Catering questions

I’m throwing myself a wedding come February, and I’m having all kinds of problems with it. One of my problems is that it apparently takes more than a couple of months to put these things together, and one of my other problems is that I haven’t been to many weddings before, so I’m not too sure how things are supposed to go!*

I’m trying to choose a caterer at this point. Originally I had hoped to have an evening wedding with a dinner buffet and limited open bar, but I see now that it’s not going to happen on my budget. My new plan is to hold the wedding in the afternoon (but late, so it will be dark before the party’s over. I like it dark. :slight_smile: ) Questions:

If you attended a wedding at 3:00, would you be expecting substantial food afterward?

Would you be expecting substantial alcohol as well? If so, recommendations? There are some people coming to this thing who would probably be disappointed if there was nothing but champagne punch.

  • I know the real answer to this question is “you do whatever works for you”, and I am willing to break the rules. I just want to know what they are first!

Any and all other wedding advice will also be taken into consideration. :slight_smile:

I won’t try to help with your specific case I will just tell you what I did.

My wife and I had been living together for years so we didn’t need wedding gifts. We were pretty poor but wanted to have a “big” wedding and we weren’t going to ask our parents for one single dollar.

We got married at the local court house with her best friends and mine as witnesses and both our immediate families in attendance. This happened during the day and hours later we had the reception.

I booked out a restaurant that we liked and we just rang everyone we could think of and told them to come. We told everyone to bring anyone they wanted to and suggested that they in turn invite anyone we may have forgotten. The only restriction was no gifts but pay for your own meal.

We ended up with a huge reception with hundreds of people, including old school friends we had forgotten, and it didn’t cost us a penny.

If you employ a little lateral thinking you can have just the wedding day you want under your conditions.

Good luck.

I got married in September, so I’ll try and help.

Don’t worry about tiny little details. On the day you’ll be far to busy/happy/tired and emotional to notice or care. The same goes for your guests.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so don’t even try. Talk to your friends and family and work out what will make you and your nearest and dearest happy, because that’s what really matters.

We got married at 2:30pm, had a drinks reception, a full sit-down dinner and a band. The party officially ended at 2am, but some people kept on going til 6am.
I gather this is unusual for non-Irish wedddings, so although OUR guests expected an all-night party with non-stop drinking, I doubt YOURS will!

Phrase your invitations so people know what to expect. As long as you’ve told them not to expect a meal, they won’t be disappointed when one doesn’t appear!
“Drinks reception” or “cocktails” suggests canapes and snacks.
“Dinner reception” says a big meal.
“Tea reception” says non-alcoholic with finger food.

We had champagne for the toasts, champagne cocktails on arrival, wine with the meal and a cash bar, as open bars aren’t the thing here.

Sparkling wine (it doesn’t have to be real champagne) is a great drink, most people will drink it, and it’s what people expect at a wedding.

:smack: don’t ask, I wish I’d talked to you before I had made any other arrangements! Oh well, I’ll do it that way next time.

irishgirl, that cash bar is tempting. Anyone know if that’s considered “wrong”?

It varies from place to place and culture to culture.

Like I said, here an open bar is unheard of (paying for 10 hours of 150 Irish people drinking would bankrupt most people) but the hosts would normally provide toasts and wine for the meal, in other places the hosts are supposed to provide everything.

Talk to the venue you’re planning to have the reception in, and find out what set-up they usually have. Talk to your folks and friends as well and sound out their thoughts.

You can serve nothing but orange juice or only dry martinis if you want to, it’s your party. Basically, if you were having a dinner party, people would be grateful for whatever you gave them, but once you scale it up people can forget that and start to “expect” things.

It is becoming more common but the rules of etiquette (I believe) state that guests should not have to pay for anything at the reception. I had a cash bar at my wedding but only because it was held at a pub. I it had been held elsewhere I would not have had alcohol.

If you want to have some fun with this question, go to and start a thread titled “Cash bars…a great idea” and watch the heads spin.

I would most likely expect a meal. HOWEVER - if you indicate that you’re serving hors doeuvres and drinks (please join us for hors doevres and cocktails at blah blah blah), I would think I was going to have hors doeuvres and cocktails.

I would think beer and wine and champagne for toasting. That’s sometimes an inexpensive way to allow some open bar, but not over spend on alcohol. :slight_smile:

At most of the weddings I have been to (in Wisconsin) the couple will usually have a few 1/2 barrels of beer that they buy and champagne for toasting but the rest is cash bar.
P.S. I am loving these wedding threads now that The Boy and I went ring shopping last night!

Congratulations, Barrels. Please be sure to ask lots of stupid questions in case there are any I forget to ask!

I appreciate all the answers…keep 'em coming!

