the Caterer and the Bar

Hey y’all, we meet again! I hope everybody had a wonderful Thanksgiving and maybe some successful shopping after all the food wore off! We spent the day after Thanksgiving doing a little bit of Christmas shopping and finding our Christmas Tree 2022. I can’t believe how well we adulted this year: we actually have Christmas cards ready to send out AND our tree. Never have we ever! We actually managed to include all of our pups in the photos, and I’m so thrilled with how they turned out. First Christmas married, we officially did Christmas cards; we’ve never done them before, not for lack of wanting to, just not actually getting our lives together for them! It was really important to me this year though, as our first year married and starting our own little family traditions, and hopefully growing this little family by another member in the next Christmas or two! We’re off to a great start. Annnnnndddd, we’re both also literally SO close to being done with Christmas shopping because we started early…just all the wins so far this holiday! (Don’t worry, I’m knocking on wood as you read this ;)). I just love this time of year. Winter really isn’t my favorite at all, so the holidays make it worthwhile to me! One of the main elements of that: the food and the drinks. Two holidays right in a row just smothered and covered with banana pudding after. Yes, please! Since food is already heavy on the mind, why not talk about that all important caterer and bar this week?? Let’s take a little bit to pick this topic apart, and make it seem a little less overwhelming. Like I say A LOT, it’s always best to go in with a plan, and some background info! Hopefully this post will give you some of that AND not be a painful read. I promise to give it my best go!

Picking the caterer might seem pretty straightforward, and in a lot of ways, it is. That being said, considering the impact the catering and bar bill have on the budget, this is one you want to go into with your eyes wide open. In keeping things simple, we’re going to talk about the caterer first, and then we’ll go into the bar. There can obviously be some overlap between the two, but we’ll get into that!

Check out this drool-worthy place setting! Gorgeous all around: menus are another place to bring in some great paper and fonts, and are a great little detail that helps tie the whole vision together!

I’m going to go ahead and start off blunt: a lot of wedding food sucks.  I’m just being honest.  Most weddings aren’t typically remembered for the food! And there’s lots of very valid reasons for it: you’re talking about feeding a LOT of people, at the same time, different food choices and all.  Even in a restaurant situation, the food is good, but not going to blow you away.  You’re definitely going to want to factor in reviews and who the top choices in the area are heavily when picking your caterer.  In our area, there are about four that are the top choices.  A good recommendation is to reach out to 2-3 for pricing/availability and make your choice from there: don’t be slow to the punch either! If you’re getting married at peak season and trying to get the top caterer in your area, you’re going to want to be on time to get that date! Typically, start looking to book anywhere in the 8-12 months out time frame and you should be able to avoid any scheduling issue.  

One big thing to know going in, is what type of meal are y’all planning on serving. Formal sit down dinner, menu, the whole nine yards? Buffet style sit down meal? Heavy h’ordeuvres? Your choice of dinner style, your head count, and your actual food choices are going to be the main things impacting your overall cost. It also pays to mention that the dinner style choice can also impact your timeline of the day, and exactly how the time at your wedding is spent. With a formal sit down meal, a big part of the party time is devoted to the meal. Everyone has to be seated and served, then plates are taken and dinner can turn to dancing and cake. That time impact is big to mention though! You will be amazed how incredibly fast the whole day is going to blow by. One of the last things you’re going to do that day (I promise) is eat. No matter what you think, I promise, someone will be bringing you food and you may take a few bites here and there but next thing you know you see a million people that want to speak and hug and it all turns into a blur. A formal sit down meal IS a good way to prevent this and make sure you get a bite to eat, but if you’re one who likes to be up and moving and loves the party, it might not be the dinner style for you. For Ellie and I, the party and time with our friends were more important than a sit down meal. However, the caveat to that is, the food is STILL super important! The last thing you want is an entire wedding party and guests that are all three sheets to the wind because there isn’t enough food to counteract the alcohol. We opted to go heavy on our open bar (we just had to have slushees from our favorite local bar) and serve heavy h’ordeuvres to keep everyone balanced. It was perfect for us because everyone ate as they wanted, and we were all free to roam and socialize and party! Our wonderful catering staff were there to keep everything hot and filled up, clean up left behind messes, and even made sure Ellie and I had plates of every option we selected. Well worth the investment, perfect for the party we envisioned and everyone loved the food choices (at least they said so)!

