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19589653 lilianas review .pdf

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We want to be upfront in saying that in the two visits to Liliana’s that we have made Chef
Dave has provided us with satisfactory service—and that, for many people, as he has made
clear throughout our year-long rapport, Chef Dave frequently caters successful events for
moneyed people. In this review, we hope to shed light on a number of factors within and
beyond Chef Dave’s control that coincided to make for a disappointing wedding dinner for
us. In doing so we hope to prove how Chef Dave’s catering services failed our event and
how—despite our trying to come to an agreement on what went wrong and how to remedy
that—Chef Dave has denied many of our requests for money back. We hope to caution
others as to how he could cause the same disappointment for those organizing an event in
the future.
My partner and I called Chef Dave in September of 2014 and he was able to meet with us
short-notice after a few of our other catering meetings had gone poorly. We were visiting
Madison from St. Louis one weekend, and our initial meeting with Chef Dave really could
not have gone better. Here was a chef experienced in catering large events with vegetarian
food in different venues—someone who really seemed to understand how to use local, fresh
ingredients and someone who was well-known and well-respected in the community. We
tried a large majority of the dishes that we planned to serve at our event and were happy to
pay the over $50 bill for the tasting. We made it clear that we wanted to do everything (food,
drinks, labor, transportation, etc.) for around $5500 for about 200 people, and Chef Dave
said he could get close. We knew, over the course of the coming months, that other
expenses would come up that would either change our plans or restrict our budget.
After our meeting (10/26) we wrote to Chef Dave thanking him for the tasting and telling
him that it seemed almost too good to be true. Because he made a point to tell us that he
only catered one event per day and that the demand for Liliana’s catering services was high,
we sent along a downpayment check, and the events manager wrote back the following day
saying that she and Chef Dave would begin drawing out an invoice that week.
As detailed below, we didn’t receive an invoice for over four months:
12/5/14 we email asking again for said invoice
01/19/15 a person named Natalie replies, introducing herself as the new events manager
01/29/15 Natalie forwards an email with answers from Chef Dave
02/2/15 we ask for an invoice
02/15/15 we reiterated our plans to Natalie with $4500 as a more realistic figure (no drinks)
03/11/15 we request an invoice by the following Friday
03/22/15 new events manager Kirsten emails us
03/23/15 we finally receive an invoice

The invoice we received was for $8785 plus $707 for labor—which is almost double what we
asked for ($4500). In the accompanying email, Kirsten wrote that the seitan portions and
mac and cheese portions were “full-sized portions” and that if we thought that would be too
much, they “could always make them smaller and lower the price.” When we ignored the
portions of seitan and mac and cheese completely the invoice was still vastly over budget
($5692). With our event fewer than five months away, this was a huge disappointment for

us. Because major caterers were already booked for our first Saturday in August, we had a
choice: either call out Kirsten and Chef Dave for overselling their services to us last fall
when we sent our downpayment to secure the date (and risk souring a business relationship),
or go along with the original figure that Chef Dave budgeted for us to get everything we
thought we were going to get.
Ultimately we arranged a phone call with Chef Dave and Kirsten, and we explained our
disappointment about the length of time it took for them to send over an invoice and how
over budget the items were that we had talked about months ago with Chef Dave. We
expressed to him our concern about not providing enough food for our guests; because we
were hosting a vegetarian wedding, we wanted to make sure that there was ample, filling, and
familiar food available. Speaking to Chef Dave on the phone, we noticed that he didn’t seem
100% dialed into who it was he was talking to, what we had talked about in our meeting last
fall, what we were looking for (he had gone through two event managers in the time that we
had last spoke, and the invoice we were discussing was four months late). After we
expressed our grievances about the hefty invoice, its delay, and our concern about not
having enough food for people, Chef Dave offered us larger mac and cheese portions for a
different price, and we reduced seitan portions. The portion of mac and cheese that he
initially offered us on the phone was five ounces. I told him that, having worked in the
restaurant industry with five-ounce ramekins of mac and cheese, this would not be enough
for an entrée portion. There are many ways to do this kind of substitution in the industry in
order to cut costs (I worked at a restaurant led by a James Beard-nominated chef that used
store-bought biscuit dough mix, Smuckers grape jam with rose water added to make it taste
more fine-dining, etc.). As a result, I was wary that maybe he would use a lower-quality
cheese, give us smaller portions, etc. There was no way to know how he would carry out the
meal. We had to trust that he would serve our guests the meal that we were paying for.
When we received the invoice (Appendices 1 and 2), Kirsten wrote to us that she had done
the following, saying:
On the food invoice we:
-cut out the coffee
-cut out the lemonade
-cut the crudité quantity in half
-doubled the portions of the Wisconsin Mac and Cheese
-cut the portions and the quantity of the seitian

