Getting to know Virginia and VKL Consulting Group!

Despite our delay in blogging… we are finally back with an interview with Virginia Kinnard Lionberger. Virginia is the owner of VKL Consulting Group and is a true veteran to the industry. Take a peek below for this exclusive and fun interview you can’t get anywhere else!  

Calihan: How did you get started in the wedding planning industry?

VKL: In June 2001 I left corporate America, where I had been an Executive Assistant to C level executives, to start Mane Event, LLC, my first event planning company, planning corporate events.  After that horrible day in Sept. corporate events were few and far between so I decided to go into social and wedding planning and I’m so glad I did because I do love it.

Calihan: What has been your most rewarding event that you have planned so far?

VKL: I became involved with a radio station that was promoting a complimentary wedding for a most deserving couple.  I helped them gather all the vendors and they interviewed hundreds of couples and the couple they chose are two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met and helping them plan and execute their “perfect” wedding was such an honor. They’ve been married for years now and have several gorgeous children and their wedding remains my most rewarding experience to date.

Calihan: What is the most challenging thing you have ever faced, and how did you solve it?

VKL: One situation comes to mind with clients who wanted a big, Saturday night wedding in Chicago and gave me a total budget that represented approximately half of the amount of money necessary to accomplish their event.  I was not successful convincing them that their budget was insufficient to meet their specifications so instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole I took them to several venues that their budget would allow and they HATED them!  I’m unsure where they found the money but they did and we kept a close look at all the costs, were very creative in helping them with their décor as well as catering and delivered a lovely, delicious wedding reception in a fabulous Michigan Ave. venue and they were THRILLED.

Calihan: What is the strangest thing someone has requested of you?

VKL: We had an amazing couple several years ago that had a doozy of a request!  The bride grew up in an agrarian Midwestern state and her family has a long-standing wedding tradition that she wanted to follow.  Their tradition is that the oldest unmarried child in the extended family has to dance in a pig trough until it is destroyed.  It was her day and her wish so we found a venue in downtown Chicago that allowed us to honor the family tradition.

Calihan: Do you still have moments from events that you laugh about to this day?

VKL: We were hired for “Day Of” Management for a large, 300 guest “Celebrity” wedding and reception at an iconic Chicago venue.  The wedding ceremony was planned to be outside and there were tornados touching down west of the city just as the bride started to proceed on her father’s arm and the ensuing torrential rain scattered the guests and wedding party before the vows were exchanged.  The Matron of Honor was “developing” the seating chart during cocktails, for which they had prepared framed name cards that were meant to be placed on the dining tables.  Needless to say the frames didn’t make it to the dining tables but we arranged them alphabetically so the guests could collect them as they departed.  However one of the attendants decided to rearrange them so they looked “prettier” and scattered them so badly many people couldn’t find their frames.  After the guests experienced a seating free for all the Bride and Groom decided to dance for an hour as the catering staff stood by waiting to deliver the first course, thank Heaven it wasn’t a frozen dish!  Whenever I see other professionals that were there we laugh like crazy because it seemed like everything that could go wrong did, but the newlyweds were happy which is all that really matters, and nobody blew away in the crazy weather.

Calihan: Can you describe some of the current trends going on in the Chicago area?

VKL: Quite honestly, I don’t follow wedding trends religiously and I’ve never had a couple tell me they want their experience to reflect the latest trends.  I would rather we consult together and let our clients pick the trends they like and that’s what we follow.  But I do like that engaged couples are less encumbered by wedding tradition and protocol, which sets VKL’s creative juices flowing to perfectly individualize their big day.

Calihan: Why do you love working with Calihan Catering?

VKL: Calihan Catering is the perfect combination of talented culinary professionals both in the kitchen as well as the front office.  Their staff has all been with Calihan for years, which speaks volumes in this industry.  John Calihan set the bar very high when he started Calihan Catering and his son Nash and daughter Lee and the wonderful teams they have brought together are maintaining John’s demanding standards for excellence in service and cuisine.  I would recommend Calihan Catering to even the most demanding client who wants an amazing experience for themselves and their guests because I have every confidence that that client will be happily impressed and totally pleased with their Calihan Care!!

Calihan: What is your favorite thing about Gallery 1028?

VKL: Gallery 1028 has been a work in progress for a few years and it’s just getting better and better.  It was always hip and sexy but it is developing its own personality as improvements continue to be made.  The floor is a unique, wooden plank surface that, in combination with the exposed brick knee wall, give the overall space a warm and inviting feel that is very versatile and useable.  The space could go from a country ho down to a chic bridal couture fashion show in a heartbeat.  Combine this lovely space with the culinary delights of Calihan Catering and you’ve got a total WINNER!!  And that’s why I love Gallery 1028!

Calihan: What are some challenges that you commonly face, and how do you overcome them?

