Food and drink are some of the most important parts of your wedding… at least from your guests perspective. They’re spending a lot of time—and these days a lot of money—to be with you on your wedding day. It’s just good manners to provide delicious eats and free flowing libations in return as a show of gratitude. The problem is that catering can put you over budget in no time. Not to mention the alcohol.
There are ways to cut these costs like having an afternoon tea or brunch, but for this post I’m going to share some things I learned when we planned a full sit down meal for 120 guests. Scroll down all the way for our vendors and menus.
5 Tips for Planning the Food & Drink for Your Wedding
1. Venue vs Non Venue // Some venues force you to use their catering staff. Some let you opt out of this, but still charge you a fee (like $3000) and that doesn’t usually end up saving you any money. If you want to go the venue provided route, that is totally fine. It will save you time for sure, but I’m not so sure it will save you much money. And for the price, the food might not be the best or very exciting. We specifically looked for venues that allowed us to hire anyone we wanted. This allowed us to find a caterer who fit our budget and prepared food we loved.
2. Insurance // Most venues that allow you to bring in outside vendors for food and drink will want those companies to purchase an insurance policy. This is especially true for bar tending services. So if you wanted your aunt and cousins to cook a feast for you, that’s probably not going to work unless they are an actual food service company. Bummer! Make sure you double check with your venue and any catering services before you hire anybody.
3. Custom Menu // As you are browsing catering companies you’ll probably come across lots of pre-made menus to choose from. These are helpful for sticking within your price range, but can feel limiting and boring. Stuffed pasta shells, poached salmon, and steamed veggies… oh boy. If their menus look interesting but not quite right, go ahead and see if they’ll make you a custom menu. Mention your budget (total, or by plate) and anything you would really love to have (prime rib? cornish game hens? veggie jambalaya?). If you don’t get a good response, move on. Side note: Remember to think about dietary needs such as vegetarians and gluten free guests. You want to make sure no one leaves hungry.
4. Type of Dining // When you’re thinking about the menu and talking to your caterer you’ll need to decide what type of dinner service you’re going provide: buffet, plated or family style. Buffet might save you some money, but make sure there’s enough time in your schedule and space in your venue to snake everyone around to get food. Plated is elegant but usually the most expensive option because it requires more wait staff to take care of all your guests. That’s why we chose family style. It was the same price as buffet, but our guests didn’t have to get up and wait in line. It also promotes conversations between guests seated next to each other. We and our guests loved it.
5. Dishes & Glassware // Our venue didn’t provide this, and neither did our caterers or bar tenders. Coordinate with your staff to see how many of each type of dish, utensil and glass you’ll need, then start calling around. Matt hates renting stuff, so we actually bought a lot these things—silverware, wine glasses, champagne glasses, tongs and serving spoons. In retrospect, we would not do this again. We had to store it for 6 months, we had to clean it, and transport it. We have started to sell some of it, but the pay back wasn’t worth the trouble in my opinion. A rental service will likely deliver on the morning of your event, and pick up all the dirty stuff at the end. We ended up using a rental company for the platters, a few tables, coffee cups, water and beer glasses, plates and chargers and I was so happy to not have to deal with all that on top of everything else.
What We Did // Our Vendors & Our Menus
Our Food // I LOVE our amazing caterers Savour This Moment. They’re a “farm to table” catering and event company and buy their ingredients at local farmer’s markets. They sent us a questionnaire that asked us what kind of food we liked, what our favorite vegetable was, what our favorite restaurants are, etc. From those answers they crafted a bunch of options for appetizers and entrees that we were able to mix and match. The best part? They asked what our budget was up front and made the custom menu fit into it so no matter what we chose, we never went over budget. Their final numbers included tax and staff costs which eliminated any guess work or questions. On the big day Marlene, Michael and their staff were professional and prompt and we got so many compliments on our food from our guests. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend them. I can’t say enough good things.
Our Menu // Passed appetizers: cheesy artichoke crostini (pictured above), blistered cherry tomato bruschetta (pictured above), shortrib mac & cheese grilled cheese, turkey meatball sliders with pear, goat cheese & arugula (pictured above) and bourbon & brown sugar & thai chili chicken wings. Family style entrées: herb roasted chicken thighs, tamari glazed flank steak, sage & brown butter brussels sprouts, rosemary & garlic mashed potatoes, and a bib lettuce salad with roasted beets, goat cheese and walnuts.
Our Drinks // We hired Catered Cocktails to man our bar. They were great—easy to coordinate with, worked well with our catering staff, was prompt and even added in a last minute sangria and picked up 200 lbs of ice! One general note about bar tenders is they expect to be tipped. Catered Cocktails let us choose whether they put a tip jar out on the bar or not. We chose to pay the $200 fee to keep the tip jar off the bar. I didn’t want my guests to worry about not having cash, or feeling obligated to pay. This was a personal choice though, and I appreciate having the choice. And a general rule of thumb is 75 guests to 1 bar tender. We hired 2.
Our Bar Menu // Beer: Stella Artois and Downtown Brown Ale. Wine: Fetzer Cabernet & Fetzer Chardonnay, and Sangria. Champagne: Freixenet Cava Gold. Other: assorted soft drinks, sparkling cider and iced tea.
All photos in this post are from our wedding in August by the wonderful Jasmine of Let’s Frolic Together. Check out her post and more photos here. And read my 5 Tips for Finding the Perfect Wedding Photographer here.