What You Need to Know about How to Hire a Wedding Caterer

Let’s hear it for the people who make the food happen

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how to hire a wedding caterer

Here is the thing about weddings these days: in most cases you have to serve food. And that often means hiring a wedding caterer. And that often means… money. Because as it turns out, feeding a whole lot of people a meal, or something close to it, isn’t cheap. (I know, I personally had a meltdown over this very issue when planning my own wedding, so if you’re feeling the stress that’s okay.)

So, since I’ve done zillions of hours of research on wedding caterers and general wedding planning in the years since my own wedding (see in particular, that super detailed book I wrote about wedding planning), I’m here to walk you through all of your wedding catering questions.

Ways to Cater A wedding

While this article is going to go into depth on the more traditional wedding caterer, first let’s take a peek at the whole slew of wedding food-service options available to you. They vary widely in investment of time and funds—but different things work for different weddings (and people).

  • The full-service wedding caterer: We’ll discuss this further below, but a full service caterer doesn’t just serve good food, they also take a ton of the work of the logistics of party planning off your (proverbial) plate.
  • The traditional wedding caterer serving less-traditional food: Remember, traditional caterers don’t just have to do steak and dry chicken. You can hire full-service pros and have them make tacos, or piles of appetizers, or whatever you’re into.
  • The restaurant wedding: While we often see restaurant weddings hosted in super fancy (and expensive) establishments, the reality is that you can host your wedding reception in any restaurant that will agree to have you. If the location isn’t used to doing weddings, this might take a little extra planning and work on their end to feed a whole lot of people at exactly the same time, but you won’t have to worry about the food being good.
  • The food truck wedding: Hire professionals to roll up in their kitchen and make delicious food. Food trucks can serve your guests right from the truck counter, or function more like portable commercial kitchens. Either way, the logistics (and tables) are on you.
  • The potluck wedding: You’ll know it if you’re surrounded by the kind of people who do potlucks, and if you are, go for it. Just remember that tables, chairs, cutlery, and clean up will be managed by your loved ones. (More details on how to make that happen here, and a great New York Times article for additional research.)
  • The self-catered wedding: The real deal. The whole enchilada. Not for the faint of heart (or the non-cook).

Hiring a traditional wedding caterer

Okay! So you’ve decided to go the tried-and-true traditional wedding caterer route. You don’t want to procrastinate finding a wedding caterer, but you shouldn’t attempt to book one until you’ve come up with a rough guest count, booked a venue (and set a date, duh), and have decided on a general budget for food. Once you’ve checked those boxes, get Googling, researching, and talking to friends and family. Also check with your venue to see if they have a preferred (read: required) list of caterers they allow you to work with.

Unlike many other types of vendors, there are likely going to be a limited number of wedding caterers in your area in your price range (and that applies to all price ranges, from high to low). Once you figure out who they are, you’ll want to narrow it down to those you’re interested in. Then—assuming you have more than one choice—contact them to get a rough price quote and set up a tasting. With many wedding vendors, it’s easy to get a feel for their portfolios through online research. But all the photos in the world aren’t going to tell you how food tastes… or if it was served on time.

What To Ask Wedding Caterers

Alyssa Griffith of Rose Gold Events suggests that you think about these questions when meeting with wedding caterers:

  1. Do you like the food?
  2. Is the catering manager competent?
  3. Does the catering staff seem like they’ll work to meet your needs on your wedding day?
  4. Is the chef who cooked for your tasting the same person who will cook for your wedding?
  5. Do they offer cakes? And if you prefer, can you provide your own cakes?
  6. Can you provide your own alcohol? (And if you can, will they serve it? Would they cover that under their insurance?)
  7. Are there additional fees, such as cake cutting, corkage, or service charges?
  8. Are they a true full-service wedding caterer? (Do they do bar, rentals, lighting, setup, teardown, cleanup, etc.?)
  9. What is their backup plan if a chef gets sick, or there is another crisis?
  10. Will they give you references of recent couples they’ve worked with?

Different Ways To Think About The Meal

A good wedding caterer should be able to prepare many kinds of tasty food, from a Middle Eastern spread to a pancake breakfast. Less traditional food choices can be delicious, and they also offer the potential benefit of cost saving. The farther you steer away from pricey protein options (like the admittedly delicious steak and lobster), the more you can bring prices down. Although any wedding caterer can and should walk you through a range of food and service options, here are the basic variations. Make sure you talk to your wedding caterer about comparative costs, including rentals, service, and food for any options you’re interested in:

  • Seated meal: This is thought of as the most traditional wedding option, and it can also be the most expensive. Because of that, a generation or two ago it was reserved only for weddings of the very wealthy—by which I mean, if you have to skip it, don’t feel bad for a second. While besuited waiters bring a certain charm to your event, they also greatly increase your staffing costs.
  • Family-style meal: The family-style meal involves large platters of food being served to each table and passed around, just like you would do at a holiday dinner. All told, this is often cheaper than a meal served by waiters, but it can be more expensive than a buffet. You’ll still need a decent number of servers to make this happen, and you’ll need more food.
  • Buffet meal: This can be the most affordable service option for serving a full meal. You still need a buffet to be staffed—someone needs to tidy it up and refresh the food as it runs out—but your staff-to-guests ratio is much lower. That said, your food costs could be higher (because nobody likes an empty-looking buffet), so talk to your wedding caterer to figure out what service option will ultimately be the most cost effective. If your wedding is large, make sure you have a good plan for crowd control. You’ll generally need one buffet line minimum per one hundred people.
  • Brunch or lunch: Although morning weddings can be cost effective in a variety of ways, the lunch or brunch meal doesn’t always save you the fortune that is sometimes promised. Lunch lets you skip the aforementioned lobster with fewer people noticing, and it will definitely lower your alcohol bill. But the food alone won’t tend to save you enough to justify moving your wedding to earlier in the day.
  • Heavy appetizers/Cocktail Hour: Here, you skip the expensive main courses, skip the pricey servers, and go hog wild on what are essentially snacks. Just make sure you have enough food to really fill people up (particularly if you’re also going to booze them up) and let the mixing and mingling begin. (Much more on cocktail receptions here.)

Wedding Caterers Don’t Just Cook The Food

Keep in mind that a full-service wedding caterer also does a ton of things you may not realize. They don’t just cook, they also generally set up your tables and chairs, often coordinate your rentals, provide the waitstaff (and often bartenders), serve the food on time, clean up the dining area and kitchen, pack up leftovers, and take away the garbage. When you’re calculating the price of traditional catering versus less traditional options, make sure you remember that a wedding caterer’s bill includes a ton of things that you’ll have to pay for on your own if you go a more DIY route. On that note, you want to make sure you’re hiring someone who will do all those tasks skillfully and on time.

did you hire a wedding caterer? what kind of wedding caterer did you have—or what worked if you put yourself in charge of catering?

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  • Lisa

    A sub-bullet under #3 of What to Ask Wedding Caterers: are they good at communication and responding in a timely manner? I eliminated several vendors during our own search because they didn’t get back in touch with me or took several days to reply. If I’m planning to hand over $$$$ to a vendor to provide a service, how they go about providing that service is right below the actual product in terms of importance. You’re already going to be stressing over many of the other wedding details; don’t make worrying about whether your caterer is checking her e-mail or will ever get back to you one of those concerns.

    • Jane

      YES! There were only a few potential caterers in our price range and we are getting married at a super popular time in our city, so I was really worried about not booking an affordable caterer in time.

      I had a potential caterer respond immediately to my inquiry email and then take more than 8 WEEKS to get me a proposed budget. And every couple weeks I would send him an email, like, hey, what’s going on, to which he would PROMISE to send a budget in the next few days. I kept giving him chances because he was on my venue’s preferred caterers list and had a lot of other things going for him.
      After about 2 months I moved on and wrote a Yelp review explaining my communication frustrations – and of course – that prompted him to be suuuper communicative and apologetic. But it was way too late. Also, because we rely so much on reviews to know how a vender operates, I felt like it was important to have the review up so that if any other couples got the run around they would not waste as much time as I had.
      Now we are having awesome, responsive caterers who are not on our venue’s preferred list but have done tons of weddings at our venue and are women of color cooking food from their background. So, happy ending.

