocked bar will have vodka, bourbon, Scotch, gin and “bubbles in the beginning” as well as red and white wine and mixers. Tequila is becoming more popular among drinkers looking to watch calories, as well.  

For hosts, Caitlin says to plan on about three hors d’oeuvres per person and an average of a drink per person per hour.  

But here is where the magic of training comes in. That formula goes out the window when you have heavy drinkers or people who arrive hungry, and Caitlin’s staff knows how to pace the service so that fresh food comes out when a new wave of guests arrives. They also know how to handle the over-served with communication among servers and bartenders and light pours. 

“It’s a safety thing, but we also want to make sure the hosts or the bride and groom are not affected by someone else’s actions,” Caitlin says.  

“It helps to plan ahead and have all the food prepped so you’re ready to go,” Graham says. “Then you can enjoy the event.” 

“You want to relax and have fun,” Caitlin adds.  

Might be easier just to let the experts handle your next event.