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Wedding Food Series: Catering Details

This is not going to be the standard, "So you need to find a caterer within your price-range, taste the food, and viola! You've booked a caterer!" blog post. It is my desire to go deeper, and discuss the details that are often forgotten, overlooked, or mere afterthoughts in the realm of booking caterers. I'm not going to discuss the basics here, as there are plenty of other posts out there that go over those many details. 

Let's get right down to it!

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PC Stonefire Grill

Types of Catering

There are more than just Buffet and Plated food services to consider.

- Family Style Service is a great option for those concerned about guests waiting in long lines. It's a kind of happy medium between buffet and plated service. Rather than stand in line or wait for pre-plated meals to be served from the kitchen, platters of food are brought to and placed at the tables by servers and guests are able to dish their own plates. 

- French Style Service is another option, although much less common, because it requires a lot of staff. French Style has two servers per table plating food. One server holds the tray of food options, and the other dishes it onto each guest's plate before placing it on the table.

- Russian Style Service, also called White Glove Service, is the most formal service style. Servers in white gloves serve food items on plates already placed at the table, allowing guests to decline items they don't want. So fancy!

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PC Free Hotel Management Training Blog

Pricing and Quality Considerations

Obviously, there's the general rule that "you get what you pay for" to keep in mind...especially with food! Beyond this, here are some more in-depth ideas to think about.

- Any kind of sit-down food service requires additional staffing, which can increase the bill exponentially! For every two tables of guests, one server should be there to accommodate them. Think about it as a restaurant set-up! Is it efficient for a restaurant accommodating your guest count to run on the same amount of staff as at your wedding? If you feel it’s not, then you should seriously consider adding more service staff to your catering contract.

- Unlike the myth, buffet is generally cheaper not because less food is served (based on the idea that guests decline the food they don't wish to eat) but because less service staff is needed. Buffets actually have to prepare MORE food than a plated meal might, because people serving themselves may choose more or less than a standard serving, and the caterer needs to ensure that every guest, served first or last, has every food option available. 

- Don't forget about tipping your caterer's service staff at the end of the event! Sometimes contracts include this already, but not 100% of the time. Service staff deserve to be tipped 10-15% of the total catering cost, just as waitstaff at restaurants expect tips. This tip will be split evenly between each staff member.

- Is your caterer licensed? Just because they have a website doesn't mean they're licensed to serve food. Most generally, are, but it's always smart to check. Ask to see a copy of of it. You want the food you're paying so much money for to be top-notch, so it's worth the effort to check.

- This is a more common money-saving tip, but it bears repeating. Choose seasonable produce to help control the ingredient costs. If you're having a wedding in the winter, don't choose summer fruits and veggies for the sides! This will be so much more expensive on the caterer's end, and he'd be foolish not to charge extra for it. Ask your caterer what seasonal sides he recommends serving.

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PC Sweet Alexis Vegan and Allergy Friendly Bakery

Picky Eaters and Extra Meals

- As allergies and specific diets become more common, caterers are getting better about offering these specific accommodations. Take advantage of this to accommodate any friends with food allergies or preferences. Consider ordering some options for vegans and vegetarians, and serving some common allergy-friendly goodies, such as gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or nut-free sides and desserts. Making a small sign out of card stock to indicate these allergy-friendly foods will be greatly appreciated, as those with allergies often will just skip over foods that commonly contain allergens. In addition, signs indicating foods that DO have these common allergens in them will also help prevent any guests with strong allergies from having reactions!

- Vendors working the wedding have to eat too! It is courtesy to feed your photographers, DJ's, coordinators, etc. at the reception if a meal is being served. Give your caterer the vendor count, letting him know that they are vendors, as they won't need all the fancy embellishments he may be planning for your guests.

- Sometimes extra guests who didn't RSVP (or +1's who weren't invited!) show up too! Have your caterer plan for around five extra meals for unexpected guests. It's worth it to be prepared. If in the end they go unneeded, you have extra food you can take home!

- Speaking of headcount, do keep in mind that your caterer will need the final headcount number about a week before the wedding. Plan to have your final RSVP count by this time.

Wait Time

Weddings are notorious for their long buffet lines...

- Setting up the buffet tables so guests can walk down both sides of them helps eliminate guest wait time.

