Weddings keep caterers on their toes

Name: Dawn White

Job: Co-owner

Business: Pacific Harvest Catering

What they said then: In April 2011, a Central Coast Living feature on destination weddings included Pacific Harvest’s menu that was served at the reception in a barn at Santa Margarita Ranch.

“We were looking for a place that’s rustic and elegant at the same time,” said the bride, Leah Greenstein.

With the help of their Los Angeles wedding planner, the couple searched Southern California, Sonoma County and San Luis Obispo County locations and vendors.

Pacific Harvest Catering has leased the café and catering facilities at Pavilion on the Lake from the city of Atascadero since 2005. The company is owned by Seth and Dawn White.

What she says now: Destination wedding business is a staple for local caterers such as Pacific Harvest.

“The whole wedding industry has really evolved over the past couple of years,” Dawn White said. “It’s kind of exploding. It’s a huge destination. For the majority of our clients, I would say 90 percent are coming from outside the county.”

With three full-time staffers and about 20 on-call workers, White estimated Pacific Harvest’s business is up between 10 percent and 20 percent. But as a small company, it also limits its bookings to three weddings a day.

“Others in the industry are having a hard time keeping up with the demand,” White added.

Rental companies, for example, might struggle during the busiest times to provide tables, chairs, linens and other items for ceremonies and receptions.

Pacific Harvest continues to be the exclusive caterer for the Pavilion on the Lake, but about 75 percent of its business comes from weddings elsewhere.

Several years ago, local caterers booked a larger percentage of corporate business, parties and other special occasions. But the recession led to a sharp decline in this type of spending.

Brides cut back, but weddings continued. According to recent reports by and, the national average spent on weddings increased in 2011 for the first time since 2008.

And a continued trend toward “rustic elegance” is one factor helping give some local venues an edge over competitors in Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara, White said.

Cost is also a factor where San Luis Obispo County can woo budget-minded brides, compared with more expensive regions.

However, White said that as more and more couples bring their wedding parties to the area, prices are creeping up.

“People are paying $7,000 or more to book just the venue,” she said. “Five years ago, that was unheard of.”