    • LazyMountain

      Extra points if they actually hit “reply all” in their correspondences! Biggest pet peeve with vendors ever.

    • It has really surprised me how many vendors (caterers and otherwise) who just don’t ever respond. Like how are you running a business?!

      • Lisa

        Exactly! I’ve just contacted you about spending hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars! Are you really in the business of turning that kind of money away? Even if you’re unavailable, it’s better to say so so that I might consider using you for another event in the future. (Yes, many people only have one wedding, but there are lots of other people who plan corporate functions, family reunions, or recommend vendors they liked/considered to other family, friends, co-workers, and internet strangers.)

  • Amy March

    Depending on the kinds of venues you use, you may need to pay a deposit before tasting. Many large venues around here only work with one caterer, and they don’t offer pre-contract tastings. Instead you do a tasting a month or two before the event to set a menu.

    • Lisa

      Yes, that was what we found while planning our Chicago wedding. Since the food was so important to us and caterers wouldn’t do tastings until we’d signed a contract, this ultimately led us to go the restaurant buy-out route. With restaurants, we could set up a meeting with the event staff, do a walk-through of the venue, and then usually we’d get a percentage off a meal or some free drinks if we stayed to eat there afterwards. We used this to have a series of fancy date nights so we could sample the food at our top choice venues before making our final decision.

      • Her Lindsayship

        Yep. We emailed with a few caterers but I’m so glad we ended up going the restaurant route. (Well, I’m still pre-wedding, so we’ll see if that feeling remains after the event!)

        For one thing, even though we didn’t do our official tasting until about three months out, we were able to try a lot of their food before that, and they’ve been very open to modifying anything in their menu. But what really sold us in the beginning is that they were so much more transparent than caterers from the start. It seemed like we had to go back and forth with each caterer a few times before we could even get a ballpark out of them, forget being able to check prices online. They were also more expensive across the board. Restaurant weddings ftw!

        • idkmybffjill

          Restaurant weddings foreverrrrrrrr. I will never not shout this from the rooftops.

    • Laura C

      We were allowed to do a pre-contract tasting, but they were really surprised we would want to. I was like “I am not committing to pay you $40,000 without knowing if the food is good.” Luckily, it was, because it was by far the best venue option.

      Unrelated, we did the non-traditional food option mentioned — we had a taco bar and an Indian buffet. Considered a mashed potato bar but decided tacos were better for an outdoor summer wedding.

      • idkmybffjill

        Yummmmmmm a mashed potato bar in fall or winter though. Nommmm forever.

    • Yeah that was our experience with our caterer & venue. In our case, we already knew the food was good so we weren’t worried about that part, we just wanted to pick a menu.

  • One other thing to consider when hiring a caterer: What kind of venues and types of service do they have experience with? If they’re used to doing seated dinners at banquet halls and you’re doing a buffet on a farm, ask how comfortable they’d be with that different style of meal and location, especially if it’s not equipped with the full-size kitchen they’d be used to having at their disposal. When we were choosing our caterer (shout out to Ball N Biscuit in Milwaukee, WI) one thing that really sealed the deal for us was that they had experience serving at our exact venue. That made us feel very confident about hiring them.

    • sofar

      OMG I got married in Milwaukee, and Ball N Biscuit was our dream caterer. But they weren’t on our venue’s list, so we went with another company.

      But the stuff they make is so unique and delicious. In my fictional dream wedding, Ball N Biscuit totally catered, though.

    • Alexis

      Oh, I’ve been worrying about this! Our venue doesn’t have a kitchen. I keep thinking the food will be cold or someone will get food poisoning. The caterer says they will be completely fine with their coolers/heaters/barbecues, especially for a small wedding, but something about the lack of kitchen is bothering me. I’m wondering if we should change the venue, but it’s sentimental and we don’t have a lot of options in town. People use venues without kitchens all the time, and it’s fine, right?

      • If they’re a reputable caterer, I think it’s safe to trust them when they say they can manage with their coolers/heaters/barbecues.

        • Alexis

          Yeah you’re right! I think I’m just picturing it in terms of what I could pull off, not what a reputable caterer can. Thanks!

      • Lisa

        I order a lot of catering for work, and I can assure you that it is still possible to have hot food without a dedicated kitchen on-site. I frequently order for 40-60 people, and I’ve rarely had issues with food being too cold. Good caterers have specialty containers that they use to transport the food, and they’ll set up chafing dishes upon arrival that will keep food warm for at least 30-60 minutes after it’s removed from the travel containers.

      • Ashlah

        Yep, it’ll be fine! Our food was kept warm/cold at a park. If they’re experienced caterers, they have the tools and experience to keep food at the right temperature.

      • Eve

        Don’t worry about it. I said somewhere upthread that I work at a hotel restaurant that does catering, both on- and offsite, and they either plate everything in the kitchen and load the plates into hot boxes or pack it right into the hot boxes to go into a buffet. And the hot boxes are amazing things, don’t underestimate them.

  • emilyg25

    We hired a local butcher/BBQ place for a pig roast. (I found it by googling “pig roast [location].” They rolled up with a truck with a roasted pig and all the sides, two staff people, buffet tables with linens, serving equipment and paper products. We provided tables and chairs for guests, pop up tent to cover the food, beverages and dessert. It was perfect for us because the food was taken care of very professionally, but we had the flexibility to provide our own liquor and cake, saving a ton of money. This is one benefit of getting married in a raw space. And because they have a storefront, we go get our wedding meal every anniversary. :)

    • We’re doing a pig roast too!

      • Lisa

        All of the pig roast weddings are making me nostalgic! A couple of my mom’s siblings are hog farmers, and we used to have a roast every summer at our family reunion. I love the idea of having something similar at a wedding!

        • Anna

          Fiance’s parents are doing a pig roast for our rehearsal dinner :D (Well, rather, they’re having it catered by a BBQ place that’s bringing a whole roast pig. Not quite the same thing, but the same delicious pig, which I think is the most important part haha)

  • CMT

    I’m so glad you included potluck weddings as a legit option. I happen to be from a small town where that is very much A Thing. When my best friends got married and I made their invitations, I searched and searched for examples of good wording. All I found on the internet were people yelling that if you had a potluck wedding, you were obviously the most terrible person in the whole world.

    • emilyg25

      I’m typically a stickler for etiquette, but I really love potluck weddings. I guess if it was a really fancy shindig and you asked me to bring food, I’d be miffed, but the ones I’ve been to have been super chill little parties in someone’s backyard.

  • sofar

    One thing I’ve noticed is that, with a buffet, you MAY want to fudge the numbers if you know your family is the type to load up their plates.

    I’ve been at more than enough buffet weddings to know that, if you’re one of the last tables, a few dishes will be gone. At my friends’ recent wedding, they ran out of every, single main course just over HALF WAY through the guests. The couple then had to argue with the caterer for months afterwards to get a significant refund. The caterer kept arguing that their guests “ate more than expected.”

    Maybe look at the Yelp reviews of the caterers you’re considering. If others have complained about food shortages, but you REALLY like that caterer’s food, maybe add some “extra” non-existent guests above your actual headcount.

    For my buffet wedding, we worked with a caterer our family had worked with in the past (for big, giant Irish/Italian weddings), and we knew from experience they wouldn’t run out of food. Their advertised philosophy is, “Our food is great. We ASSUME people will go up for seconds and we bring enough food for everyone to do that.”

    • Katharine Parker

      I thought caterers always plan for people to overserve themselves at buffets! That extra food is why the buffet is often as expensive as a plated dinner.

      I would be mortified if I were the bride and that happened at my wedding. Those poor, hungry guests.

      • sofar

        Yeah, I felt really bad for the couple. And the wedding was in the middle of nowhere so people couldn’t just drive to a restaurant and pizza delivery wasn’t do-able. Luckily, their dessert provider was amazing and so people at least had a donut buffet.

        Afterward they looked at the caterer’s Yelp reviews, and, turns out, they run out of food a LOT. And they’re a BBQ caterer! Surprised they haven’t been run out of Texas by now.