VKL: “Day Of” wedding management can be very challenging because, as the professional, you have all the responsibility and none of, or very little of, the input.  You need to manage vendors you haven’t hired and deliver an exquisite experience for people you hardly know.  It is a landscape fraught with potential pitfalls.  Over the years we have developed a bit of a formula to help us be more effective for those clients wanting “Day Of” management.  We have created a very inclusive Client Questionnaire to help us get to know how the clients want their big day to look, feel, cost, sound, taste, etc.  Then we make a point to meet with the clients at least twice before their wedding date to review the questionnaire to see if there have been any changes or new thoughts or ideas.  I prefer having these meetings over a lunch or a dinner so the atmosphere is more relaxing, congenial and social so the likelihood of getting to know each other is greatly improved.  And then we create a very detailed time line that the clients need to review and approve before being distributed to all involved in the moving parts of the wedding and reception.  If the last meeting with the clients can be the timeline review all the better!  With these procedures in place we feel we can deliver excellent service for our “Day Of” clients.

Calihan: When you aren’t planning events, what would someone find you doing?

VKL: In warm months I’m an avid gardener and golfer, and love sitting of the front porch at the end of the day with my husband and perhaps a glass of wine.  In the cold months when there’s snow I love to take the dogs out for a good afternoon of cross country skiing and in the evening sitting in front of a fire with all the animals (2 dogs and 2 cats) and my husband with yet another glass of wine.  I also enjoy watching movies and reading entertaining novels or great cookbooks.   Cooking and eating are passions of all who live here and we love having friends and family over for good food and laughter.

What is one vacation that you have always wanted to go on?

VKL: One word, ALASKA!!!

Wedding Timeline's - when to start what projects!

We have talked about time lines for the event day, but what about when you’re supposed to be doing what!  Here is our suggested what to do when.


Upon Engagement!

·      Talk with your fiancé & talk about what kind of wedding you’d like & what kind of wedding you can afford.

·      Establish a budget

·      Pick a timeframe

·      Start a guest list


If all of this seems overwhelming – now is the time to start booking a wedding consultant.


10 – 12 or more months

·      Invite Bridal Party to be a part of the wedding!

·      Select a ceremony & reception site (using your pre-agreed upon budget!)

o   Make sure you research what other vendors are allowed at your selected venues & that you factor their prices in to your budget. 

·      …have an engagement party thrown for you!


8 – 10 months

·      Book Caterer if you haven’t already!

·      Order your wedding cake – or start tasting cakes to figure this out.

·      Make sure the wedding gown is selected & ordered (you can allow 6 months for this at least!)

·      Book your band or dj – musician for the ceremony or cocktail hour/ photographer &/or videographer & floral company.

·      Reserve any room blocks at suggested hotels for out of town guests


·      Fun Project – Register!


8-6 months

·      Send “save the date” cards

·      Order bridesmaid dresses

·      Check on availability of any additional vendors:  cake, transportation, musicians, etc.

·      Plan the honeymoon


4 – 6 months before

·      Grooms:  Get your formal ware purchased (or envisioned)

·      Order invitations

·      Order wedding rings

·      “old school”  attend pre-cana or other pre-wedding counseling

·      “new school”  draw up & agree upon any pre-nuptual agreements

·      Renew passports – depending upon your honeymoon!


3 months before

·      Hire calligrapher for any professionally addressed invites

·      Hire hair stylist & makeup artist & book trail sessions with both to agree upon a look!

·      Confirm transportation & don’t forget to include yourself:  limo’s for family, street car / busses for guests, if necessary

·      Mail Invites!


1 month prior

·      Apply for marriage license

·      Final Gown fitting – think about including your MOH (maid of honor) or a bridesmaid or two to learn how to bustle – this is ALWAYS trickier than you think

·      Adjust any counts with vendors & schedule any final walkthrough’s / meetings

·      Are you planning on doing welcome baskets for out of town guests in their hotel rooms?  Why don’t you plan / order & get those done

·      Order any favors & papergoods for the ceremony & party (printed menus, table cards, programs etc)


2 Weeks Prior

·      Check on any RSVP’s that haven’t responded & contact them:  Turn in final number to venue, caterer, florist, etc!!!

·      Photographer’s To Do’s:  Who do you want photos with – make this list & give to photographer ahead of time to save time & runningaround

·      DJ / Band:  Finalize any song request or not to be played request etc.

·      Finalize the ceremony & think about the bridal party order (processional / recessional, etc)

 Finalize Timeline with ALL VENDORS & confirm any meals necessary on site for vendors & any necessary other needs, such as tables for DJ’s, etc(photographer, band, etc & make sure this is on the catering order with a timeframe).  Communicate this to the venue / caterer!


1 Week To Go!

·      Call all vendors to finalize any last minute details / changes, etc.

·      Finalize timeline & important number list with wedding planner, or by yourself & give to all vendors so they know what’s what & who they can call!

·      Finalize count to caterer, wedding planner, florist, etc.

·      Finalize seating chart – print place cards & table cards.


·      Get any facials / hair cuts / colors, etc out of the way now!

