Food and Beverage Tips For Your Wedding
"Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart for it is now that God favors what you do."~Ecclesiastes 9:7
Food And Beverage
The most expensive aspect of your wedding is the reception. If you are planning an extravagant menu with a gourmet meal, be prepared to pay the price. In this article we will be looking at the reception and all the aspects regarding food and beverage selection. We will also be taking a look at various serving styles available. You will want to invest some time in finding the right caterer if your venue does not offer the service or they allow you to bring your own caterer, (if you are not impressed with theirs).
The most important decision you will make during the planning process is your venue location and food selection. As mentioned before, this will be your greatest expense so it is imperative that you choose wisely. Be prepared to spend at least 50 percent of your budget on your reception. You will first need to determine how much it will cost to have your reception at each location you have visited and are interested in. Although this exercise seems obvious, you will eventually discover that every venue breaks down their costs differently and what may appear to be a less expensive option will actually cost you more in the long run once you have tallied all the figures.
Here are a few important points you may want to ponder:
-You should request an itemized list of fees from each venue and tally the costs of each fee and service you will most likely require.
-Most fees will be determined by head count, so have a good idea of the number of guests that will be attending the reception in order to get accurate estimates. You should then compare all the itemized cost lists to determine which venue is the most cost effective for your needs.
-When considering a venue, the food is not the only factor to consider. You should also think about type of service, time between courses and whether or not guests will have to wait in long lines for beverages.
-The ambiance of the reception will be influenced by service and style of food.
-Remember that your reception menu should reflect the formality or informality of most of the aspects of your wedding plans.
When deciding on a reception venue, you should ask the following questions:
-Does the venue charge a fee for the space rental? Some will not charge anything if they are catering the affair because it is all included. However, some will charge upwards to $15,000 or more just to hold the event there, on top of food and beverages.
-What will the cost of your food selections be?
-What is the cost of beverages?
-What would the fee be if you can hold the ceremony there?
-What is the set-up and break-down fee?
-Is there a staffing fee? (Including bartenders, waiters, etc.)
-Is there an overtime fee?
-Is there a fee for parking or valet service?
-Is there a cake cutting fee?
Styles Of Service
Before you select your menu, it is important to consider the way in which you would like your menu served. The most common serving options include, seated meal, buffet or cocktail reception. Each style comes with its own budgeting considerations.
At a seated meal, guests are served by a wait staff at tables that are usually pre-assigned by the bride and groom. This style is typically the most traditional and most formal. The types of sit-down services include:
Plated Service-The full meal is arranged on individual plates before being served to guests.
Russian Service-The wait staff serves platters to the tables. Plates are already on the table, family style.
French Service-Two waiters serve guests from the platter. One serves the meat and the other serves the vegetables.
Having a buffet style meal does not mean that you have to sacrifice elegance and sophistication. At a buffet, guests select food items from a long table or food stations that are strategically placed throughout the room. A great advantage of this particular style is that your guests can choose what they like from a variety of foods.
There is no full meal served with this style. Generally, waiters circulate around the room serving trays of a variety of hors d'oeuvres to standing guests. A cocktail reception consisting entirely of cocktails and appetizers may be the ideal option if cost or time constraints are an issue. Also, this style is typically the least stressful and most waiter-friendly.
Selecting A Wedding Caterer
The process of selecting a wedding caterer should happen as soon as you have established a wedding date. Depending on where you are living, some of the best wedding caterers are booked a year in advance or more, so there should be no procrastinating on your part. Chances are that you will be selecting a venue that provides catering as part of their package so searching for a caterer may not be necessary. However, if you find a venue you love, that provides their own catering services, but, you prefer to bring in your own preferred caterer, you will have to ask them if it is possible to do so as some will not allow it.
You may be confused as to where to begin your search for a caterer. It is always a good start to ask family or friends for any recommendations they may have through personal experiences. You should also use resources such as the Internet which will allow you to checkout websites, blogs and forums. Look through any local publications or the yellow pages for advertisements as well.
Once you have an idea which caterers you are interested in, (three to four caterers is a good start), you can begin calling them. However, before you contact the caterers ensure that you have the following information with you:
-wedding date and time
-potential wedding reception location
-projected guest count
-service type i.e. sit down or buffet
-preference for china or disposable
-style and theme of wedding
Making a final decision on a caterer may depend on a number of factors. Not all catering services are the same so here are a few points to ponder when you are deciding between three to four caterers:
-Some caterers include labour charges per person while others apply an additional charge for labour.
-Some caterers include gratuity whereas others will add it based on the total wedding catering cost.
-Some provide china with their catering packages while some provide disposables.
-Some provide linens for the cake and serving tables, such as skirts, while others do not.
-Some caterers charge a corkage fee for opening and pouring champagne and wine bottles, which they have not provided, while others do not.
-Some caterers will apply a per slice cake cutting charge, if they do not provide the cake, while some do not.
