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Wedding catering is a major component to any wedding celebration, with food and drink accounting for a large part of the overall costs. Not surprisingly, it’s part of the wedding budget that can cause angst and uncertainty – after all, how often are any of us throwing a dinner for 50 or more guests? Fear not, dear Lazy Bride, as we have the answers you seek about all you need to know about wedding catering for your celebration.
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What Type of Meal
Before we look at wedding catering menus or think about passed apps, let’s figure out what type of meal we are talking about. Are you having a morning wedding? If so, a breakfast or brunch is going to be appropriate Mid-afternoon ceremony with a short reception sans dancing? Consider a late luncheon, a champagne & cake reception or a cocktail party. If you’re planning the full-on party with dancing, then dinner is necessary and expected.
What Kind of Food
Generally, try to avoid food that is difficult to eat, such as corn on the cob (no one wants to be trying to discreetly pick corn out of their teeth all night), ribs or spaghetti with tomato sauce, which has the uncanny ability to splatter no matter how careful you are. Crab legs are up there on the messy meter as well.
Try to avoid food with unusual ingredients or strong flavours as many guests likely won’t enjoy the meal. Surveys have shown a majority of people don’t like cilantro, beets, oysters, mushrooms, mayonnaise, fennel or liver so try to avoid making these foods the focal points in your meal. If you love oysters, consider having them as part of the passed apps or as a fresh oyster bar for the cocktail hour where people have other options rather than a starter at the meal.
For your main course, choose a couple of popular proteins, such as fish, chicken or steak. Keep in mind that not everyone eats fish or red meat so having options is important in order to ensure everyone can eat. People who have dietary restrictions, such as allergies or are vegans/vegetarians, should let you know when they RSVP so you can coordinate with the chef to have a special meal for them.
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Plated, Buffet, Stations?
What type of food service you chose for your wedding catering will depend on how formal you want the event (plated is the most formal) or how much food you want available. One thing to keep in mind is that buffet or food stations are not necessarily cheaper than plated dinners, especially if you’re working with a caterer.When planning for a buffet/stations, the chef has to imagine every guest is going to have every item available, thereby resulting in quite a bit of food to be put out since running out of food is the cardinal sin of buffets. Whereas a hotel can repurpose leftover food from a buffet, a caterer doesn’t have that ability. Due to health regulations, caterers are often unable to leave behind any leftovers, since they could be liable if the food isn’t properly stored.
A plated dinner, however, allows the kitchen to prepare for exactly the number of dishes chosen, so there is little waste, which is why a plated dinner is often less per person than a buffet or food stations.
There are pros and cons to every option, though…
Plated Pros – considered more formal/elegant. Little waste as every meal is accounted for. Eliminates wait times and need for guests to move to get their food. Allows for better conversation between guests as they are seated throughout.
Plated Cons – hosts need to handle coordination of protein choices from guests (although you could avoid by having a surf/turf main course with both fish and meat or chicken). Food allergies/restrictions have to be handled individually. Requires a seating plan and assigned seats to ensure smooth dinner service. Guests with larger appetites might not have enough food. More wait staff required (1 to 2 waiters per table of 10 people).
Buffet/Food Station Pros – more informal, relaxed. Plenty of food for all sized appetites and options for all palates. Hosts needn’t worry about meal choices. Less waitstaff required (1 waiter per 25 guests).
Food Station Cons – can be more costly. Usually a fair amount of food wastage. If guests are helping themselves instead of being served, they can run through larger amounts of food (that often ends up sitting on their plates as their eye were bigger than their stomachs).Guests need to move around and negotiate tables/chairs to and from the food while carrying plates of food. Very large weddings could require more than one buffet set up, as one line, with guests on either side, can accommodate 100 people within 30 – 40 minutes. More guests require more buffet line set ups to the point where the reception site might not be able to accommodate 3 or more buffet lines, tables, chairs and dancing comfortably.
One option could be a hybrid of plated and buffet where the starter (ie a salad) is already pre-set so guests only need to collect the main course and sides from the buffet.
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Cocktail hour is usually accompanied with some canapes or passed appetizers to help take the edge of guests’ hunger and to help slow down the effects of alcohol. Hors dóeuvres, from the French meaning “outside of the work”, should offer a completely different flavour experience than what the main meal will be presenting. For example, if the dinner has chicken, steak and tomatoes, the passed apps should try to avoid those components. These bite-sized morsels are a budget-friendly opportunity to feature deluxe ingredients, like crab or lobster, for a fraction of the price of having them as the main course. Guests still have the “big ticket” taste without breaking your bank account.