- Setting up serving “stations” (i.e. multiple buffet tables) can also help the line go faster.

Other

Does your caterer offer more than just food?

- Ask your caterer if they provide rentals, such as chairs, tables, linens, tableware, etc. to consolidate vendors. Often, adding extra services to a package with a vendor you're already working with will be cheaper than adding an extra vendor to your team.  

- Does the caterer also make cakes or bar tend? This can make the menu more cohesive, eliminate additional staff, and consolidate your vendor team. 

- Remember to get as many details included in your catering contract as possible. Some good details to have on the contract (in addition to standard items, such as menu, pricing, etc.) are the caterer's arrival, set up, dinner, and tear-down times, server-to-guest ratio, and any fees, such as overtime, delivery, cake cutting, and corkage fees.

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PC Grace For Dover

Whew! That was a lot of information! Feeling overwhelmed? Don't be! If you find the right caterer, they will walk you through the process and make your wedding food experience amazing. Questions? Feel free to ask down below.

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11 Questions You Might Forget To Ask Your Venue (Before Booking)

This list doesn't need much description. Sometimes the venue search is too exciting to remember all of those important questions. Not to worry! The questions below are commonly forgotten, so if you go over these, and remember the basics, you should be golden.

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PC Belle The Magazine

1) Do you have any discounts if I book on a day other than Saturday?

2) How many people can this location accommodate?

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PC The Knot

3) Do you require that I use your caterer?

4) Are there alcohol restrictions, or corkage fees?

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PC Pinterest

5) What's the weather contingency plan (for outdoor venues)?

6) Are their music volume restrictions my DJ will need to be aware of?

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PC WeddingWire

7) Is there ample parking?

8) Are there any hidden fees like service fees, gratuities, cleaning fees, or overtime fees?

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PC Chaine Des Rotisseurs

9) Are there any decor limits? (Such as lit candles?)

10) Are there any photo restrictions?

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PC Brides

11) Who will be available during the event to direct us? 

Wanna know more about why these questions are important to ask? Check out the video below for my personal explanations.

Did you find these questions helpful? Have one to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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Battling the Budget Part 2: Inexpensive Alternatives

Nothing ruins wedding vibes like price-tags that say "no." In the same way, price-tags that scream "YES!" can really make a difference in the planning process, which is why I love my job. I have kind of an obsession with finding good prices and using creativity to come up with lovely alternatives to things such as standard wedding fare. (Don't believe me? I once developed a month-long meal-plan for myself that priced out everything with recipes, shopping lists, and all organic ingredients for three square meals a day with a budget of $100.) 

In the previous blog-post, I pinpointed the five common large expenses that nearly all weddings struggle to escape. In this blogpost, I'm going to return to those same five things and and share my ideas on how to avoid the price-tag with some creativity and extra thought. Ready to learn how to keep your wallet from emptying?

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PC Venuesafari.com

1. Ways to Save Money on Your Venue(s)

a) Just rent out ONE venue. Think about it: renting one area at a ceremony location costs, say $1,000. Later on, you decide you want to rent a second area at that same location for the reception as well. However, instead of that second area also costing $1,000, it costs $500, because you've already rented another part of the venue. So you're at $1,500. Now, let's suppose you rented a second location instead of an extension of the first location. Is that second location going to cost just $500? Probably not, because many venues have a minimum rental requirement, or they simply charge a higher minimum for rental of any area at their venue. So it's likely that the second venue will also cost around $1,000. So now you're at $2,000, instead of the $1,500, for the SAME purpose! Renting two different venues is also a lot more trouble, because sometimes you have to take into account the transportation of your guests, which might also come out of your pocket. 

b) Get hitched on a weekday. Most weddings are on Saturdays or Sundays because it's most convenient for guests to attend. However, because of their popularity, venues generally hike up the prices of venues on weekends, a lot like how airfares are three to four times the price on holiday weekends. They do it because they can. On weekdays, however, very few venues get weddings booked, so their prices generally go down. If your guests can get off work a few hours early, consider having your wedding on a weekday, such as Monday, to save some bank.

c) Have your wedding at a private venue, such as a friend's property or large house. This can save you thousands of dollars, and often does not compromise the quality of the location. It really does pay to know certain people!