PAY ANY REMAINING BALANCES ONCE EVERTHING IS FINALIZED.  You don’t want to worry about writing checks the day of your wedding – pay any unpaid balances now.  Decide on any gratuities that you want to distribute that night & get cash / checks ready to give to wedding planner or designated on site coordinator to distribute.  Most vendors can put this on a final bill to keep this simple & can suggest industry standards!


2 – 3 days prior

·      Bride:  pick up gown & make sure it’s pressed / steamed, ready to go

·      Groom:  Make sure your outfit is with you & in good shape! 

·      Remind all bridesmaids / groomsmen to have their outfits ready to go!

·      Deliver any baskets to the hotel (typically a concierge can coordinate this – if propertly labeled!)

·      Deliver any place cards, printed menus, favors, etc to the venue for on site set up.  Make sure you know when you are retrieving any leftover items, or whose car they are being packed into at the end of the evening. 

·      Designate a card / gift person who will be responsible for transporting any gifts home at the end of the evening – think about cake too – if you want to save it!


Day Prior

·      Rehearsal!  Meet with anyone in the wedding ceremony (bridesmaids, groomsmen, readers, immediate family, officiant) & run through ceremony.

·      Bring any items for ceremony to be on site then (candles, programs, etc)

·      Hand off the marriage license to the officiant

Party!  Attend rehearsal dinner with family – this is a great time to present any gifts to the bridal party / families, especially if it’s an accessory to be worn


Wedding Day!

·      Wedding bands handed to best man / maid of honor to have for ceremony

·      Make sure payment for officiant is handled

·      Assign a person to be the question handler if you don’t have a wedding planner – introduce them to vendors as the go to:  this also helps to let photographer have a person to go to for any who’s who questions


Get MARRIED! & Party Hard


After Wedding

·      Collect any “stuff” left at venue or family / friends possession

·      Pay any final balances for last minute changes

·      Return any outfits / rentals of any sort to their home

·      Write Thank you notes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Summertime in the City!

Tis the season to be outside in Chicago.  This summer, make sure you double check the event schedule in Chicago to make sure that no large events conflict with your special event.  If it does, don't distress.  Here are some tips on making sure your event is a success regardless of what's going on around you in the city!

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The 2016 James Beard Foundation Awards

These past few weeks have been incredibly busy for the Calihan Catering team. We have had the privilege of being a part of some of Chicago’s finest events, like the Butterfly Ball at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the NFL Draft. However, the topic of this article will be showcasing all the things that went down at The 2016 James Beard Foundation Awards at the Lyric Opera House of Chicago.

The James Beard Foundation Awards showcase all the incredible chefs in North America. It is essentially The Oscars of the culinary world, there is no higher honor. The show is typically 2-3 hours, and there is a VIP Dinner Experience occurring simultaneously in the 30 upper-level boxes. 


photo credit  Eliesa Johnson

photo credit Eliesa Johnson

Donnie Madia’s One Off Hospitality Group designed this year’s VIP Experience dinner menu. His restaurant group designed family style dishes of maximum quality. Just to get your mouth watering, here are a few of the dishes: 

Vegetable Trio > Beef Heart Tartare and Tuna Tartare; Burrata with Fava Beans and Strawberry Salsa Verde; Grilled Asparagus Salad with Avocado and Flaxseed–Tahini Vinaigrette

Ramp and Potato Cappelletti with Langoustines, Pine Nuts, and Pickled Lemon

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder Tagine with Chickpeas, Tunisian Couscous, Smoked Yogurt, Carrots, and Mint

photo credit  Eliesa Johnson

photo credit Eliesa Johnson


After the award show, 2000 guests stormed the two floors of the Lyric Opera House of Chicago for a station-like dinner. The guests have the opportunity to sample some of the best food and drink created by the countries’ finest. Some of our personal favorites were the Foie Gras Macaroons, Hue Dumplings, Louisiana Crawfish Remoulade in Brioche, and Pork Meat Loaf with Caramelized Pineapple Gastrique.

photo credit  Eliesa Johnson

photo credit Eliesa Johnson


For the second year in a row, we have had the privilege of controlling all of the set up, staffing, and most of the rental equipment. Here’s a few numbers to demonstrate the scale of this event:

4,750 pounds of ice

Over 1,000 hours of staffing labor

28,200 VerTerra forms

38,700 VerTerra plates

67,500 Beverage Napkins

VerTerra is a type of disposable plateware option. However, VerTerra is fully sustainable because it is made from fallen palm leaves, and doesn’t affect the environment in any negative way.

photo credit  Eliesa Johnson

photo credit Eliesa Johnson

 Overall, the event went flawlessly. The show was hosted fabulously by the one and only Carla Hall, and even featured presenters like Rachael Ray. We could not be more proud of how well our teams worked to execute this event and we cannot wait to be a part of the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards. If you are looking for incredible staffing support for your next event, look no further and contact Calihan Catering today!

(cover photo credit Eliesa Johnson)