Around here, a cash bar is seen as kind of tacky. Just beer and wine (and toasting champagne) is a way to spend less without having a cash bar.

At 3 I wouldn’t necessarily expect dinner, but since the reception would be starting, what, around 4 or 5? I might expect “heavy hors d’ouevres”. But if the invitation said “join us for hours d’ouevres and drinks at ___”, for instance, I’d make plans to eat afterwards.

If the Wedding’s at 3:00, I’d expect a meal. Getting the couple and families through the photography process can take forever, so you’re looking at the reception not getting a full head of steam until 5:00 or so.

Food-wise it’ll be nice to have a variety of food - pigs in blankets for kids, little spinach pies, some veggie dishes for vegetarian friends (may or may not be an issue), a mix of meats. A buffet will do the trick. You don’t need to have the big multi-course extravaganza.

An open bar would be the way to go. I remember paying a flat fee for the open bar up front. You can save money by specifying what kinds of booze to serve. For instance if it’s mostly going to be mixed drinks you won’t need a lot of the premium brands. If your guests are going to be whisky afficionados, maybe get a few bottles of the good stuff. That sort of thing. Buy your own champagne. There are all kinds of ways to save money. You have to be careful negotiating though, because there are all kinds of ways to spend money, too!

The caterer will offer linen this, or paper that, glass or plastic for the drinks, glass or plastic for the champagne, what kind of chairs, tables, silverware, swizzle sticks, what kind of memento, if any, it goes on and on.

Definitely have some sort of vision before meeting with the caterer. They’ve done this hundreds of times and you’re doing it but once (hopefully) so you’re sort of at a disadvantage.

Don’t forget the music! A live band if you can afford it, at least a DJ.

I’m a wedding planner and self-styled (by which I mean I have read more than 100 etiquette books, and have 43 such books on the shelf behind me) etiquette authority. So I’ll give you the ‘etiquette answers’ to your questions:

If you attended a wedding at 3:00, would you be expecting substantial food afterward? The etiquette principle here is that you cannot invite people at a mealtime and not serve them a meal. With a 3:00 wedding, the reception will begin at around 4:00 and, probably, last for 4 hours – or, until 8:00. This is right through the dinner hour. You are going to have to serve something fairly substantial at that time of day. If you really can’t afford to serve a meal, you should have the ceremony earlier – say at 1:00. That misses lunchtime, and the reception would be over by 5 or so – before dinnertime. Then you could serve light snacks perfectly properly. With a 4:00 reception, you are really going to have to have heavy hors d’ouevres at least – and, by ‘heavy,’ I mean enough for people to make a meal on.

Would you be expecting substantial alcohol as well? If so, recommendations? From an etiquette perspective, there is no requirement that alcohol be served at any party. That said, there may be a societal expectation (which is different from an etiquette requirement). In other words, if you come from an area where alcohol is always served at weddings and you don’t have any at yours, people will be surprised. Still, it is perfectly proper to limit alcoholic choices at your wedding, BTW. You are the hosts and you set the menu. Sometimes the theme of the wedding (if you have one) can help you decide what to serve. For instance, we are doing an outdoor wedding in May with a picnic/ BBQ meal. We’re having beer and spiked lemonade for people to drink (there will also be iced tea and regular lemonade available).

Cash bar? A cash bar is against standard etiquette. In other words, Miss Manners and her sisters frown on them. However, in some areas they are very common. If everyone you invite to your wedding is used to cash bars at weddings, then having one willl not seem rude. If full open bars are the norm at weddings in your area, then your guests may be appalled to find a cash bar. If you do come from a ‘cash-bar-friendly’ area, just be sure that there are some no-cost non-alcoholic options available for your guests. I have heard of weddings where every beverage – even water and soda – has to be paid for. This would be rude even in a cash-bar-friendly area.

Do you have a venue yet? Any ideas about how you want the wedding to be? Formal, informal?

gently shovels dirt over candlelight wedding dreams, pats with back of spade

So, 1:00 you say?

I do have a venue…it’s a banquet hall sort of place, with an attached kitchen there and a deck around it. We’re having the ceremony there also. I’m thinking: 15 minute ceremony, 4 hour party. Or do you think the ceremony should be shorter? :wink:

I also bought two dresses. When the second one is delivered, I’ll make a decision and take one back.

That’s all that I’ve accomplished so far, although I have argued with my mom a lot and made a lot of phone calls.

mack, I’ll have to start a whole new thread for music!

I’d be awfully surprised if you can get the ceremony down to less than 15 minutes. Is it going to be a religious ceremony, or a JOP?