Let’s take a second to talk about some of the little extra things I’ve seen crop up with catering, that have tripped up a few brides! Of course, your head count is one of the obvious driving forces behind the total catering cost: it will also determine the number of staff needed from the catering company, which will in turn affect the amount of the tip. And here’s the first note: a lot of catering companies will let you know that the tip will be included in your total cost; they’ll tell you the percentage of the entire amount. BUT: they won’t actually figure up that number for you in the quote, as things can shift and change and they would constantly be refiguring that number. Know your caterer’s policy on the tip! I’ve seen a bride or two get caught at the last minute not realizing, and it’s a hefty tip y’all! Usually about 18% of your total. Don’t get caught at the last minute because you didn’t figure up that number for your budget. Same goes for the bar: know the tipping policy so you can account for that in the total cost. Second note: when you’re making that head count, don’t forget to include vendors that will be on site all day/evening for your event! It’s polite to include a plate, and some of them even include it in their contracts. Everybody’s gotta eat, and if you’re making the wheels of an event turn you can’t leave to get food! Think wedding coordinator, photographer, videographer, DJ…anyone who is going to be there for the duration of the event and won’t be able to get away to get some food.

These days, weddings are seeing a lot of trends with food that are pretty great! Enter, the S’mores table, charcuterie boards (ooohhhhhh one of my absolute favorites), food trucks, taco bars, pizza bars….a lot of really awesome stuff. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it! That brings me back to my first comment: wedding food typically sucks (lol) it doesn’t have to! And it doesn’t have to break the bank either. Be smart, shop around, get creative, and see what you come up with. A lot of those things are dependent on the venue space you select as well: can’t do a food truck without a good space to access it and make it a part of the party! But there are lots of new things to try these days besides your standard caterer, if you’re feeling sassy! I say, go for it!

Now, let’s talk bar for a little bit! This one can also be dependent on your venue selection, and it’s also another big chunk of the budget (typically). Some venues operate with their own bar, because of liquor licensing laws and such. Regardless, there are a lot more rules in place regarding alcohol (as there should be) and how it is served at an event, who is serving it, who’s responsible for it…the list goes on. It probably also varies slightly state to state, so any statements I make would be regarding North Carolina laws! I’ve seen plenty of backyard weddings where all the alcohol was purchased at a local bulk store (beer and wine only) and set out in creative, iced down ways for people to just grab and go. Clearly, for the bank, the best option besides….well, no alcohol! Purchasing yourself and selecting a couple of well liked beers and a couple choices of wine isn’t a bad bar tab and definitely the kindest when you’re talking wedding guest numbers! In our state, you can also purchase event insurance to cover you and the event: never a bad idea it’s always better to have it and not need it than the other way around. It’s doesn’t cost much, and it’s just smart. Some caterers also have bar options with their packages: you’re paying for them to serve the alcohol under their license, provide the bar attendants, alcohol, glassware and garnishes, and it can all be included in one neat package from one vendor. Another big trend now is mobile bars, and it’s another one I just love. We went with a mobile bar for our wedding: luckily our favorite bar has that option, so we were able to get the drink we really wanted which is specific to this bar. Bar tab, hefty hefty and SO SO worth it, plus it was really pretty and went perfectly with our vibe and everyone loved it. Double win! We even had people placing bets trying to guess how many gallons of not-yet-frozen slushee mix (y’all…it was 25…!!) after the wedding. No matter how you choose to do it, my best advice is to just go simple! Make a handful of selections (think heavy beer, light beer, seltzer, white wine, red wine), go heavy on what you know your crowd typically drinks and lighter on the rest, maybe throw in a signature drink if you’re opting to serve liquor. If you are opting for liquor, again, keep it simple: a few basic selections across the board (vodka, whiskey, rum, bourbon, with a specialty vodka suggestion and a specialty whiskey drink suggestion). You really only need a handful of options. And don’t forget a cute sign to list the bar menu!

Well, y’all I think we’ve about covered it, and I’ve definitely said enough on the topic for now! Got a little long winded this week…my bad 🙂 Do what you need to do to gather that plan, and start hunting that caterer early! Refer to your venue and their rules on those vendors, get your guest count together (include those vendors and remember to find out about the tip policy), consider the type of meal and bar options you want, and make those calls.  Keep it simple, a handful of options on the bar, and don’t be afraid to get creative with the food ideas! It’s going to turn out beautiful; you’ve got this.  

Happy planning y’all!


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