  • Ashlah

    I’m curious about something! What’s the deal with leftovers when you pay for catering? We had an acquaintance do a BBQ buffet for our wedding, not a professional company. He had done catering in the past, and we did have a very basic contract, but we didn’t think to discuss leftover food. I know there was a ton of food leftover, and I’ve always been sliiiightly butthurt about how much food we paid for that he took home with him. Like I said, it’s our bad for not considering it and asking about it, but I’m left wondering if maybe that’s actually normal. Like, when I really think about it, I’m not sure I would have expected to get any of the leftover food from a professional caterer/restaurant. I guess maybe it just felt more like we paid directly for the food in this scenario.

    • HarrietVane

      Whenever my parents host a cocktail or dinner party (from a super fancy catering company), they always get left all of the leftovers. If you paid for it, it’s yours! Obviously I don’t think you should bring it up with him now, but that’s how I’ve always experienced it.

      • Ashlah

        Oh yeah, it would be pretty weird to mention it 2.5 years later :) Just always something I’ve wondered about!

    • Catherine McK

      We had a fancy backyard BBQ wedding and specifically requested the leftovers. We had to sign a release about food safety (I think that was why? Just remember signing) and provide our own containers. But we enjoyed BBQ in our freezer for months.

      • Ashlah

        Ah, this is exactly what I wish we’d done! Hindsight and all that…

    • Amy March

      I think it’s typical for the caterer to keep any leftovers (if you haven’t discussed it), and it makes sense to me. If I pay you $100 per person to feed 100 people, that’s all I get. You have to make sure to have enough food, which probably entails some level of overage. But to the extent you bring more food than you need to fulfil those duties, I don’t own that food as well. If you bought a whole hog, I can imagine it going differently.

      • Ashlah

        I suppose it makes sense to look at it that way. It’s not that we paid for THIS FOOD, it’s that we paid for a guarantee that he had enough food for the number of guests we had. Thanks!

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        This reasoning sounds like it would come in handy in the situation @disqus_NSPCIO6X7g:disqus mentioned elsewhere, where a buffet ran out of food. You paid for the caterer to feed X number of people, and part of *their* job was anticipating how much food that would take, so if they failed to do that correctly, it’s on them.

    • emilyg25

      It depends on the caterer and your state/local laws. Some have to (or think they have to) take leftovers away for food safety reasons. Definitely something to ask about or negotiate up front.

    • nikkster627

      When I worked for a catering company in San Luis Obispo County, CA the couple were usually packed up a generous to-go box of every dish and whatever was left after that the staff got to take at the end of the night. If I recall correctly, staff meals (important if you want good service over an 8-10 hour shift) were also included in the estimated food costs. As much as you want to get what you pay for, I imagine that too many leftovers isn’t very useful to the couple who is going to leave on a honeymoon soon after.

      • Ashlah

        True! We probably wouldn’t have been able to take all of it. But a to-go box of a meal or two would have been awesome!

      • Lawyer_Chef

        I think this is what happened at our wedding – we got a box with about 1-2 meals’ worth of food from the buffet, plus all of the leftover cake, and the caterers took the rest of the leftovers home with them.

      • Eve

        Yeah, I work in a hotel restaurant that hosts a lot of events on the property, and while I don’t think the banquet staff would bat an eye at making some boxes for people who asked (or the married couple), when it comes off the buffet it’s open for all the hotel staff to eat.

    • Bethany

      We had a BBQ restaurant cater our wedding and we got to take all the leftovers home. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest, but I was so glad! There was a TON of food left and I know the caterers would have just thrown it away. My mom spent the next afternoon portioning everything down into small containers and we ended up freezing a lot of it for later.

    • Rose

      Our caterer left the leftovers with us. I’m not sure how strong of a statement that is about professional norms, though, since she turned out to be quite weird and not very professional.

    • Katherine

      Not only did our caterers send us with leftovers, they made us customized “his and hers” to-go boxes based on our dietary restrictions. The food remains one of my favorite parts of our wedding, both for its quality and for the excellent service provided by our caterers.

    • idkmybffjill

      Oh man, I didn’t even think of this. Although honestly I’d have been SUPER annoyed if we’d had to think about what to do with leftovers before we left on our honeymoon.

    • Greta

      I’ve seen it done multiple ways, but definitely think about the containers! One wedding I was helping to coordinate we had a TON of food left over to take home and no-containers to do so in. Someone had to go out and buy a bunch of containers last minute so we could take stuff home with us. At my wedding, which was at an environmental education center, they keep all the extra food and feed it to the staff and grad students that live there. I lived there as a grad student for a year and loved whenever we got to eat wedding leftovers so I was happy to pay it forward.

      • Ashlah

        We ended up throwing out a bunch of cupcakes at the end of our wedding for exactly this reason! It made me so sad, especially because they were made by relatives. I shoved two more down my gullet before we left to offset the travesty, but it was such a bummer to toss them at the end of the night (we were at a park, so there was no staff to leave them for). Based on that experience, I provided to-go bags for the cupcakes at my sister’s wedding, and I proceeded to harass anyone I saw leaving to take a couple cupcakes with them. It was perfect.

    • Kelly

      We had a catered buffet for our wedding and our caterers were totally ok with us providing our own to-go boxes. We bought a sleeve of small takout boxes from Cash and Carry and had them set them out once the food line died down. When we cut the cake we gave an announcement that to-go boxes were available for leftovers and cake.

    • Katie

      A friend of mine worked with a caterer specifically because they donated leftover food to a local soup kitchen or shelter (can’t quite remember which). I thought that was a great use of extra food! I hate food waste, so to know that it was going to go somewhere where it would be eaten and appreciated was awesome.

    • sofar

      From what I can tell, if you hire a restaurant, they’ll often leave you the leftovers, but Event Caterers will not.

      Anyway, my in-laws cater weddings with Indian and Turkish food restaurants all the time, and the family gets to keep the left-overs (which is actually kind of a pain since everyone has to stay 2 hours after the event to pack it up). Meanwhile, every single event caterer I looked at for my wedding had it written into their contracts that you do NOT get to keep the leftovers.

      Anyway, I totally think you should have gotten to keep the food because you paid for X amount of food, not per head.

  • Katelyn

    I’ve actually found quotes for buffets to be roughly the same or even more expensive than plated in Chicago. I’m nearly positive it has to do with them preparing more food to ensure everyone gets fed.

    We are planning to have our wedding catered family-style by an Italian restaurant – they do in-house banquets as well. I’ve also seen barbecue and Mexican restaurants (taco bar!) offer the same. Another route to look into in the “less traditional” category – especially if you know you want a particular cuisine!

  • emilyg25

    Oh, and I wasn’t crazy enough to cater my own wedding, but I did make my own wedding cake. It’s actually much easier than you might think–it’s easy to break into steps in advance.

    • Alli

      My mother and I made around 200 cupcakes for my cousin’s wedding. It wasn’t too bad considering neither of us is great at decorating (we cheated by throwing candies and fake flowers on top of our crappy icing jobs)

    • Mad props to you for doing it! I was really tempted to do this and ended up just deciding it would be too much work and we didn’t have enough space in our tiny apartment freezer to make it happen. But I feel a little sad that I didn’t make it happen and hope someday I can do someone else’s wedding cake.

  • LazyMountain

    We actually have hired a personal chef who can scale up her services to wedding size- she ended up being the most affordable with the most personalized services. It also helps that she is local to our remote venue and isn’t charging a travel fee- just one more thing to keep in mind!
    Couple of advice notes we realized during our catering search process:
    1. If you are bringing in an outside caterer to a venue and they haven’t been there before, invite them to your venue visit (if you get to have one between booking the place and when you show up to get hitched). Ours had so many legit questions we would have never thought to ask and it really helped nail down the flow of the meal and equipment that needed to be rented.
    2. When getting quotes, be sure that you get those service fees and taxes explained. We had multiple city vendors who had reasonable quotes but then listed outrageous service fees that didn’t add up. They also taxed us the incorrect percentage- turns out you tax based on the county you serve the food in, not the one the caterer is based in- at least in my state. If your bill is several thousand dollars this adds up. Needless to say we didn’t hire these guys and learned a lot about our local regulations in the process!

  • Alli

    Does anyone have resources on self catering (preferably ones that have a really big flashing warning that sometimes it’s better to leave it to the professionals)? My cousin just got engaged and her guest list is 200 people and she and her mom want to self cater it. Part of me is like “I will totally help you! And my dad will too! Let’s do this!” and then part of me is terrified that all 200 people will die of food poisoning.