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PC theweddingspecialists.net

2. Ways to Save Money on Catering

a) Plan your wedding around a lighter meal, such as brunch or lunch. Serving coffee, fruit salad, muffins, and deviled eggs for a light brunch is much more cost-effective than almost any dinner will be. Even a lunch of fruit, veggies, and tea sandwiches is cheaper than the dinner plates that most caterers will offer for evening meals. Including a brunch or lunch will change a wedding schedule around entirely though, and will only work if your vision includes a day wedding. 

b) Have a Potluck Wedding. This is more styled toward country weddings, or small church weddings where this kind of meal is common. It can certainly save a lot of money, though. 

c) Have the family provide the meal. This is similar to a potluck wedding, but it puts the provisional responsibility on the bride and groom's family members instead of on the guests. It is best suited for more intimate weddings, and is very convenient for weddings located at a house. 

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PC romanticdecorationnow.blogspot.com

3. Ways to Save Money on Guest Seating and Details

a) Move those chairs! When you have a ceremony as well as a sit-down dinner, you need twice the amount of chairs--unless you MOVE the ceremony chairs during the cocktail hour to the banquet hall! This can cut your chair bill IN HALF, and won't be noticed if your guests are distracted during cocktail hour.

b) If it is appropriate, consider paper napkins and plates, and plastic cutlery. Especially if your meal is potluck style, this won't be surprising or distasteful, and will save money the caterer or venue would otherwise charge for dish usage. It also eliminates the possibility of paying for damaged dishes, which is almost guaranteed to happen at least a couple of times at a wedding.  

c) Consider DIY wedding favors, such as cute baggies of Jordan almonds, prettily-packaged flower seeds with a reference to "growing love", tiny jars of homemade seasoned salt, infused olive oil, jam, or honey, servings of wedding cake, boxed truffles or bonbons, miniature s'mores kits, or homemade bath salts. Pinterest has about a million ideas!

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PC britishschoolalex.org

4. Ways to Save on Your Wedding Gown

a) Make your own wedding gown (if you know how to sew), or hire a friend or relative who knows how to sew. This gives you complete control over how you want it to look, but is a very time-consuming process. My mom did this, and saved plenty of money on the labor and alteration costs that she instead did herself. Fabric will be your largest cost--and it WILL cost something. But only a couple hundred dollars, as opposed to the thousand or so you'd pay otherwise.

b) Alter your wedding gown to fit you and your tastes. Whether it's your mother's gown or one you found at a thrift-shop, altering a gown allows you to keep the parts of it you love and jazz up the areas you're not so excited about. It's a money-saving, much less overwhelming process than creating a whole dress out of nothing but fabric yardage can be. 

c) Find a used wedding gown. Online stores such as www.preownedweddingdresses.com have dresses in all sizes, styles, and price-ranges that have been cherished by brides already, yet are still in tiptop condition. They are marked down considerably, and are a very lovely option that won't compromise your tastes at all. 

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PC portlandweddinglounge.com

5. Ways to Save Money on Entertainment

a) Replace a DJ with an iTunes playlist. You can make this yourself, hook it up to a speaker and have your wedding party members tweak it from time to time during the night. Have someone from the wedding party MC the evening instead of hiring a DJ to do this for you. 

b) Ask a friend who DJ's on the side to DJ as your wedding gift, or offer to pay him a fee. Be tactful about this, as you don't want to insult your friend or his side-business. If his business is too big, this might not be a good option. However, if he is a close friend and is invited to the wedding anyway, he may volunteer to DJ, or offer it as a wedding gift anyway. If you do pay an amature to do it, it is very likely that he won't charge commercial prices. 

 

No matter what your wedding budget is, at least a few of these fifteen suggestions can be applied to your wedding to free up money that can be put toward the most important details so that you get the day you've already imagined.

Have a money-saving tip of your own? Post a comment below!

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Battling the Budget Part 1: Bulky Wedding Expenses

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PC bettertogetherweddings.co.uk

When planning a wedding, money is often seen as the enemy; there just never seems to be enough of it! In today's wedding industry, $20k is generally shrugged at as merely a "doable" budget, and $10k is reacted to with disappointment and head-shaking. Today's weddings are expensive, but it is my firm belief that they don't have to be. 