It is a good idea to ask each prospective caterer for something in writing as to what is included in their wedding packages as well as sample menus. Also, when meeting with each prospective caterer, be sure to take notes that you can refer to later on if any questions should arise.
In order to make your final decision on the ideal caterer for your reception, it is a good idea to ask questions that could affect your budget in the long term. Getting the right answers to the following questions will give you a better picture as to which caterer will best suit your needs by offering the best menu options with the most comprehensive services at the best price:
-How long has the catering service been in business? This is a very important question to ask because many new catering companies do not succeed within the first year of business. You wouldn't want a new company to fold and in turn, end up losing your sizable deposit.
-Are they licensed? It is important to know that they have met all health department standards and have liability insurance.
-Do they have a liquor license? Depending on your venue, they will need a liquor license to serve alcohol.
-Have they ever catered at your venue before? Familiarity with a venue site is an advantage because they will already have an idea of the facilities layout and specifications. This will allow for more efficient service without the probability of errors occurring.
-Does the reception venue charge a catering fee in order to provide services at the location? It is important to ask this question because some venues may charge a fee or a percentage of sales from the caterer which will be passed along to you in your catering cost. If this is the case, it may be wise to look for another venue that does not charge a fee.
-Has the caterer provided service for the same number of guests before? It is a good idea to find out if the caterer has ever served a large number of guests before. Not all caterers are equipped to service large groups in a short period of time so it is essential to know this information from the beginning.
-What menu items do they suggest in reference to the theme, date and time of your wedding? Depending on the time of year you are marrying, certain foods are in season and therefore fresher, tastier and less expensive than other times throughout the year. Also, certain menu items are more appropriate for formal weddings as opposed to informal, i.e. lobster as opposed to chicken, (although I love chicken and many dishes can still work well at both an informal and formal affair).
-Are there any particular styles of food or specialty menus they specialize in? Some caterers are very creative in both style and presentation of their food which can offer flair to your guest's eating experience. Also, some have unique recipes on their menu which you should ask about.
-Are you able to include a traditional family specialty in the menu? If yes, are they able to prepare it? Some couples have certain foods that are family traditions and may want to include them as part of the menu. You should ask the caterer if it is possible and if they are able to accommodate you as they may have never prepared such foods before. If you want the dish specifically prepared a certain way by another experienced outside source, you should ask the caterer if it is okay to do so and if they will be willing to serve it. For food safety issues and precautions, they may not be willing to serve the dish if they have not prepared it themselves.
-Will the caterer be providing services to other clients on the same day as your wedding? The caterer may be overextending themselves by booking more clients than they can handle in one day. Find out if you are their only booking for the day.
-Given the number of guests, how many servers will the caterer provide? This question is especially important if you are having a sit-down table service.
-What is the cost of the catering package and what is included and not included in the price? Get an itemized list of everything that is included in the catering package. Also, find out what other costs may be associated with the food catering.
-Will they be responsible for table setup and takedown as well as placing tablecloths and skirts on tables? The venue may not take care of this so find out if the caterer will do it and if so, find out if there is an additional charge.
-How long will set-up and clean-up require? You will want to make sure that everything is set-up on time before guests arrive and possibly for your inspection. Also, the venue will need to know how much time the caterer will need to clean-up following the wedding.
-What is the price difference between a sit-down and buffet service? Some couples assume that a buffet service is cheaper than a sit-down because it requires less staff. However, sometimes it can be more expensive, (depending on food choices), because of all the various dishes the caterer will have to prepare. Find out what service would be better suited for your needs and budget.
-Does the cost per head include just food or are the staff, rentals and linens included? It is important to confirm whether everything is included in the price per person or not. It can get costly if you have to pay for staff, rentals and linens separately from the food.
-If included, what colours and styles of linens, china, flatware and glasses are available? You will want to know if they will be able to provide products that reflects your theme and colour scheme.
-Will the actual individual you meet with be the the same person responsible for your wedding? If not, what is the name of the person who will be responsible on the day of your wedding and when can you meet with them? It is very important to ensure that you know exactly who will be handling your wedding day and that you are on the same page.
-Do they charge for beverage service? Find out if coffee, tea and pop are included per guest.
-Will food be provided for photographer, videographer, entertainment and other "day of" vendors? If yes, will there be a charge? These vendors will all be with you throughout your reception so you may want to offer them a meal. Find out if the caterer will charge you for this.
-Is there a special meal plan for children and do you get a break in price? We all know that children can be very picky eaters and your menu plan may not sit well with them. So, find out if the caterer prepares special meals such as chicken fingers and french fries, or perhaps a small plate of pasta, or depending on what you are serving, perhaps smaller portions. Usually you will be charged less for a child's meal so be sure to ask because you don't want to spend full price serving a meal that may not be eaten, (especially if there will be a number of children attending).
-Do they have a portfolio of previous events they've catered? A picture does paint a thousand words, so ask if they have photos of previous events they have handled. This will give you an idea of their style and capabilities and whether or not they will be able to meet your standards.
