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Wedding Caterers and What They Provide

Updated on September 21, 2013
Wedding Catering and What They Provide
Wedding Catering and What They Provide | Source

Professional wedding caterers are known for their culinary experience and exquisite food. They are highly sought after for many a large event, including family reunions, corporate events, weddings, funerals, holiday parties, and even Thanksgiving dinner. Only being used for the most special of occasions, some of the food preparation and service options they provide may be quite as well-known.

The culinary expertise many bring to the table will most certainly mean elegant looking dishes, recipes only heard about on cooking channels, and waitstaff that would impress even the wealthiest. However, did you also know that they usually offer bar services including a bartender, bar setup and alcohol for parties? What about their skills as bakers, producing exquisite wedding cakes and pastries for every occasion? When needed, many of the best caterers also offer tables, chairs, china, and linens. Let’s look at the variety of services this type of wedding vendor provides.

One of the first services we should look at is the food service. Professional caterers can prepare food on-site or off-site. On-site requires the rental of basic cooking equipment, appliances, etc. or the use of a venue kitchen with all of the materials needed to do the job. They can also provide the food from off-site where the food is cooked at their location and brought to the wedding venue. Depending on the food being served, hot boxes and coolers may need to be rented. Caterers generally provide a less expensive option for off-site cooking and delivery with the food then being served by other licensed professionals at the venue.

Couples have another decision to make regarding food service that will make a big difference on cost and other services. Some of these food service options include buffet, plated service, food stations, exhibition service, hand service, family style, and cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages in regarding to serving guests, and the price of each truly depends upon the food, chosen details within each service and the caterer.

Food Service:

  • Buffet Service – This is the traditional wedding food service most known by wedding guests where food is served in heated chaffing dishes. Guests pick up their plate either from their seats or from the end of the table and, walking on either side of the “buffet” tables, serve themselves before going back to their seats. Beverages are usually provided at another table nearby the buffet for guests to serve themselves. Waitstaff should still pick up finished dishes at the end of the meal. They should provide at least 1 waiter for every 25 guests or so.
  • Plated Service – In plated service, guests stay at their seats while each course is served by waitstaff. Food is pre-portioned and “designed” on plates ahead of time, and then fancy dressed waitstaff bring food out to guests and serve them formally. There are traditionally at least 3 courses; the salad, the main dish and the dessert. However, many couples choose to add in a few extra courses for the flair. Beverages would also be served in the same fashion, with guests being able to choose their preferred beverage. The waitstaff would then return for finished dishes. With this service, there should be at least 1 waiter for every 10 or so guests.
  • Food Stations – Ideally, food stations are simply a bunch of different buffets, where guests either serve themselves, or they are served by an attendant. This is a really easy way to really provide that sheik, really rich look for less. Food stations are extremely trendy and are growing in popularity every year. Some examples of some great food stations include a taco bar, a baked potato buffet, mini shrimp cocktails, grilled cheese station, mac and cheese bar, and so many more. Find some really great ideas at the Learning Center on our website (
  • Exhibition Service (Tableside Service) – This is a new kind of food service for weddings, for couples that have more money to spend and would like an extravagantly incredible way to spend it. This is all about chefs preparing and serving food to guests in front of them one table at a time. You can see why this would be more expensive, as many more chefs would need to be hired as well as the cost for the extra service. This would also require extra cook tops and tables as chefs would be actually cooking the food (Benihana style) right at each table for individual guests.

  • Hand Service – Even more extravagant than exhibition service, in hand service guests are pre-seated to be served by waitstaff. Except, this service is very formal with 1 server to every 2 guests, and all guests being served at exactly the same time. Just like with plated service, all plates are prepared ahead of time, but now are all fitted with dome covers. All servers are dressed to the nines and wear white gloves. The rest of the meal is like a production. Each server carries two servings from the kitchen and stands behind the two guests assigned to him or her. At the direction of the captain, all servings are set in front of all guests, and their dome covers are removed, at precisely the same time. This procedure is typically followed for all courses allowing every guest to feel like they are at a gourmet restaurant. This is a very elegant style of service and is sometimes called “service in concert or synchronized service” for obvious reasons. (
  • Family Style – Getting away from the more expensive options, but keeping the style and elegance. Family style service is a great way to provide an intimate but elegant dining experience. For this kind of meal, plates are pre-laid out on all of the tables, along with all of the other pieces that create a formal place setting for each guest. Instead of meals being served for individuals, the chefs create platters of food for waitstaff to set out on tables, along with serving utensils, providing a shared meal experience for everyone. Waitstaff would serve beverages to guests and pick up finished plates at the end of the meal.
  • Cocktails and Hors d’ oeuvres – This is a great option for couples that are not interested in a full meal for their wedding reception, or would simply like to provide their guests some great cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres during a cocktail hour before the reception, while they are taking their formal wedding pictures. This service includes a small bar for light cocktails, like a signature drink, ice tea, water or fruit juice, or even wine, and stationary or passed hors d’ oeuvres. Like we’ve explained before, stationary appetizers would be displayed on a table or two for guests to serve themselves, and passed appetizers would be served on trays by waitstaff walking around amongst wedding guests. Passed appetizers would be more expensive, and so would steak or seafood options. Typical hors d’ oeuvres during a cocktail hour would include fruits, crackers, and a selection of cheeses.