Almost no other celebrations are allotted $10k-20k in expenditures, and any celebrations that are are sure by nearly anyone's standards to be incredible successes. Why is it that weddings seem to cost so much for so little in exchange? In this series, I will pinpoint the most expensive aspects of weddings, explain how they can be substituted with affordable alternatives, and highlight some useful wedding hacks that can save you money and make your wedding more personal at the same time. 

So let's get to those bulky wedding expenses! Here's one thing I'd like to mention about the expenses of weddings. A bride's outgoing wedding expenses are her vendors' paychecks. They deserve to charge their fees because that's how they make their living. The wedding industry is an incredibly big, lucrative business, but it's almost never a business's intention to take advantage of their client by charging much more than they are worth. Cupcakes a delicious morsels that can sometimes be gone in three bites, but they cost what they do (between $2-10 apiece) because they took money to create as well as time to mix, bake, decorate, and sometimes transport. That little cupcake is a labor of love--labor that deserves to be paid fairly for. 

As a budgeting specialist, I must clarify that I by no means am encouraging that vendors be taken advantage of for their services. Instead, I am recommending that the budgeting bride and groom engage with vendors for the most important details of the wedding, and the compensate for other services that are less important when the budget says "no". I am an expert at finding creative alternatives, not at conning vendors into providing products and services for next to nothing. 

That being said, let's get down to it: The most expensive aspects of today's wedding.

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PC partiesbyme.com

1. The Venue(s)

Whether it's a church or a 5 star hotel, venues have high prices, prices that directly correlate with the location, the event date, the time of day or night the event is being held, the length of the event, and how many services will be used. Typically, if your wedding's ceremony and reception are located at different venues, the cost will also increase.

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PC byrkristi.wordpress.com

2. Catering

Food gets expensive when you take into account that its preparation and service presentation also have steep price-tags--not to mention expected service tips! Knowing the guest-count is vital to nailing down the exact catering bill, and knowing that it will prove very challenging to adequately feed each guest on less than $12/head is key as you budget for the meal. At $12/head for 100 guests, you're already at $1200!

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PC weddinglocation.com

3. Guest Seating and Details

Chairs are often an extra charge if the venue does not provide them, or charges an extra fee for their use. Cost per chair ranges from $1.50-$10, and if your reception and ceremony are at different locations, sometimes you'll be buying two chairs per guest! Other details that come at a cost are things like table linens, glassware, and favors. 

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PC the weddingspecialists.net

4. The Wedding Gown

Finding the dream wedding gown at a "reasonable" price is THE task, and while possible, takes a lot of hunting, and possibly self-alteration. Expect to shell out at least $1,000 for your gown if you're shopping at regular wedding gown stores. 

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PC metrospectevents.com

5. Entertainment

Commercial DJ's, singers, bands, and other entertainment you may want to spice up your ceremony or reception charge hefty prices that should be planned for early on in your budget. Often, their charge includes their travel fees and equipment usage. Keep in mind that these sometimes "starving musicians" are trying to make a living with these prices, and their intention is not to empty your pockets.

Speaking of emptying pockets, weddings sure do it, don't they? Next week we will go over alternatives to these five expensive aspects of the wedding industry that will clue you in on how to save BIG time--without taking advantage of any vendors, and without compromising on the unique and beautiful ambiance of the wedding you're dreaming up. 

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What You Need To Know About Catering

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So you have 200 guests invited to your wedding, and you want to know what you need to know about feeding them. A sit-down restaurant is possible, but definitely a challenge with 200 guests. If you're going for catering, you have two options: pay someone to figure everything out for you, or save some bank by doing the proper food-sleuthing yourself.

Since I've been in the catering business myself, maybe I can help.

Calculate A Proper Costs Per Head

It's hard to imagine that $2,000 might not be enough to feed your crowd, but just think about it. 200 guests x $10. You can barely get a plate of food at a good restaurant for $10 as it is. At weddings, between $12-20 is commonly allotted per head. Get familiar with that term too, because your caterer will use it, and expect you to know that it simply means per person, and therefore per meal. There isn't really a way around this one. If you're looking to save money, consider a morning wedding where brunch is served--muffins, fruit, coffee, and lighter fare--that may cost considerably less. 