    • CMT

      I vaguely remember there being a series about this on Apartment Therapy/The Kitchn a few years ago.

      • CMT

        Here’s one of the posts. There doesn’t seem to be one page that links to all of them, but I think there more or less cross-linked to each other. http://www.thekitchn.com/a-diy-wedding-reception-for-200-the-party-plan-gatherings-from-the-kitchn-204865

        • lamarsh
          • Alli

            Thank you! Sent that her way. To be honest, this series makes me kind of excited at the possibility of catering! Lol but I’m happy to let my caterer handle it at mine.

          • lamarsh

            I love cooking for big family events and have very fond memories of cooking with my mom and aunts for my and my brother’s graduation parties, Easters, etc., but a wedding is just way too high pressure of a situation for me. That being said, I loved reading these articles too. Good luck!

          • Lisa

            It makes me think of all the grandmas/mothers who are always the family seamstress or baker but can’t handle the pressure of a wedding. I know a couple of brides whose family members initially offered to make the wedding dress and backed out a couple of months later because the stakes felt too high.

          • gonzalesbeach
    • Katharine Parker

      Have they ever thrown a 200 person party before? Or any large parties? I would be concerned if the wedding is the first event of that magnitude they’ve ever done.

      That said, didn’t Liz self-cater her dessert wedding? I think there are some posts on here about doing it.

      • Alli

        I’m honestly not sure. Our families are huge, and we regularly throw large barbecues, but nothing like 200 people.

        She also thinks this whole thing is going to be less than $7000 for the whole wedding. I laughed internally, and then cried internally because I remember thinking I could do my wedding for $10,000.

        • Katharine Parker

          Catering for 200 people is daunting. That is just so much food! And so much set-up and clean-up (even making it as simple as possible). Also a 7k budget for 200 people is ambitious.

          I wouldn’t be as worried about food poisoning as I would be that there wouldn’t be enough food or that nothing would be ready on time. If you do want to help her, I’d start with figuring out how a timeline for cooking and an estimate of how much food you’ll need, along with rentals, setup, cleanup, serving, etc. Good luck!

          • Lisa

            To me, the concern would be that the stakes are a lot higher for a wedding than a family reunion barbecue. How perfect is the bride expecting something like this to be? What happens if she decides not to hire professional servers and her family doesn’t live up to her expectations? In some families, it wouldn’t matter, but in others, I can quickly see the MOB/FOB turning on their siblings or nieces and nephews for ruining the bride’s day.

          • Alli

            This cousin is very chill, she wants a really laid back party and I think she thinks self catering is less stuffy and by some extension of that thought, less stressful. However, I could see our family straight up revolting if the food runs out quickly lol.

          • Lisa

            Ha, yes, making sure there is enough food is of the utmost importance!

            Other relatively cheap options that don’t include your family making/serving food would be to get delivery from a local restaurant or to hire a food truck. If she’s cool with cold foods (see: my parents’ wedding elsewhere on the thread), you could do this pretty easily with sandwiches and fruit and veggie trays. Once you get beyond that, there’s going to be a decent time/money investment. (Especially the time of coordinating everyone who is making the food in the days prior to the wedding.)

          • Laura C

            She could also do a mixture. Get a couple big trays of a main dish from a local restaurant or catering company and self-cater sides and desserts. Or the reverse if she has a main she is confident she can do in quantity.

          • Lisa

            Also drinks are really easy to do on your own if you’re willing to leave them unattended/don’t need a bartender. It’s a way to keep catering costs down without much effort. (At my office, we frequently buy pop/water bottles from a local grocery store and serve those with catered meals instead of paying the caterers to provide them. It cuts the price in half at least.)

          • emilyg25

            “less stressful”

            hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

            There are a lot of professional caterers who are cool and inexpensive and not stuffy. I hired some myself!

          • idkmybffjill

            How long has she been engaged? I think sometimes it takes a minute to realize that less money does not equal less stress. In fact, it often works the other way!

      • SLG

        I think this is also a Know Your People thing. I’ve been part of a couple of churches where the culture was that everyone pitches in on a wedding, so we all got pretty good at fixing & serving large amounts of food (or setting up chairs, or doing large amounts of dishes, or what have you). So it’s certainly doable, but easier if you have like 20 people to help instead of 2.

    • Ashlah

      I went to a wedding where the couple and their family cooked and froze lasagna over the course of months, but then they hired staff to heat and serve the food and bus the tables. Maybe you could suggest a compromise of that sort? (Caveat: I have no idea what the cost was like to do this). 200 people is a lot to self-cater!

      • Laura C

        My MIL hired a couple people to do basically that for a two-days-before-the-wedding dinner she self-catered for about 40 family members and then also for our 110-person rehearsal dinner, for which we had a restaurant drop off food (we had rented chafing dishes to put it in) and then we self-catered dessert. I think she may have found the people through a local university’s hiring board?

        My potluck game is strong, but I’d really hesitate to do 200 people without it being a major group effort (wasn’t there a great post here sometime about a potluck wedding?) plus hiring a couple people to wrangle stuff during the event itself. I think the cooking and freezing lasagna for months idea is a great one. I might also get a bunch of the largest slow-cookers I could find and do slow-cooker dishes — you could do like pulled pork, mac and cheese, then have a giant thing of slaw or another cold salad…

        But yeah. That’s a lot of people.

        • Lisa

          The one I always think of is this wedding. There’s a how we did it here. It’s definitely one of the most memorable weddings I’ve seen here!

          • Laura C

            Yes! That one!

    • Her Lindsayship

      It’s possible to do something like this if you let go of the notion that it will be a Big Fancy Wedding-level meal. One of my cousins who had a huge wedding did “self-catering” in the sense that they and a few family members put together trays of little sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and veggie platters. It wasn’t dinner, but I think the wedding ended up costing $10k for something like 300 guests. Although now that I think of it, they also had no booze and no DJ/band, so depending on your cousin’s expectations, that budget is pretty unlikely!

      • Lisa

        That sounds like my parents’ wedding! My mom, grandma, aunts, and some of the church ladies put together sandwiches and salads the day before, and the church ladies got everything set up in the church’s social hall. Catering can be very easy if you’re not expecting it to be much.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      The I-work-in-insurance part of me likes the idea of leaving the potential food poisoning liability up to the professionals. And the part of me who hesitates to hire friends and family in case something goes wrong is worried that as the day gets closer, the bride and her mom will get too busy to do everything, and will leave you and your dad holding the bag when it comes to pulling this off, and then it’s your fault if it doesn’t go smoothly.

    • AmandaBee

      Not self-catering, but I had a friend host a wedding party where they just picked up a bunch of platters of enchiladas, tacos, etc. from a local TexMex restaurant and rented food warmers from a restaurant supply store to DIY a buffet. The food was great, and I think they managed to feed a fairly large crowd for relatively little money that way.

      You could do something like that and then bring easy sides and desserts as a psuedo self-catering situation. I’d worry about having enough servers if it was something that took time/effort to serve, but if it’s just platters of food kept warm I imagine you could pull it off. I would definitely spend some time and effort figuring out the numbers and the setup though, so you don’t end up with a massive line or not enough food.

    • ART

      We wanted to do this for our at-home, 65-person wedding, and our parents talked us out of it. The compromise was to hire a local grocery/deli owner that does catering, give them a couple simple recipes like a certain kind of salad I wanted, and trust them to do their chicken and tri-tip their own way. They set it up as a staffed buffet and everyone loved it, they were low-key but took good care of us and didn’t leave us with a mess, and in hindsight it was the best decision and I thank our parents wholeheartedly for talking us into this! I was very against it but am a total convert.

      From the other side, I did pretty much help cater my sister’s wedding which was technically a potluck but we did the bulk of it – casseroles and such – because most people were traveling or kinda not into the potluck thing (understandably, for our crowd), and it was really a ton of work. And that was probably only 50 or 60 people. Keeping everything at the right/safe temperature for a huge crowd is tough without pro equipment. And if they are DIY-ers anyway, they will be busy with other stuff. I highly recommend the low-key catering route or AmandaBee’s suggestion about picking up buffet trays from a restaurant, that’s a great idea (if you have people who can pick it up, or better yet if they deliver over a certain $$ amount!)