Even though many catering "services" automatically come with the food that is being purchased, like chef fees, waitstaff, cooking equipment and serving utensils, many people don't think about all that they are truly paying for in their catering bill. Caterers also offer a wide variety of other rentals and services that couples can choose to add on for convenience. Let’s look at all included and optional services this type of vendor provides.


  • Linens – Caterers tend to offer a few more selection than wedding venues, simply because if they don’t carry the merchandise themselves, they will go through a rental company to get them for you. I would expect the basics (black, white and off-white) from each one, and then some may at least offer 2 to 3 more colors most popular to couples (brown, pink, and red).
  • China – As they are not a rental company, who would be able to offer numerous china patterns, caterers most likely only have at the most, 2 different patterns to choose from, likely being plain white and gold-rimmed.
  • Flatware – Most caterers offer flatware, also known as silverware, to their couples in only one pattern.
  • Glassware – These are more commonly known as water glasses, tea glasses, etc. Caterers are known for their fine dining and so, even though they may only carry one style, they will likely carry a variety of different glasses.
  • Stemware – Stemware simply means glasses with a stem on them, like wine flutes, and appropriate glasses for white wine and red wine.
  • Barware – These are going to be the pilsner glasses, beer mugs and cocktail glasses (tall and short) to be used behind the bar.
  • Furniture – Once again, not being a rental company, they may offer only one to two styles of chairs, typically folded or chivari, and enough differently sized tables for any event (buffet, dinner, cocktail, cake and gift, etc.).

  • Cake stand – As cake stands and vases are easy to store in bulk, they will most likely have a variety for any bride to choose from for her cake, but they will normally come at a pretty hefty cost to rent.
  • Chocolate/champagne fountain – Fountains are really gaining in popularity at weddings lately. Chocolate fountains will be much more expensive, and will come with a variety of materials to put it together and keep them running, champagne fountains are small, easy and much less expensive, as they only need the champagne to keep them going.
  • Dance floor – Dance floors are much different than you’d expect. Instead of coming in with one piece or even two, dance floors typically come in much smaller pieces (priced individually) that need to be put together at the venue. The way they are priced and configured makes it easier to use the same dance floor over and over at different events, because couples can simply decide the size and shape they want, and only pay for those pieces.
  • Chargers – Chargers are the beautiful larger “plates” that go underneath the china dinner plates to give them an accent color and spice them up a bit. For their very inexpensive price, this is a great way to bring some bling to a wedding for very little money.
  • Plants – Many times couples will simply use trees or plants to “decorate” their wedding. Caterers, if they provide them at all, will only carry the fake variety. They are not too costly, but can make a big difference in a room with just a few.
  • Draping – This is a little more complicated. Draping is fabric used for a number of reasons. Draping can cover up a poor looking wall, create a back-drop, separate rooms or areas, or even create a dramatic effect on the ceiling. On the ceiling of a venue, fabric can be draped to the middle to create a tent effect in the room, be twisted across the room for beauty, or even just stretch across the room covering the ceiling, and possibly special lighting for the room.

Wedding Caterers and What They Provide
Wedding Caterers and What They Provide | Source

Cooking and Serving:

  • Trays – These could be anything from displaying food, to passing appetizers, to carrying food to guests or tables.
  • Utensils – Serving utensils are critical if one is going to get food from point A to point B, whether that is in the kitchen, at the buffet table, or on the dinner tables.
  • Waitstaff – Waitstaff serve a number of functions. If something needs to be carried, moved, served, cleaned, hauled, setup, picked up, etc., it is the job of the waitstaff to do so. Likely you will be paying per staff member, by the hour. Check out the suggestions above, and of course ask the caterer, for an idea of how many waitstaff you might need.
  • Bartenders – The suggestion is one bartender for every 50 guests. This way all guests will be served in an appropriate amount of time, and the bar will be kept clean and organized. These people will also charge per person per hour.
  • Busboys – Individuals to clean the tables may not be necessary unless the event is quite large. It may be possible to utilize the waitstaff for this function instead.
  • Dishwashers – The caterer will always bring at least one, if not two dishwashers to constantly keep everything clean. At the end of the night, these individuals will also be cleaning dinner plates, dessert plates, glass, serving dishes, serving utensils, etc. to repack and take back to their warehouse clean. Their pay will always be automatically included in the catering contract.