Here's the thing about costs per head though--it's not just the entree that costs money. A good slice of cake--including cupcakes--costs around $5 as a starting point. If you have a dessert table as well, this can rack up some serious bills, and needs to be taken into account in the budget early on. If you're serving drinks at your wedding, that's another cost--wine, beer, mixed drinks, bar-tending...even just coke or lemonade can add up, so keep that in mind. To save money here, consider bakery chains like Nothing Bundt Cakes who sell small bundtinis or their larger bundt cakes in tiers for much less than the average designer bakery. Maybe a dessert bar isn't necessary. Provide drink tickets in the invitations to your guests to indicate there is a limit to the free alcohol, and then provide a cash bar for after their tickets are used.

As a last detail, make sure you're budgeting for tableware, because chairs, linens, chargers, glassware, and silverware are going to cost money too. Saving money in this area may be easier than you think--pay for an all-inclusive venue that includes tableware, or find a catering company that provides tableware with their catering services.

Be Aware of Food in Season

When certain fruits are in season at the grocery store, they're always much cheaper to buy than fruits that are out of season. It works the same with catered foods. If your wedding is in the winter, do a bit of research and find foods that are specifically in season to make sure the fresh apricot sauce you want on all of your pork chops isn't going to be three times the price it would've been in spring. 

Be aware of Changing Food Prices

When I worked in catering, my boss complained all the time about how food prices fluctuate on a weekly basis. Remember last year when all of these chickens in California got sick and egg prices more than doubled in most grocery stores? That was a drastic price fluctuation, but stuff like that happens, and it's part of why many caterers have disclaimers saying things like "Food prices subject to change without notice." Be aware of this and leave some wiggle room in your food budget so you don't deal with any last-minute cost per head surprises. 

Know that Catering is Hard

When I catered, I had a really neat boss whose main theme in life seemed to be "recycle everything." Not only did this mean she saved a lot of money on food for herself and her clients, but it meant that we had to be creative with what food we prepared. I once watched my boss turn a half-demolished, stabbed-to-death Costco chocolate sheet-cake into a decadent chocolate bread-pudding that wowed everyone. One time we had to prepare tofu in a way that was gluten-free, dairy-free, Kosher-friendly, and vegetarian, and I remember fumbling through the kitchen pantry and finding gluten-free bread mix, and bringing it to my boss to use for binding the tofu. We rolled it into balls and fried it, and it was amazing. We had soooo much freedom, but we used that freedom to create food that perfectly suit our client's needs. Because we had that freedom to figure the details out ourselves, I believe we did a better job than we would've been able to do had our client micromanaged the process.

That said, when you hire a chef, hire someone you can really trust, and communicate to them exactly what you want, but then...give them the freedom to call some shots. Chances are they probably know food better than you, and can make things work out better than you could have planned anyway. 

Feel uncomfortable about this? Give your chef your vision, have him/her work their magic, and then ask to try the food beforehand. This will give you a concrete idea of then product you know you are purchasing, and it may clear up any misunderstandings long before they would become an issue. For example, some people's interpretation of "roasted" is someone else's "burnt" (*cough* roasted marshmallows *cough*).

Be Consistent With Your Order

When I catered, I remember feeling a constant awe when I watched a crowd of people demolish in forty-five minutes what took weeks to plan and days to prep. You order a salad for 200 people with all of the fixings julienne-cut delicately atop your fresh leafy greens? That's like 4 hours of washing, chopping, and packing for one person, and even more for plating if it's not a buffet.  

With that in mind, I want to be your chef's advocate--don't change your mind at the last minute on a really important detail. You decide you want caviar instead of scallions atop your clams two weeks before? Fine. But don't decide you want your chicken stuffed with ham and Swiss instead of marinated in teriyaki the day before your wedding. Your caterer may tell you he can do it, but he's saying that through gritted teeth and an incredible headache. Besides, last minute changes will cost you more money because the ingredients for the original plan have most-likely already been purchased, and may still be charged to you for inconvenience. 

 

Finding a caterer and creating a meal-plan can be stressful work, but by using the information from this post, hopefully the process smooths itself out a bit. If you're overwhelmed with the planning process, talk to a wedding or event planner such as myself; we are here to make things easy!

What are some of the issues or solutions you have come across during your catering experiences? Do you have any caterers you'd like to recommend? Comment away!

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