    • My parents did this for about 100 people, but it was all cold food, the venue was less than a 5 minute walk from our house, and the day was set up to include a bunch of food prep in the middle. My parents definitely saw the reception as a party they were hosting, rather than being guests of honour at, and were very involved in all of the logistics – if your cousin is hoping for a laid back day for herself and her family, then she’s going to need someone to deal with the logistics for her.
      Our plan of attack:
      – collected some pre-prepared platters ordered in advance from a local supermarket
      – huge amount of food prep the day before (we cooked one hundred chicken legs, two whole salmon, made kilos of potato salad, kilos of homemade coleslaw, kilos of crudites, and filled our fridge)
      – registry office in the morning with immediate family (no breakfast because the fridge was full of wedding food!)
      – 2-3 hours of food prep after ceremony, carrying food over to the village hall to store in their fridges as prep was completed (more salad, buttering bread, etc – also, making sure both parents wore aprons so they didn’t get anything on their wedding outfits!)
      – reception started
      – wedding party laid out all the food once all the guests were present as a cold buffet
      – everyone ate!
      – wedding party put temperature sensitive food back in the venue fridges once dancing started
      – end of the wedding the wedding party shuttled all the containers and platters and the small amount of leftovers back to our house
      – huge amount of washing up the next morning

  • Julia Schnell

    I tried to hire a restaurant I used to work at to cater – they agreed, but never let me sign any agreements, never gave me a quote, never wrote up a proposal, refused to put anything in writing. Needless to say after a few months I quietly let the conversation slip away and got another caterer (also a restaurant). It has been nice to be able to take care of our own drinks and dessert!

  • Katharine Parker

    For a food truck wedding, as with a buffet line, think through how you want people to get food and what kind of accommodations you and the food truck will need to make for it to go smoothly. If you’re doing pizza, how fast are those pizzas coming out? Will there be multiple food lines? How will the food be served? What else will the food truck serve (apps, salads, sides)?

    Also, be careful with thinking doing heavy appetizers will be less expensive than a seated dinner/buffet. In my experience (and that of my friends) it does not cost less, so it’s more about what kind of party you want to throw than a way to save significantly.

    • Bsquillo

      Holy cow, yes- food trucks can be SLOW. I didn’t have one at my own wedding, but I have played enough weddings where one truck took hours to serve 100+ guests, because they are literally cooking the food for one or two people at a time.

      • Katharine Parker

        This is my nightmare. I hate waiting in lines and I get v cranky when I am hungry. Waiting on a food truck line at a wedding sounds miserable.

      • idkmybffjill

        My mom LOST HER MIND when I suggested we might do a food truck (we ultimately had a brewery/restaurant wedding so it was moot). She’d been to a wedding a month before with a food truck and it took over an hour for 50 guests to get all their food (so… an hour waiting in line), and she was NOT having it.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        Yeeeeeah, I’ve been to food truck festivals where the whole attraction is large crowds of people ordering stuff from a whole bunch of different food trucks, and the lines were crazy and I will never go to another one. Someone posted back a while about a wedding that had a food truck caterer, but they cooked in the truck and then brought everything inside (presumably keeping things hot as they cooked more) to serve everything from a more traditional layout all at once.

        • Lisa

          Was that the pizza one? I feel like there was a food truck wedding with oven-fired pizzas where they set everything up on tables next to the truck.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Maybe? I kinda thought it was tacos or something, but it could have been pizza! From the table where they served, you would have had no idea it was a truck catering.

        • Alli

          I’ve also seen situations where there are multiple trucks where each has a banquet table in front. So people can just swing by and grab food and get some of the food truck experience!

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            That also sounds doable! Ultimately, something other than make-as-you-feed.

  • Katherine

    We did a buffet line from a local Tex-Mex restaurant that is famous for both its food and excellent catering service. One thing I will note that was really helpful is that they specifically held the buffet line to let my husband and I load our plates up first so we could select what we wanted and eat to our heart’s content. We were not going to fall into the trap of not getting to eat at our own wedding! If you have similar concerns, mention it to your caterers and see what their plan is for making sure you get food.

  • Kari

    Why must a caterer be able to cook lots of different cuisines well? Personally I find those catering companies generic and usually the food ain’t that crash hot. I would much rather go with a company that cooks what you want well. It’s a little like going to a restaurant with an overlong menu: I just don’t trust it. And given that food trucks and restaurants (which are both mentioned here as serious options) are unlikely to do more than a few things well, I don’t see why you would expect something different from a caterer.

  • Bsquillo

    Hiring a full-service caterer was some of the absolute BEST money we spent at our wedding. Didn’t have to worry about logistics AT ALL once we had our final logistics meeting with them. At that meeting a couple weeks in advance, I remember the rep asking us, “And what drink would you like to be served right after your recessional?” Not having thought about this level of detail, we were like “…uh, beer?”

    But holy smokes, y’all – getting a cold beer placed into your hands immediately after your ceremony is done without even have to think about it was one of the most luxurious things I have ever experienced.

    • idkmybffjill

      We had a brewery wedding and they asked us this too!! It was AMAZING.

  • Bsquillo

    Another thing I’ll add, as someone who plays a lot of weddings as a musician: in my opinion, quantity and efficiency of the food is more important than the uniqueness of what is being served. I think there is a lot of pressure to “choose the meat and side that most fully represents your relationship” or whatever. I was even a bit worried at my own wedding that the food from our caterer would be a little too run-of-the-mill (it was stuff like a beef dish, chicken dish, mac n’ cheese, potatoes, salad). However, there was plenty of it, it was hot, it was presented beautifully, and everyone got seconds and was happy.

    Moral of the story: your friend or the quaint restaurant down the street that does artisan small-batch whatever may make awesome food, but make sure they’re equipped to serve a lot of people quickly and efficiently, or else you’ll have hangry guests on hand.

    • Katharine Parker

      I agree–food being the correct temperature, plentiful, and served efficiently are so important. No one expects the best meal of their lives at a wedding. If your wedding food is amazing, it’s great! But really I want to be served on time and not to be scrounging for a crumb of cheese during cocktail hour, even if it’s the most delicious cheese ever.

    • idkmybffjill

      REALLY good advice.

    • Julia Schnell

      (Loved “choose the meat and side that most fully represents your relationship”. Ha!)

      • emilyg25

        Wedding planning is crazy, yo. We got married at my in-laws’ house and when we sat down to do a run through, my SMIL was like, “SIL says she can use some extra tablecloths to wrap the trash cans so they look pretty!” Omg, no. It’s trash. It’s going to look like trash. It’s okay.

        • Lisa

          My favorite project was when my SIL asked my then-boyfriend, now-husband and me to decorate the “water wagon,” which was a radio flyer that we covered in plastic tablecloths and silk flowers. It was used to transport water bottles for guests since she was worried they’d overheat in the 75º weather during the mile walk between the church and the hotel/reception site. I’m pretty crafty, but…it probably would have looked just as nice or better if she’d left it as a plain red wagon.

    • K. is skittish about disqus

      Yes!

      Also remember that when you’re serving a lot of people, the simple options often tend to go over better, unless you really, really know your people. It’s kind of like the music – sure, you can play all indie pop and screamo if that’s what you love, but you’ll have less people on the dance floor than if you throw in some/quite a few well-known wedding songs, even if they’re not your typical style. Unless most of your guests are equally indie pop and screamo aficionados!

      Food is the same way – it’s usually safer to do prime rib and pasta than squid ink paella, if you actually want people to eat.

      Not to say that you shouldn’t have stuff that’s good for just you too (my husband and I were the only ones rocking out to one or two songs that had meaning to us and we didn’t care…and we’re also among the only ones who ate from our oyster platter) but sometimes uniqueness is overrated in the eyes of the guest.

    • Kelly

      Yesssssss…For a lot of the weddings that I have the fondest memories of, I barely even remember what the food was, just that it was there. I remember sitting and eating but primarily being focused on enjoying myself/talking to people/catching up/dancing/etc, and the primary memories I have are warm and fuzzy because I was fed and happy and not stressed about being left hungry/waiting for forever/being confused/etc. Food (and drink) is wedding lubricant.