The type of venue you’re thinking of is ideally suited for an inexpensive wedding (I didn’t mention it before, but my company specializes in budget weddings). Where are you located? Will the weather allow you to make any use of the deck? For instance, could you set the deck up for the ceremony and then move inside for the reception? If you don’t mind revealing a bit about your location (the state, maybe and city if you feel comfortable with that) I’d be happy to help you brainstorm a bit.

Jess, that’s very kind of you!

I was nervously joking about the ceremony being 15 minutes long. I really didn’t want any religion at all, but after a morning of arguing with Mom, I agreed to allow it to be mentioned in deference to the feelings of my grandma and others. Now Mom’s pushing for the officiant to be a preacher. Her main selling point is that they work cheap. Is that true?

I hope to get some use of the deck, but it’s really hard to say what the weather will be here in glorious Gainesville, Florida! It’s entirely possible for it to be seventy degrees outside in February. Then again, it might be thirty-five. :dubious:

To add to the confusion, when I told Mom I just couldn’t afford an evening wedding, she hinted that I might be able to afford it if she helped a bit…then she left on a week-long trip. :smack: Without knowing exactly what I can spend, I can’t make many decisions! Hand me that spade, will you? grubs frantically in the dirt for candlelight wedding dreams

Elope to Aspen and enjoy the ski slopes.
Elope to the Big Apple, see a Broadway Extravaganza.
Elope to Hollywood get in a movie.
Elope to Las Vegas and win a bundle.
Elope, elope, elope.
Again I say elope and save the expense for a new house, car, or whathaveyou.

I worked my way through college as a high-end wedding caterer. Here are some hard and fast rules.

  1. Cut quantity and selection of food and drink before you cut quality.

  2. Food can just be a selection of hordouvres and tray foods at that time of day. People are supposed to be mingling and having a good time, not gorging themselves. It is fine if you run out of food 3/4 way through the reception. That is when people should be dancing and drunk anyway. Being absolutely sure that you have enough of everything for the whole time generates much additional expense and waste.

  3. Feel free to limit the bar to a few carefully chosen beers and wines. Few people drink only hard alcohol and this pleases 95% of your guests greatly and 4% pretty well.

  4. No cash bars or cash anythings for that matter. Tacky, tacky, and memorable.

  5. You really need a bar of some sort.

Well, getting a solid budget is definately your first step! A nice wedding is definately doable for less than you’d think, if you plan it right – but you need to have an idea up front what you’re going to be able to spend so you can prioritize.

A minister isn’t always cheaper – some churches, in fact are very pricey. And a minister who is affiliated with a church may or may not want to officate at a wedding performed at a offsite location. Wedding officiants can be hired, of course, and the good knews for you is that most wedding officiants are very accommodating – even the ones who advertise as religious officiants are usually willing to perform a more secular service if you prefer. So you could get your mom off your back (“Look, Mom! He’s a Reverend!”) while still being sure you’ll get a ceremony that doesn’t make your skin crawl.You are probably looking at around $150 - $250 for a wedding officiant who’ll come to your location. Some will add travel charges, or charge extra to be present at the rehearsal. A ‘real’ minister affiliated with a local church is unlikely to the job for you much cheaper – and many of them will charge more, if you can find one who’ll do the job.

Do you have any idea of how big your wedding party will be? How about the size of the guest list? I have a pretty good method of making a guest list, if you are interested? Have you considered flowers and decorations, or are you interested in a theme of some type?

spingears, I like your advice but I’m not allowed to take it! (I eloped the first time I got married.) My fiance’ wants to celebrate with family and friends, and my family wants to see me “do it right this time” as well. I was convinced to go along by my fiance’, who pointed out that I’ll never be getting married again and I might regret it someday if I miss out on this kind of wedding and besides, it’s a new experience! So I promised…and you know, I’m starting to think parts of it will be fun. (In case anyone was wondering, I’m paying for the wedding and he’s paying for the honeymoon.)

Shagnasty, that was all good solid advice. It’s #1 that haunts me…
I see that I can’t starve people at 3:00, or charge them for drinks, so the new wedding time is 5:00. Or 1:00.

Jess, sorry I haven’t given you much to work with! Here’s what I’ve got so far: it’s going to be informal. In fact, I’m trying to think of it as a party at which I also happen to get married. We’re going to invite about a hundred and ten guests, so I’m thinking maybe a hundred will show up. It’s difficult to cut the guest list any more because it’s our immediate family and the people we work with. We work at the same company and we’re just going to invite our department, allowing for each person to bring one guest. My attendants are my daughter and his daughter, both fourteen, and maybe my nine year old son. His attendants are his best buddy and his two sons.

Here’s the scary part: I’m trying to do this on 5,000 dollars and I spent over a quarter of it on the venue. It’s an ideal place, though. I’m prepared to forego most flowers and professional photography and probably other stuff too, as long as the party is nice.