And all of that seemed promising. The invoice specified that the mac and cheese portions
were 10oz cups, and that seemed like a reasonably-sized portion.
The invoice was more than we asked for, again, at $5051 for just food and $481 more for
labor. Because of this, we asked about the number of servers and if it seemed appropriate
for our event. The question didn’t really lend itself well to an email so we opted for a phone
conversation, in which we were assured that fewer server hours would be appropriate. We
also opted to cut ice, coffee service, linens, and a site visit by Chef Dave from the invoice
because those were things that we were either able to cover ourselves or that we didn’t feel

were a worthwhile investment. As a result, Chef Dave asked us to supply photos of the
property to give his staff a better idea of the space we would be working with.
In the course of these emails, Kirsten communicated that we should provide four tables for
the buffet. She also said, “Depending on if we can use the kitchen or not, we will need
another table to prepare the food.” The use of the kitchen was another cost incurred by us
because we agreed to pay our venue $100 for the use of their commercial kitchen. We never
received a message from Liliana’s that they planned to use the kitchen.
About a week before the event, we sent Kirsten a schedule of events and list of things that
we requested that Liliana’s staff help us with on the day of the wedding (things like putting
out ice water, moving chairs, etc.). We paid two acquaintances $80 each to help Liliana’s staff
with many of these tasks, and sent them the same information to alleviate the stress on the
Liliana’s staff. Some of the things that Kirsten agreed to be responsible for were large tasks
(setting all 20 tables with plates, napkins, flatware, etc.), but Kirsten responded saying that
their staff would arrive at 3:45 to take care of all of it before dinner was to start (6:30).
Ultimately we told her that we would set the tables ourselves to make things go smoother.
And that was all of the planning we could have done to set Liliana’s up for success.
On the day of the wedding, Liliana’s staff showed up on time and began working. My first
interaction with Liliana’s staff indicated to me the lack of organization that become very
clear to the guests at our wedding. When I walked into the food cart where drinks were
being served, one of the catering staff members looked at me and denied my request for a
drink without acknowledging that I was one of the people who had organized the event—
one of the people who was paying for the rental of the wedding venue property. While
surprised that Kirsten hadn’t instructed her staff who had planned and paid for the event, I
exited the food cart and ordered a drink from the other side of the food cart. This time, the
woman overtly looked over me and asked the person behind me for their drink order. When
a friend next to me said, “You’re going to skip the groom?” she smiled and apologized, and
it seemed to be a reasonable mistake, even if the attitude was unnecessary. In the meantime,
I noticed a number of things about the way drinks were being served that didn’t seem to be
helping a long drink line: messy-looking sangria ladled into a 10oz highball glass only 2/3way full (“Is this okay?” she asked, handing me the drink) or beers that were mostly foam
(the staff didn’t know that pouring large volumes of beer from a keg works best when a
pitcher is used as an intermediate vessel, or that, when pouring into a glass, the side of the
glass works best to reduce foam).

The snacks I think were successful and plated in a pleasing way.

Dinner was served a little late (~20 minutes), and, when it was served, it was the biggest
disappointment of the day. Chef Dave, in our initial meeting, had bad-mouthed the chafers
that caterers typically used to keep food hot on a buffet line, but had his staff walking almost
the length of a football field from the commercial kitchen with mac and cheese portioned
into 10oz cups.