    • sofar

      We had the same wedding menu as you did pretty much, and I too worried it would be perceived as “basic.” But it was served efficiently and hot. I’ve eaten some awesome, unique food-truck food at weddings, but waiting 2 hours in a line at a truck because the couple thought that would be a good idea for a 250-person wedding wasn’t super great.

      Give me the hot beef and mac-n-cheese at the wedding, and I’ll go to the nifty food truck on my own time.

  • Katie

    Has anyone gone the Whole Foods catering route? I’m thinking of getting several party platters and appetizers and ordering their pizza, too (I loooove Whole Foods meals). Or is it too crazy? Our reception will be more of cocktail style, heavy appetizers and some tasty pizza, then cake.

    • Amy March

      I don’t think it’s crazy! I just think you need a very solid plan for how that food is getting to the venue, how it is staying at the right temperature, how it is displayed/refilled if necessary, who cleans up after it etc. Same as any caterer who is just providing the food, there are a lot of steps to consider.

      • Katie

        Whew, well, you’re reassuring me :) we’re only getting cold appetizers because heating it up is not an option. Pizzas will be passed around once they arrive, so I hope they’ won’t get cold. For cleaning up, well… We just might hire some staff, and I’m okay with that. Hopefully some friends will be able to help me with the set-up

        • idkmybffjill

          When you say “passed around” – who is doing the passing? Is it like, a pizza will get delivered to each table? I would recommend to not overly rely on people just being smart about it.

        • Amy March

          I think this requires more planning. And frankly better planning. The pizzas will not be passed around when they arrive and stay warm. That just won’t work. There is too much going on at a wedding for that. You can’t just assume cold food will stay cold enough. This is a hope, not a plan. Which would be fine for 30 people but not 200!

          • Katie

            The venue we’ll most likely book has built-in tables that fold, I’m thinking of putting stacks of pizza boxes (4 kinds of each) on top of each other, and just scream Pizza! once it arrives. Haha. Hopefully, that way guests will just come to the tables and help themselves with a slice. Honestly, it’s less stressful for me than even thinking of a sit-down dinner will real cutlery and all. Luckily, I still have 10 mo to plan this shit!

          • Amy March

            But, literally who will put the pizzas down. You? In your gown? Who will deliver the pizzas? Can they guarantee a time? How are the guests getting plates and napkins? Who is removing the empty boxes and dirty plates and napkins?

            Again, can totally work and obvi you don’t need to have the answers now, I just don’t want it to seem less stressful because of rosy assumptions and then turn out to be really stressful later on! (Sorry, I know I sound super negative here, and I really do think Whole Foods apps and pizza are a great idea, I just think it’s a lot of details to work through).

          • Katie

            It’s all good, Amy! I’m a spreadsheet queen, so I’ve thought of many your questions already (and we don’t even have a venue yet, haha). It looks like we’re gonna hire some staff anyway, so most of it can be taken care of by them.

            I just want to stress that we’re doing apps and pizza not because we wanna skimp on food (on the contrary, it’s not at all less $$ than traditional catering). It’s just because we both LOVE small plates and are suckers for WH pizza. I understand that there will be problems!

          • Amy March

            Okay cool! Honestly I think the more into spreadsheets and planning you are the better this works!!

            And apps + pizza doesn’t strike me as skimping on food at all. You’re doing lunch right? That’s a great lunch. (Or dinner, but especially lunch.).

          • Katie

            yes, we want to make sure that guests are not hangry and are thoroughly enjoying themselves, which requires not thinking about when food is going to arrive. Our ceremony+reception will be from 12 to 5, so I think that might be enough (plus CAKE). Thank you!

          • idkmybffjill

            oh MORE than enough food. Yum!!!

          • Amy March

            Oh yeah that sounds like a great amount of food then! Like, timeline wise, if you could do ceremony from 12-12:30 (but obvi you’re starting late), with a plan for cold apps ready to go at 1, pizzas hitting tables at 1:30, and generally having a good time from 2 until when people leave? That’s a pretty nice party in my book!

          • Katie

            so you think the pizza should go on tables earlier? I was planning like an 1,5 hr-2 hrs between apps and pizza, but I’d rather take advice of someone more experienced in wedding-going. We were planning like 5-6 kinds of appetizers, so maybe there should be at least an hour before pizza?

            Thanks! Seriously, even the thought of a sit-down dinner depresses me. I mean, the traditional catering weddings I find nothing wrong with, it’s just not what I want for our wedding

          • Amy March

            I think with a lunch wedding, people will be hungry and ready to eat their food. If you wanted to do an hour long cocktail hour thing I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all, but I think people tend to get restless after an hour or so of apps wondering where the “real” food is.

          • Katie

            Yeah, this is one of my biggest concerns about not serving a traditional meal. I’m afraid people won’t count appetizers as”real food” and will be disappointed about the pizza, too. I’m wondering what the best way would be to prepare them.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            I friggin love appetizers, but I think if the actual meal wasn’t for another 2 hours, you’re going to fall into this weird gap where either people don’t eat enough to be comfortable for 2 hours (because they’re apps and something bigger is coming), or they’ll eat a bajillion and then not be hungry two hours later. Really, I can’t think of any situation where I want to eat two courses 2 hours apart, or am legit hungry twice in that amount of time. So maybe the 1hr is appropriate, and any apps that haven’t been eaten yet can be still available once the pizza joins the party.

          • Katie

            Ok, that makes total sense! Thank you! One hour it is, it sounds reasonable.

          • Katie

            also, what do you think a good time to cut the cake would be? An hour after pizza, a 1,5 hrs or what?

          • idkmybffjill

            I would suggest cutting the cake immediately after the ceremony (I know this sounds weird but hear me out), then whoever is in charge of doing the for real cutting (as in, preparing it to be served) can get it all ready to go to land about 30-45 minutes after the pizza rolls out.

          • Katie

            hmmm, interesting, I’ve never heard of cutting the cake right after the ceremony! what’s the reasoning here, may I ask?

          • idkmybffjill

            Basically it frees up the bride and groom to enjoy the rest of their meal & makes it happen when everyone is standing around right after the ceremony. Basically for us it was:
            – Cocktail hour
            – Get announced
            – Walk over to cake with everyone gathered around
            – Speeches
            – Buffet line
            – Dessert served

            Then everyone was free to eat and mingle until the first dance!

          • Lawyerette510

            Depending on where you’re located, cutting the cake can culturally be a symbol of “it’s now ok for you to go home” you know your people and if they will take it that way, but just wanted to put that out there.

          • Katie

            unfortunately, no website but I was thinking of including a sheet of pretty paper with the invitation (we’re not doing RSVPs, just a formal invitation) where we’ll attach additional info (like kids/no kids, where to RSVP, what to wear and so on) – maybe I could include a basic program outlining what happens, when and what people will eat? or something along those lines… (Not including our registry info ANYWHERE cuz we’re not registering)

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            I think that’s a great idea! Also, rock on with your unregistered selves. I am super tempted to go that route.

          • Amy March

            Why would anyone be disappointed with pizza? As long as it is hot and plentiful I don’t see a problem or any need to prepare anyone. I just think two hours is an odd gap, and that after waiting two hours, I’m expecting more of a meal, if that makes sense? Like, is this cocktail party food and also pizza is an option, or is this appetizers followed by a sit down lunch of pizza? The long gap sort of conflates the two ideas for me.

          • Katie

            Yes, you’re right about the weird timeline – one hour it is! I was thinking, more like an extended cocktail hour accompanied by apps AND pizza (meaning, the whole reception is like a cocktail hour, with speeches and other little inserted activities), so one hour makes way more sense. Thank you!

          • idkmybffjill

            Totes – this. I’m not worried about Katie cause it sounds like she has it on lock undercover, but a girlfriend of mine took a very ‘I’m laid back!” approach which translated to = I’m not going to plan this and hope it works out!

            Made for a DECIDEDLY not laid back wedding with a bride screaming at people to line up for pictures.

          • Katie

            Haha this would be a nightmare of mine! That’s why I’m stressing out about it NOW, 10 months before the actual wedding – so I won’t be screaming at people the day of (although… never say never… lol)

          • idkmybffjill

            Same here. Some of my friends thought I was wacko for all my precise timelines but then my wedding was chill AF. My stepmom was even like, ‘you’re right – the planning you did made this all a breeze.’ – JUSTICE :).