  • Bar setup – This includes a number of items like napkins, stirrers, coffee service, coffee accompaniments, drink garnishes, drink mixers, ice, etc. You may be able to bring the price of the bar down a tad by providing these items on your own.
  • Valet – Valets allow guests to drop their cars off at the front of the venue for someone to go and park for them. At the end of the event, the guests would then present their “valet ticket” saying which car is theirs, and the valet will go and bring their car back to them at the front of the venue. If parking is close to the venue, one valet for every 50 guests is most likely appropriate. If parking is a little further away or you are expecting a larger than average guest counts (over 150 or so), I would hire an extra valet or two, just in case.
  • Security – These important people protect your event from liability by checking for weapons and/or invitations as guests arrive, keep out unwanted guests, handle any disputes that may arise, and even remove unruly guests from the party. Many venues require that you have security guards in order to hold your event there. It is suggested to have at least one security guard per every 50 guests at the event.
  • Coat check – This is probably the least used individual at weddings, but if you are having a particularly large event, and/or it is to be extremely formal, you might want to consider hiring someone of this nature. Basically, a coat check will stand at the front, just inside the venue, and act as a valet for guests’ coats. Expensive and/or bulky outerwear can be put in a safe place, protected or at least stored throughout the event, and then given back to the right person with the presentation of a “coat check ticket” at the end of the event. This is especially handy if you know that guests will have nice jackets and wraps that they will want to be kept safe during the wedding.


  • Cocktail hour – During the cocktail hour, stationary or passed hors d’oeuvres are usually served along with cocktails or fruity drinks. Background music of some nature is normally played in the background and guests are thoughtfully cared for while the bride and groom are taking their wedding formals. There will likely be a bartender and several waitstaff being used for this period of time.
  • Bar services – Sometimes the caterer will also offer provide the bartender/bar setup/bar services for the wedding. This is not always the case, but many offer a full-service option to provide everything for the couple.
  • Wedding Cake – Just like bar services, many times the caterer will also make the wedding cake for the wedding as well. Expect higher than normal wedding cake prices as it’s coming from a professional caterer rather than a baker. The cakes will also most likely be pretty basic. In order to motivate couples to use all of their services, they will likely give them a discount to get them to use the rentals, bar services and wedding cake services they provide along with the food.

Wedding Caterers and What They Provide
Wedding Caterers and What They Provide | Source
  • Cake cutting/serving – One extra charge that many brides and grooms don’t expect is that for cutting the cake and serving it, regardless of whether or not they made the cake. This charge will normally consist of a fee per person to cut the cake and set it out for guests to come getting it on their own, and another per person serving fee to actually put the cake on trays and take it out to the guest tables for them.
  • Champagne toast – It seems easy to think that the champagne toast is simply putting out champagne bottles for everyone to fill their glasses, but this is not normally the case. Special glasses just for the champagne toast are typically kept at the bar along with the champagne being kept cold. At the time of the toast, all of the glasses are brought out and filled. Then waiters fill their trays so that everyone can get their glasses about the same time, right on time for the toast. This takes coordination between the bar, the waitstaff and the catering Captain. They traditionally charge per head for this service.
  • Setup and clean up – Finally somebody has to set out the tables and chairs, put out linens, centerpieces, decorations, china, glassware, flatware, etc. and get the room prepared for a large amount of guests to come and enjoy the wedding reception. There’s a charge if you want the caterer to do that for you. Also, someone needs to be there to tear everything down and repack it as well. Dishes need to be cleaned, linens need to be bagged, and decorations need to be prepared to go back to their original owner. Don’t forget sweeping and vacuuming as well. If the caterer is going to do this as well, they will charge for this service.

This is more or less a comprehensive listing of all of the available options caterers may provide to their customers at any given time. Obviously every catering company and catering service provider will be different.

However, many of the products and services they provide will be similar. Make sure to ask any catering option you choose any and all questions necessary to gauge whether or not they can adequately provide you the necessary products and services needed to have a successful event. Keep in mind that any option you choose, from professional caterer, to restaurant, to food truck, will make an incredible difference in the atmosphere and overall feel you want to give you guests.

Make sure to do the research you need to truly understand the vendor you are hiring.

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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness


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