When I approached the buffet line, I was disappointed to find that the food looked scarce,
as the staff was bringing out food as it was being heated, so that, at any given time, there was
a maximum of maybe 20 portions of mac and cheese. From the caterer’s perspective, this
allows them time to heat up and portion the food, but from a guests’ perspective, it makes
for a sad-looking buffet. To have the four tables that Kirsten requested look so empty gave

our guests the impression that there was a scarcity of food, and if they were to take too
much that not everyone would eat. The 20 mac and cheese cups that did appear on the table
were half-filled and room temp. The seitan on the sweet potato puree was no larger than an
ounce and a half.
During the meal, there was a lot of commotion and not much seemed to be getting done. A
number of the guests (~5) were up from their seats helping the staff move the bar to the
designated area near the tent. One guest was helping transport portions of mac and cheese
to the buffet line. Up until this point I hadn’t met Kirsten, and I didn’t know who was in
charge, but everything seemed so chaotic. I received emails and comments from many
friends and family that things had gone wrong: at one point the chef forgot something while
unloading the truck and Cailynn and Garrett (our helpers) were asked to fetch it from the
parking lot on the other side of the property; the chef was heating all of the portions of mac
and cheese from a large saucepan; one of the staff members smiled and agreed after a guest
commented on one of my friends, whose shirt and brow were dripping with sweat carrying
items from the kitchen, “Wow, Jamie, you’re working really hard.”

I eventually introduced myself to Kirsten and explained to her that it didn’t make sense to
have two staff members standing in the tent area looking around, waiting to release tables
for dinner, when there was so much left to prepare for dinner. And this was one major
disappointment of the day: the staff was languid and directionless. Liliana’s had already
received a 20% tip upfront on the whole catering bill.
One guest told us that she saw one of the staff members counting their tips from the bar
while they were working. Another staff member trailed a guest who was helping to move the
bar, asking her where their tip jar was. Another group of friends didn’t eat at all. Others
joked about going to McDonald’s. Some, we assume, just left because they were hungry.
One said that Kirsten asked who made the brownies, thinking maybe that they would work
with the bakery in the future (my aunt had made them). One guest thought that our catering
company had canceled and I had gotten a group of my friends to put on the meal.
We had planned a wonderful event, and I think people were aware of that. It was a
disappointment to know that the meal—the one aspect that was out of our control—had
gone so poorly. We can only hope that our guests felt so satisfied with the other aspects of
the day that they were able to ignore the small portions, haphazard drinks, and poor service.
We woke up the following morning feeling embarrassed still. Packing up, we realized that
the staff had left behind a couple quarts of mac and cheese, and almost a pound of
uncooked seitan—both which confused us—why were there leftovers when food on the
buffet was so scarce?
We felt cheated specifically that the mac and cheese portions were so small. If they had been
the correct portion and made more readily available to guests, things may have gone much
differently. When we wrote to Chef Dave he said, “We had 10oz cups of mac and cheese
filled to the top,” which was simply not true. He wrote back to us reminding us that we had
also contributed to part of the failure of the day, which was true. For example, we admit that
we never got around to sending photos of the venue to Chef Dave and his team—in part,
we think, because we didn’t know exactly what he needed to know or what—beyond the
map and descriptions we had sent—they would help him do, especially as we never received
an affirmative “Yes, we will use the commercial kitchen.” When we mentioned that we
didn’t send photos but that we had sent a map (which we had made), Chef Dave rebutted
that the map was not to scale. Yes, we should have sent the photos. It wasn’t that we didn’t
have the photos, it was that, with the hustle of planning, sending them slipped from our
minds, and we were never asked for the photos again. Chef Dave also attributed the lack of
organization and direction to our not having a wedding planner—which we never planned to
have from the beginning. Before the event, we had organized everything in our side of the
court; if there were things from the onset that seemed too much for the events manager
Kirsten to handle, how were we supposed to know? Granted, the lack of a single wedding
planner did cause a level of chaos and misinformation about what food to bring out and
when, but how were we to know that Kirsten wouldn’t step in to take on that role, being the
events manager for the day?
We are making our email exchange available here (Appendices 1 and 2). When Chef Dave
replied with defensive comments that didn’t seem to accept much of the blame, we