          • Katie

            yes, this!!! It was in Meg’s book, her parents made comments about how the wedding day passed in a wink, and her dad said “if it wasn’t for the planning, you’d feel like the day is dragging on” or something along those lines. Totally agreed!!!

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes! my friend’s wedding felt like a century. The bridal party didn’t have enough to eat, every single thing we came to (getting our hair done, getting to the venue, taking pictures, etc) just… wasn’t planned. So it was groups of hungry frantic people being like, “where are we supposed to be? What time is it? Is there a plan for this?

            It was a gorgeous wedding with an amazing ceremony, but laid back it was NOT.

          • Katie

            That makes me think, what kind of other help we might need? Ushers, staff for meals, maybe even a DOC? Oh gosh my head is hurting! That’s why I wanted to have a very intimate wedding in the first place, but then we thought of all the extended family… and friends… And a restaurant dinner for 20 is just not happening anymore.

          • idkmybffjill

            I would say to go through every moment and think….”what do I not want to be asked about on the day”… because anything that isn’t clearly assigned, people are going to ask you about. They will very likely not ask your fiance/husband. #patriarchy This is what lead to the bridal screaming incident – bride was very annoyed that people didn’t just somehow intuit that they needed to stick around after the ceremony for photos.

            We got married at a brewery and the staff was INVALUABLE. But there was lots of DOC free planning for the rest of the day too. Minutia adds up BIG TIME. Stuff like, two of my bridesmaids were assigned a time to call Ubers to go to the hair salon and I’d given them my credit card information a week in advance so it was already in their phones. Certain people were in charge of handling certain vendors as they showed up to the apartment where we were getting ready (so florist, makeup artist, photographer), and then those vendors had their assigned people’s numbers. My mom had scheduled times to make sandwiches for lunch for the bridesmaids. A bridesmaid was in charge of getting (pre-enveloped) tips to vendors as they departed throughout the day.

            Worst case scenario with overplanning = people would’ve figured it out without you and you wasted a little time overthinking things.

            I will definitely say – you don’t necessarily need a lot of staff as long as you think through and can specifically assign all the tasks to willing friends first. You can either go the stage manager route, or have specific friends act as point people for specific things.

          • Katie

            Okay, that makes sense. Thank you for the advice! I was thinking of just going through the wedding mentally and be prepared for each step. The problem with friends acting as helpers is that… Well, ALL my friends will be out of town (out of country, even). So I can’t really ask them to do pretty much anything – they won’t have time or resources. My husband’s friends will be in town (we’re doing the wedding in his hometown) but almost all of them have wives, kids and busy job schedules. I really feel lonely thinking about planning the wedding, but I try not to complain about it to anyone (rather than here, maybe). It is what it is. In this case – probably just biting the financial bullet and hiring stuff.

          • idkmybffjill

            My pleasure! There is NO shame in hiring folks to do this. The bonus of hiring staff is that they’ll have done it before, and will take alot of the thought work out of it for you/be able to talk through logistics. For example – if you hire waitstaff, their manager will likely be telling you when food should be arriving.

            Also – then you avoid the awkwardness that can come from friends not executing things the way you expected, or feeling resentment for having to work too much at your wedding (there are some crowds that are super game for this, and some that are not).

            The biggest thing I’d encourage you to do is to not just have “I’ll do it” as the plan. There ended up being a fair few things that I’d assigned out that I was able to actually just handle (a couple of the aforementioned tips, vendor communication, etc) because I had more free time than expected, but that’s a much better surprise than realizing you’ve planned about 19 tasks for yourself at once when all you want to be doing is smiling at your new husband and talking with your guests or getting your hair done, etc.

            10 months is MORE than enough time!! You’ve got this.

          • quiet000001

            I would suggest depending on size that you consider hiring at least one person with proper food safety training who can make sure stuff stays at safe temperatures and is removed if it has been out too long or gets too warm. Food poisoning is no fun, and some foods breed bacteria faster than you might think. :(

          • Kelly

            I was once at a friends wedding where the assumption was that people could just help themselves to wine that had been set out on a table (“here’s a tower glasses, some assorted, unopened wine bottles and a single wine key–have at it, 200 people!”). No plan whatsoever for efficient pouring, re-stocking, clearing empty bottles, crowd flow, etc. The result was a mob of confused chaos. I knew how to work the wine key, so thought I’d help by opening a bunch of bottles and moving the empties out of the way, at which point people assumed I was the bartender and started placing “orders” and asking questions…surprise bartending/food serving/cleaning/crown wrangling is stressful and unappreciated!

          • Katie

            Good point, Kelly! At first I also thought that guests can just “help themselves”. Then I thought that would make for a huge crowd and fuss and decided to hire a bartender. Then my husband reminded me about a friend’s wedding where they had two bartenders and there was still a line to get booze. So, we’re hiring at least two now! I don’t want there to be fighting over wine and pizza, so I better plan this through.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yikes! Yes – this is a super good point. Some helpful friends may end up the defacto server because they were helpful at the wrong time and got stuck.

          • gonzalesbeach

            pizza at work for approx. 250-300 people seems to work fine. I didn’t order it but no major issues with people getting it while warm. delivery en masse by delivery person, with extra tip to get them to place. several long tables with stacks of pizza several boxes on top of each other. signs ready/placed out that are very easy to read – ie GLUTEN FREE, VEGAN , MEAT LOVER, etc etc. – makes it easy to place stacks and for guests to see. several tables not one table. stacks of plates/napkins on each table. remember that meat-eaters will often take a vegetarian or vegan slice to try it so don’t just order minimum amount of veggie based on how many people tell you they are vegetarian. there was lots of meat pizza left and the veggie ran out fastest. also, if there are people with severe allergies/issues to dairy/gluten – consider order some allergy friendly pizza for them & secure it for them with your signage eg “RALPH, TRINA, & FRANK ONLY – ***ALLERGIES”

          • Katie

            That’s very helpful! Thank you so much!!!
            How many slices do you think will each person will eat? We’ll have anywhere from 60 to 100 people attending (but more likely, around 80), I’m thinking of ordering 3 meat kinds pizzas and 1 vegetarian, but now I’ll consider order two. There will be ten pizzas of each kind, so 40-50 pizzas total. It says each pizza feeds 8-10 people and I’m really not sure what kind of appetite the guests will have.

          • gonzalesbeach

            hmm. im not a pizza expert! it sounds like you’re already doing appies, so that will have taken off some of their hunger. their numbers seem weird for 1 pizza serves 8-10 people? or is that one pizza is 8-10 slices? I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched guys eat a standard large pizza alone. but normal sized large pizza… I would say 3 slices /person average? so for 80 people, probably slightly less than half the # of guests… I think it also depends if it’s thin crust or regular. thin crust – prob need slightly more pizza. here’s a gawker pizza calculator post: http://gawker.com/how-many-pizzas-should-you-order-the-pizza-equation-wi-1697815579

          • Amy March

            Agreed- I typically think 3 slices of a 14in pizza sliced into 8ths? But there are so many factors!

          • Katie

            oops, I meant there’re 8-10 slices in a pizza, yes. Unfortunately, don’t remember the measurements but I was thinking 4 slices per person would be enough. I’m factoring 100 people, but that would be the absolute MAXIMUM, plus we’ll serve 5-6 kinds of appetizers. 3 apps per person! (

          • gonzalesbeach

            sounds like a delicious reception! yum!

          • quiet000001

            Are you thinking of anything for people who don’t or can’t eat pizza? If the pizza is coming after the other stuff has been out, then they won’t likely have the option to go back and fill up more on apps because those will be gone or picked over unless you make sure some are reserved to replenish the apps when the pizza arrives, or get something in addition to pizza. (My mom, when planning work events with a pizza lunch, usually adds a tossed salad and some kind of ‘light’ option like a pasta Primavera or even just grilled chicken – she just picks something from the pizza place menu so it all turns up hot at the same time. Just as an example.)

