Ethnic menus: Hotels loosen rules on outside food

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 3, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: December 3, 2013

Mariam Hashimi and her husband, Munis Alkouz, chose the hotel for their November wedding reception mainly for one reason: It allowed them to use a local caterer to bring in the traditional Afghan rice and meat dishes that hotel chefs often aren't trained to prepare.

"For our weddings, food is really important," said Hashimi, who grew up in an Afghan immigrant family and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She had her reception at the Sheraton Uptown Hotel there.

Many hotels and banquet halls have begun permitting brides and grooms to hire outside caterers and work with local restaurants to serve menus reflecting a wider range of cultures and cuisines. It's a change from the long-held practice of insisting that customers use only in-house food choices, said Sharon Ringier, president of the Chicago chapter of the Event Planners Association.

"They don't want to miss out on the revenue," Ringier said. "It's better to accommodate (customers)."

That's good news for couples wishing to serve ethnic foods at wedding receptions.

Venues typically charge customers an outside catering fee that covers use of the venue's equipment and staff, who still have to set up the room and clean up after the party.

The Sheraton Uptown in Albuquerque started allowing guests to contract with outside caterers for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other special events about two years ago, said catering sales manager Cindy Martinez.

Specifically, it was the demand for traditional Indian food that prompted the change, she said.

"Indian weddings tend to be very large. They're nice events," Martinez said. "They generate good revenue."

The hotel worked with a local restaurant to develop an Indian menu. "Instead of the client going to them, it's all done in one stop," Martinez said. Clients can choose from other approved caterers, too.

Likewise, the Hilton Columbus/Polaris hotel in Ohio began working with outside caterers about three years to accommodate an Indian wedding, said senior catering manager Jacob Kristensen.

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