requested a meeting. The meeting rehashed a number of points already discussed, and in this
meeting we learned a few things. Chef Dave believed that the chef at our event had used a
larger heating vessel to cook the mac and cheese than was thought and alleged that they had
planned to provide smaller portions so that there was food left over in case people took
more than one, which we never agreed to. We also asked him what other events he catered
the day of our wedding because we had heard that Kirsten had worked a number of events
in the last 48 hours, and he said they had put on “just a small brunch” earlier in the day,
which contradicted the policy he told us in our initial meeting in which they were to cater
only one event per day. The meeting seemed to be a learning experience for him more than a
time to alleviate the concerns we had about our event, which had already passed. For
example, he told us that he will no longer cater weddings without a wedding planner and that
he will make a site visit mandatory—policies that should have been in place before working
with us, were they so essential to our event’s success. But it was as if the meeting was about
smoothing over a bump in the steady, successful road of his career, as if he were incapable
of taking blame for a failed event. I think he was surprised when we asked for money back:
$100 for the use of the commercial kitchen, which we were never told his staff planned to
use (to reimburse us for money we had already paid to the venue) and half of the 20%
included tip back (totaling $521.35, which was a portion on all food and service hours)
which amounts to $621.35.
He responded that the tip had already been divided among the staff, and that he didn’t know
if he would be able to get it back—to which we responded that we hoped the money would
come out of his profits for the event. We left the meeting feeling dismissed, not knowing
what kind of check he would write us, if at all.
A few weeks later we received an email from Kirsten saying she was sending us a check for
$90 from the server’s pockets and $100 for the use of the kitchen. She also sent along a $100
gift card to Liliana’s.
I called Chef Dave to tell him how inappropriate we thought this was and to ask him why he
thought that he should profit off of our failed wedding dinner. He said that he didn’t make
much money off of our event at all (we were confused why he thought that he should make
any money at all). It seemed as if because we didn’t have a high-profile event, a large catering
bill, or obvious connections in the area, that our event was set on a back burner since we left
the initial meeting with Chef Dave, and when we did put pressure on him to give us a
reasonable price for the things we asked for, he checked out because the profit margin on
our event wasn’t high. I told him that we would contact the Better Business Bureau, wedding
planners in the area, yelp, and a vegetarian email group to report our experience working
with him. He then refused to send any money because he considered what we were doing
“blackmail.” I replied, saying that the review process is part of the restaurant industry and
that word-of-mouth passes things on, good and bad.
In summary, these are the main disappointments we experienced working with Chef Dave:
1. Late invoice
2. Over budget invoice


Working with three different event managers
Request for too many buffet tables
Improperly trained staff (beverage)
Improperly trained staff (food preparation)
Improperly trained staff (events manager)
Overworked staff (more than one event in a day)
Small mac and cheese portions
Leftover food

These are the main concessions we make in the process:
1. No photos sent (difficult venue)
2. No single point person responsible on the day of the wedding (no wedding planner)
3. Miscommunication and chaos from guests
To this day we’re not sure what kind of preparation, ingredients, and care went into the food
that was served on the day of our wedding, but throughout the process we didn’t see
evidence that anyone from Liliana’s really wanted to make our event a success.
Because so many of the mistakes were out of our control and beyond the scope of the effect
of our mistakes in the process, we are still unhappy with Chef Dave and Liliana’s staff and
have made that clear to friends, family, people in the restaurant industry, wedding planners,
the Better Business Bureau, and the vegetarian community in Madison.

Appendix 1: Food Invoice

Appendix 2:

Appendix 3: Our email to Chef Dave

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