          • Katie

            I know you mean well, but frankly, that sounds to me like “people want options”. Like, who doesn’t like pizza? And if they don’t or can’t eat, there will be plenty of appetizers they can load up on. If I was to do several apps, several kinds of pizza AND chicken or pasta, I might as well just serve a plate of chicken and a side. Which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

          • quiet000001

            People who have dietary limitations? Which lots of people do these days, often without mentioning it to others. It doesn’t sound like your plan is for a small enough group that you are likely to know for sure that everyone coming can for sure eat pizza as a ‘main’ course.

            And I did say that one option would just be to have some apps held for a second wave so that when the pizza arrives people who can’t eat the pizza can eat something at the same time as everyone else so they aren’t hungry later and aren’t stuck hanging around watching other people eat, which sucks as an experience. (And life with dietary limitations is usually pretty shitty anyway.)

            I mean, I’m not saying you have to have a full buffet of options, this isn’t about having options because “people want options” because people are just rude that way, this is about the fact that there are lots of people who can’t eat dairy, who have to watch sodium, who don’t eat gluten, all of which rules out most pizzas as a viable meal choice. If you expect those people to have apps while other people are having pizza, you need to be sure that the apps aren’t all picked over and gross by the time the pizza turns up, as sometimes happens.

          • Kelly

            Pizza is always welcome and appreciated in my book! There’s lots of good advice here, just a couple things to add (that you might have already thought of). Will someone be appointed to manage the line/crowd control/wrangle stragglers? Will it there be multiple lines/serving from both sides of a table so people can move through quickly? It might be nice to have some appointed people (parents? grandparents or people with children or mobility issues?) to be the first ones through to start everyone off/signal that pizza time is starting/this is where to line up/this is the direction traffic is flowing, etc. (Bonus: pizza line can be a great place to greet guests/do a receiving line).Also, some people will probably still want/require cutlery (wetnaps might be a pro move, too…)

          • Katie

            You’re asking some good questions! I haven’t thought of a “crowd manager” person. Although I think there won’t be anyone with mobility issues and small children. We’ll have four 10 ft tables, so I was thinking using one of them for appetizers, one for pizza, and the rest for just seating people who don’t want to stand the whole time. There will be chairs for everyone and I was thinking of renting 5-6 cocktail tables. Again, everything depends on how many people will be there, but hopefully no more than 80. There will definitely be plates and napking, but I haven’t thought of wetnaps! Is there a way to provide them without the table looking ugly? :) I haven’t ever seen wet napkins other than in little packages sold in stores or a big “jar” in a gym.

          • Lisa

            Never underestimate the power of the WIC to offer personalized options!

            http://www.beau-coup.com/wedding/personalized-mini-wet-wipes.htm
            http://www.partybibs.com/Custom-Labeled-Wet-Nap-_p_436.html
            http://www.partybibs.com/Marriage-is-Messy-Wet-Naps-_p_437.html
            https://www.proimprint.com/Custom-Wet-Wipes

            But honestly, I think you’d be fine just providing napkins. Wetnaps are not something I’d expect to see, especially if there were hand-washing facilities on the premises!

          • Katie

            oh God, I try to stay away from personalized_everything, but thank you for the links! Maybe I’ll need it for another occasion. Wedding planning is making my head spin as it is!
            And thanks for reassurance! There will definitely be a sink :)

          • Lisa

            Of course that was meant as tongue-in-cheek! I can’t think of a single thing I own that is personalized or monogrammed beyond a high school fleece zip-up. :)

          • Katie

            haha sorry, it’s apparently to early for me to detect sarcasm :D yes, I agree, sometimes it’s just too much!

          • been there

            hey Katie, given what you said above about not wanting to burden out of town friends and family with responsibilities, if it’s within your budget I would *strongly* recommend hiring a wedding planner/day-of coordinator, for the benefit of your own sanity and the enjoyment of your wedding day. Even if you hire staff, you really need somebody to manage that staff and have at least one person (not you!!!) in charge of the “big picture.” If possible, get that person to manage rentals too. From personal experience, many of these details seem like NBD until you see them up close, and then damn!

          • Katie

            I’ve searched high and low but I can’t seem to find a “standard” fee for a DOC. I don’t have any room in my budget, the MOST I could afford is $400-500. Is there anyone who charges that little? I know there’re many details but I just can’t afford anything or can’t ask anyone to be my DOC mostly free of charge…

        • Katharine Parker

          My mom has done Whole Foods catering trays at parties–so delicious. I think you could scale those up relatively easily, probably with hiring people for setup and cleanup. But I’d worry about the plan for pizzas, like Amy and idkmybffjill. I’ve gone to a lot of events with pizza ordered in. It’s never hot. Also, consider how strict your timeline is on dinner. What if pizza is early or late? Will someone be discarding extra boxes as they go?

          • Katie

            Thanks! i’m thinking of writing a “schedule” for the wedding so people will know that we have appetizers at 1 and pizza, say, at 3. This way they can more or less know what and when to expect.

  • idkmybffjill

    Just a note – maybe do some research before you establish your budget. Meg’s book is v helpful with this. We set our budget before we started planning and had some very rude awakenings.

    • Lisa

      Yes. Or you have to decide that the budget is your top priority and be willing to compromise on the wedding vision. If you’ve never planned a large-scale event before, usually one or the other will require some revision.

      • idkmybffjill

        Absolutely.
        Also – don’t forget the budget changes if you have planned events before, but of a different scale. I’d planned lots and lots of very large (400+) corporate events… but I had INSANE amounts of money to work with. I made the rookie mistake of assuming that if I just scaled down the number the budget would scale down accordingly but that was incorrect! Minimums are minimums – whether they’re applied to 40 or 100.

  • Katharine Parker

    For people who did restaurant weddings, I’m curious. Did you do a full buyout? Or did your venue have a private room you could use?

    I found it surprisingly difficult to find a restaurant to hold my rehearsal dinner (~60 people) in, largely because of a dearth of private rooms in the location we wanted. So I’m intrigued by so many restaurant weddings!

    • idkmybffjill

      Ours had a private upstairs space that fit max 130. It was awesome!!!! Literally the best thing ever. 10/10 would recommend.

    • Anon

      Our restaurant had four separate spaces and they allowed us to “rent out” the two larger spaces, including rotating between them for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and dinner. Overall a great, easy setup for us and our guests. We’re in a large metro area and had lots of restaurant options for a group our size (invited 100, ended up with 80).

    • Lisa

      Our Chicago restaurant had three different floors with varying capacity/service style. We had originally booked the top floor for ~100 people for a family style dinner, but when the restaurant ran into trouble accommodating that request, they gave us the main floor of the restaurant for the same price as the upstairs. All of the restaurants we considered had differing levels of buyout with several private rooms, most of which could be connected together to get different capacities.

      A restaurant wedding really ended up being the best decision we could have made. Everything was provided, and we didn’t have to coordinate a venue with a catering staff with rentals to make everything work. Plus, the price was at least as good as or cheaper than the other options we’d considered for less overall work! Win-win in my book!

  • Carrie Hoffman

    We self-catered a taco buffet for our small 50-person wedding. But, my husband is a chef and I’ve worked a server, bartender, and catering server for years, so we had unique experience that helped us pull it off. It was still stressful. I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you really do have a background in serving food to a lot of people!

  • toomanybooks

    I got married this past weekend (will update more at the next happy hour!) and I have to say, having a full service caterer who is really going to run things for you is EVERYTHING. We had a day of coordinator, but she was sort of lackluster and the caterer totally picked up the slack. We used Laurrapin in Maryland, would absolutely recommend!

    At one point I was thinking I’d just have a completely DIY wedding in the woods and bring our own food, ignoring advice I’d see online that “you won’t want to have to be in charge of anything on your wedding day” – turns out I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be in charge of anything on my wedding day, or even my whole week leading up to the wedding tbh, so I’m so glad we had someone taking care of this!

    • idkmybffjill

      Congratulations!!!! And I totally agree. I too went through a stage of, “I can just do it all” – until I realized that being a bride isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the same experience as being an event planner.

    • april

      1,000 times yes to this! We didn’t hire a coordinator, but our caterer wound up doing a lot of coordination for us – including putting us in touch with a bus chartering company so we could shuttle guests to and from the reception, giving us their industry number so we could buy flowers wholesale to do our own flower arrangements, and basically running the show on the day of the wedding. We used Table Field Catering, also in Maryland, and I can’t say enough good things about them.

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