-Are the prices quoted inclusive of tax and gratuity or are they added to the food cost total? Some caterers choose to add the tax and gratuity to the per person charge while others will add it to the total billing.
-Is gratuity based on the food bill or the total bill? If you are renting items such as linens, china, etc. from the caterer, which is part of the total bill and they are charging gratuity on this as opposed to just the food, it may drive up your final bill significantly. So, it is important to find out.
-What process do they have for handling food that is leftover? Usually there's an ample amount of food left over at the end of an event. Find out if they will package any leftover food for you because some caterers will and some will dispose of the food. If you are getting leftovers packaged, make sure that they will be able to refrigerate it properly because food left out for more than 3 to 4 hours, owing to room temperatures, should NOT be saved because it can produce potential food borne illnesses.
-What type of attire will the staff be wearing? If you prefer the staff to have a uniform appearance, then ask because some do have standard attire while others do not.
The Service Contract
Once you have chosen a venue for your reception venue and made a decision on your ideal caterer and have selected your menu, you should reserve the service date and work on the contract with the caterer.
The agreement should include how much deposit you have put down and when the remaining balance is due. The contract should also include the specifics of exactly what you are getting, when you are getting it and what you are paying for. Ensure that all labour, equipment and specific service charges offered by the caterer are itemized. Unfortunately, some caterers have been known to cancel smaller events in order to secure larger ones. It is very important to ensure that the contract specifically guarantees service and times for your wedding day.
Be sure to read the entire agreement before you sign on the dotted line. Also, it is a good idea to check and make sure that the caterer is not offering some of the same services that your venue is offering. Remember that duplication will cost you more money than you need to spend.
Wedding Reception Beverage Plan
The beverage plan you choose for your reception will definitely impact your budget. However, if you make some sensible choices, you should be able to save some money.
Many venues offer a selection of bar types to choose from and depending on what you are willing to spend, they provide premium liquors or a more limited selection of drinks. You should inquire about what type of liquors they offer as well as the number of bottles they will open. Some bar staff tend to open too many bottles of wine and other bottles of alcoholic beverages that are not completely consumed but you have to pay for regardless.
It is very important and prudent for you to talk to the venue manager, caterer, or bartender to establish clear guidelines on the liquors you'll stock at your bar. Review the order list and request an estimate of how much each guest is likely to drink. If you are going to be charged a corkage and pouring fee, advise them on your preference for the uncorking of bottles of wine. Some couples choose to have bottles opened on an "as needed" basis and are not charged for all unopened bottles. This will keep the "corkage fees" down.
Many open bar arrangements allow for unlimited use of premium or top-shelf liquors, several different kinds of wines, soft drinks and fruit drinks for mixes, and bottled water. Ensure that you have some say in what's offered and what's not. In order to keep your costs down, do some research and educate yourself on the costs of various liquors, wines, beers, liqueurs and champagnes. Once you have acquired some valuable information, you can ask your venue or caterer to order the brands of your choice.
Here are a few tips to help you make some great, economical choices for your beverage selections:
-It is a good idea to serve quality liquors at the beginning of the evening and then serve less prestigious liquors the rest of the night. The difference will not be noticeable to most people.
-Offer few quality liquors such as vodka, gin, and rum, and only a few selections of white and red wines.
-Limit the type of mixed drinks your bartender will prepare. Some mixed drinks use more liquor so exclude them from your drink menu.
-Consider serving inexpensive wine vintages that still offer a great taste.
-You should consider offering micro-brewed beers as opposed to popular imports and domestics.
-Consider having white-gloved waiters serve drinks to your guests from table to table after dinner.
-Eliminate exotic coffees and serve espresso, cappuccino, and standard coffee only.
-Offer a wide variety of nonalcoholic beverages for children, those that are underage and guests that do not drink alcohol, i.e. pop, carbonated and non-carbonated water, tea, etc.
-Keep the bar closed during dinner and close it permanently an hour or two before the end of the reception, while the coffee is served.
-If you are providing alcoholic beverages, make sure that your site or caterer have a liquor license before you make any purchases.
-You can choose to have an alcohol free reception. You can serve a variety of punches, soft drinks, carbonated and non-carbonated water, teas, coffees, etc.
-It isn't necessary to serve champagne. Guests can toast you with whatever drink they have in their hands.
The type of bar you choose will greatly affect the price you will pay. Depending on your venue, you may have one or more options to choose from. Here are the typical bar types offered:
-This type of bar generally goes against etiquette and must be indicated on your invitations.
-There are no costs to bride or groom.
-There may be minimal sales requirement or a bartender charge could be applied.
Host Bar/Open Bar
-The venue will charge you a flat rate per person if you select this bar type.
-Guests can choose whatever the bar is offering.
-The venue will charge you by the drink if you choose this bar type.
-This method tends to be very expensive.
There is nothing quite as important as your food and beverage selections. It will take a good portion of your budget but keep in mind that they will be two of the most important elements that your guests will remember about your wedding. So, take your time, choose carefully.........Bon Appetite and Cheers!