When creating your passed app menu, try to have a variety that appeals to everyone – some hot, some cold items, some vegetarian, some with fish or seafood, some with other proteins. Stations with dips or other items can be included while roving waiters should offer up the rest to ensure guests can remain stationery. Food should be easily eaten in one or two bites, ideally with one hand so guests can hold a drink in the other.
How many do you need? When cocktail hour is 30 – 60 minutes before dinner, 2-4 pieces per person is sufficient. If up to 2 hours prior to dinner, 5-6 pieces per person. If dinner is 2 – 4 hours away, then up to 8-10 pieces per person while opting for a heavy hors dóeuvres party where the appies will replace the meal, plan on 12-15 pieces per person. Plan on 1 waiter per 25 people.
If you’re serving wedding cake or having a dessert bar, you could skip dessert being served with the meal. Not only will doing so save food waste from guests not eating everything but will save you a few dollars per guest.
Questions to Ask Your Caterer
If your venue does not include food and beverage, interview two or three caterers in order to find one that you like and fits with both your vision and your budget. To help you out, I’ve put together these questions into a PDF file that you can download and print off to keep notes during your meeting with each caterer. Even if your venue has their own food and beverage, it’s a good idea to ask them the same questions so you are all on the same page and there are no unpleasant surprises on your wedding day!
- Do you have my date available?
- Have you worked at my location before? Tip if you’ve booked the location first, ask them for their list of preferred caterers. If you haven’t chosen a location yet, ask the caterer for venue suggestions.
- How long have you been in business? How many events do you typically do a weekend?
- Are you licensed?
- Do you specialize in a particular cuisine?
- Are you able to handle special menus ie kosher, Halal, vegan, gluten-free?
- Do you use fresh ingredients? What about organic?
- Do you have preset menus or can you accommodate requests?
- Are there any permits needed for my wedding? If so, will you handle them or is it our (the couple’s) responsibility?
- Will you have a banquet manager or on-site coordinator to oversee the food service?
- Are you able to handle any other aspects of the wedding (ie rentals, specialty lighting)?
- How will you decorate the appetizer station (if having)? The buffet tables (if having)? Do you have photos from past events?
- Do you include tables, chairs, linens, glassware, tableware? If so, do you have photos of what is included?
- Do you offer any speciality upgrades, such as ice sculptures, cappuccino machines, chocolate fountains?
- Given the wedding size, theme and budget, what type of food service would you recommend?
- How much are your appetizer packages usually? Passed vs stationery apps? Plated meals? Buffets? Do you offer any action stations for buffets (ie carving stations) and if so, pricing?
- How much are children’s meals?
- How much are vendor meals?
- Do you make wedding cakes? If so, pricing? Photos of past work?
- If not, do you charge a cutting fee for outside cake vendors?
- Do you provide food tastings? If so, pricing?
- What happens with any left over food at the end of the wedding?
- What is covered in your clean up?
- Are you able to handle the bar as well?
- Can we bring in our own alcohol and your team serves it? Is there a corkage fee?
- If you provide the alcohol, what brands do you serve?
- How do you charge for the bar – flat per person fee or based on consumption? Pricing?
- What brands of wine will you serve?
- Is wine included with dinner and will your staff serve tableside?
- Is a champagne/sparkling wine toast for dinner included? Pricing?
- How long will you serve alcohol for?
- Are tea and coffee included with the meal fee? Do you offer herbal teas and decaf?
- What will be the servers/bartenders per guest ratio?
- How will the front of house staff be dressed?
- Are service charges and taxes included or separate line items? What fees are charged? Are there any additional fees that may not be included in the proposal that we need to be aware of?
- What time does service end? If we run overtime, what are the fees?
- How much time do you need for set up on the day? Break down?
- Is there any special equipment you need or have to rent in order to execute our wedding? If so, is there an additional fee?
- When is the cut-off date for final guest counts?
- What is your payment policy?
- How much of a deposit do you require to secure booking? When is final payment due?
- How long does it take to receive your contract? If we make any changes to the menu choices, etc. how long will it take for a revised copy?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- Is there a second in command in case anything happens to the chef/manager of our event?
- Can you please provide us with recent client references?
And there you have it – a complete list of questions to make sure no catering question is left unasked. Check out the link below to download your free PDF to print off and take along to your catering meetings.