DIY-er Beware: Catering
Post #3: Catering
Catering can seem so expensive, but throwing an extravagant dinner party for 200 of your closest friends isn't going to be cheap. Let's talk through the downsides of DIY food and drop-off service, cover recommendations on how to compromise, and discuss picking the right vendor.
Downsides of DIY Catering
You may have well-meaning family members who want to help cook for your wedding. Maybe Uncle Bob makes a mean smoked brisket… but does Uncle Bob have the facilities and knowledge to safely make enough food for 200 people AND keep it warm/cold enough to serve your guests without making them ill?
Did you know that “the CDC estimates that each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases?”
Not to scare you out of this idea or anything, but PEOPLE DIE. Additionally, don’t you want Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally to be enjoying your big day right along with you, rather than working?
3 Issues with Drop-Off Service
Maybe you don't plan to DIY your food. Instead, you’ll just place a big “to go” order of fajitas from your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant and have them drop it off at the venue. I also recommend against that because of 3 issues: maintaining proper food temperature, self-serve buffet lines, and the mess.
1. When you place big tins of rice, beans, and chicken out on the counter for 200 people to eat, there’s a high likelihood the food won’t stay in the “safe to consume” temperature range for very long (see food-borne illness stat above).
2 & 3. Additionally, with nobody to serve your guests, the line will take a very long time, your guests eyes will be bigger than their stomachs (so you might run out of food), AND it’s going to get very messy.
Rice and beans are going to spill, you’re going to need the chicken to be replenished, and wow—it’s supposed to be time for the Father-Daughter dance but half of your guests are still in line!
Many people argue that the food & the music make the biggest impact on a memorable experience as a wedding guest. How do you provide this?
The Best Choice
Hire an experienced, established caterer and get all the “bells and whistles.” I highly recommend paying for servers for your buffet line to keep it flowing and keep the food replenished, rentals of dinnerware (that’s our next blog post), bussing service to clear the dishes & trash from guest tables, and cake cutting service.
Talk to your caterer about the most cost effective options to serve a guest list of your size. Perhaps you can pay for nice disposables and reduce the amount of cleanup staff you're paying for or your caterer can advise you to some less-expensive substitutes on your dream menu to save.
Check out some photos & hover for info on one of my favorite cocktail hour vendors!
The Compromise Here are a few ideas to save some money:
Rentals & Servers If you do decide to order drop-off service, rent the appropriate equipment to keep your food warm/cold & hire servers. You may need to price around to ensure you’re actually saving money over hiring full-service catering.
Bundle If you can find a caterer who offers more than one service needed (cocktail hour, dessert bar, coffee service, bartenders, wedding cake), you might be able to negotiate a discount (or already have built in savings).
Pick Your Party If you’re flexible on the type of reception you’ll have, consider scheduling your event over a non-meal time (but be sure to indicate to guests on the invitation that there won’t be a full meal). My own wedding was at 2:30 p.m. on a Sunday and we served charcuterie, fruit & veggies, and bruschetta. This isn’t for every wedding, but since we had a “dry” wedding and our grand exit at 6:00 p.m., it worked for us. Catering by Christy does a beautiful cocktail hour display that is sure to WOW your guests!
Skip Cocktail Hour* You might save some money by not providing appetizers during cocktail hour, but in order to pull this one off, I have some suggestions:
Do a first look & minimize the number of photos you take after the ceremony to shorten the “hour.”
Swap booze & appetizers for something light, fun, and less expensive, like a “pop-tail” hour where you serve popsicles.
Do not open the bar until dinner is served—you’ll save money on the amount of booze you go through (people pound drinks while they’re waiting around, but once they’re full on dinner, they’ll slow down on drinking). Additionally, people won’t get sloppy because they drank for an hour on an empty stomach (if you skip appetizers).
*If you do not serve appetizers, I highly recommend against serving alcohol at that time. You should always provide something for people to eat when serving them booze. Trust me, I have horror stories.
Scroll through the slideshow & hover for some real-life clients who went with
a few suggestions from The Compromise.
The DIY-for-Lifer My advice here is similar to the first compromise idea—if you absolutely must let Uncle Bob “cater” your meal, please rent the appropriate service items to keep your food warm/cold & hire serving staff to keep the service areas full and clean, expedite the food service process, and bus your trash afterwards. You can also implement other tips like scheduling your event over a non-traditional meal time.
DFW Caterer + Vendor recommendations
Here are a few caterer & support vendor recommendations for the DFW area. Be sure to let them know that Big Day Coordination sent you!
Catering Equipment Rental 5 Star Rental
Catering by Christy (also offers full catering options)
When you contact your caterer, be sure to give them some important details to better create a quote:
Service Type (plated & served, buffet with servers, etc.)
Service Wear Type (Real dishes vs. Nice Disposables)
Questions for Caterers
See a deal that sounds too good to be true? Want to ensure you're hiring a professional? Here are a few questions to ask your caterer, courtesy of Marc with Tatering:
1. Can I see your recent Health Inspection?
Look at the date and the kitchen address – Should be done 4 times a year
Ask for a copy and verify it with the city
2. Can I see your Restaurant Manager’s certification?
This shows that their staff has an onsite trained employee that knows about food safety
3. Can we have a tour of your kitchen?
Yes, you should tour the kitchen!
And yes rental kitchens do allow tours
Is it clean and organized?
Is everything labeled and dated?
Do they have proper means to keeping the cold under 40 degrees and the hot above 140 degrees?
Why? Because bacteria grows between 40-140 degrees which for you means you could get food poisoned if not stored correctly.
4. Can I see the source of your foods?
Why is this important? You do want to know if they’re really making it right?
5. Can we get a copy of your Liability Insurance?
All vendors should have this!!
Marc says, "All caters should say yes to all of these questions and with no problems. If you receive a no to any of these, you are risking that they might not be exactly certified to do the job. If something goes wrong, that liability might be on you, because you hired them."
Help out another bride-leave a comment!
What was your catering experience like?
How did you save money?
What do you wish you'd done differently?