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The Great Catering Debate

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Catering is our budget buster. We have tried, very hard, to get around it but it just will not happen. We are both farm kids and grew up with amazing home cooked food. We have also had more disgusting food at wedding receptions than we would like to admit. Lastly, we both feel a full meal is a requirement for us. So, at the beginning of our wedding planning when we first discussed our priorities both of us immediately said, “Good food!”

This started quite the process however, because we live in a place where most venues have a preferred caterer or in house caterer only policy. Although the catering was the big issue, in turn, the venue became an issue also. See, we wanted to have between 250-300 people. Unfortunately, most places that are able to fit that amount of people, are hotels. Hotels with in house catering. And, in our experience, hotel catering is often not that stellar (although sometimes it can be amazinnnnng so if you found some that was good, good job!).

Finally, we found a venue that would fit up to 350 people AND only used outside catering. HOORAY! Granted, it will be a little bit more than some of the other places we looked but we are getting the space we need, we can have the whole kit-and-kaboodle there, and we can have whatever food we want! What we want is barbecue. Since I went to college, I have joked I was going to have a particular barbecue restaurant cater my wedding. Ryan and I went to this restaurant on our first date, where I told him this. There were many days of searching venues that I would try to give up on this, and Ryan would always say, “No, you said on our first date you loved it so much you wanted to have it at your wedding, and you are going to have it!” I’m so glad he didn’t let me give up on it!

I figure the pulled pork and beef brisket menu, with some fixins’, green beans, cole slaw, potatoes and cornbread will go quite nicely with our Derby themed affair. This brings up another point: have something to eat a majority of people will actually enjoy. Menu choice is extremely important. I fully support anyone having their choice of food, but remember that all these people are coming to see you and bringing you gifts, the least you can do is make sure you feed them something they can stomach. For example, I really like sushi. However, I know that probably close to 95% of the people attending our wedding have not had so much as one California roll pass through their lips, nor do they want to. Do I know its good, and they would probably like it if they just tried it? Yes, but that does not mean I should force them to try it by only having sushi at my wedding. If you’re serving a full meal, try to round out the menu by choosing 2 mains (typically meat but possibly a vegetarian dish if that will be an issue) at least one starch and one vegetable, a salad-type dish (or another vegetable) and some sort of bread or filler that can be served along with your meal. This will be similar to what most people would expect from a restaurant or meal they prepared themselves.


(Sidenote: I love to cook. I will probably end up with at least one recipe in every post!! Pulled pork is one of my FAVORITE things to make because it can be sooo simple if you have a slow cooker! Check out this recipe at one of my favorite websites for an easy slow cooker recipe)

The interesting thing is you cannot find a consensus on which is the way to go for catering. On the one hand, some people say do it yourself. Personally, this could not work for us although my mom would prefer it. My mom has covered the food for numerous large parties, social events and gatherings – including my brother’s wedding reception this past summer. And, although I know she loves to cook and feels best about an event when she can rest assured the food is good, it also exhausts her and makes it almost impossible for her to enjoy the party. I put my foot down and barred her from making any food (other than cookies for the cookie table!) for this wedding after my brother’s wedding reception. I think DIY can be a great option especially if you are handling a small crowd or having a small menu, but when you are having 275+ people like me, I think the physical and emotional toll it will take is well worth paying someone else.

Then comes the dilemma of plated vs. buffet. Sometimes you read plated is more budget friendly because the food portions are exact. Others say buffet is the way to go because you will pay less staff. I say, always check both and really think about what you are getting for your money. For instance, we are having barbecue for our wedding from a local joint that we LOVE However, we are going to be charged a 15% venue fee up front, and if we choose to have service included, a 20% service fee. Here is the thing, they only set up buffets. Our “service” would be one or two people that are there to monitor the food. Sorry, but the $700 we figured that fee would be is NOT worth two people standing around! I have qualms about asking people to take care of things like that at my wedding, but I know that some of our amazing family or close friends will be happy to look over that for me and won’t cost me 20%!

So, we finally got that settled and realized, maybe we could do it cheaper by just picking up the food ourselves. The thing is, if you’re just doing a buffet, you might be able to save costs by just setting it up yourself. We figure we can borrow some chafing dishes, when the food is delivered have a few designated people to meet the caterers and place it in the chafing dishes, and let ‘er go! It’s a buffet, people can nibble all night – just make sure someone can occasionally stir and check the chafing dishes.

Last, find a caterer that is willing to work with you. This will probably mean a smaller outfit, and not the most publicized business that is at every single bridal show, although again there are always the outliers. We, unfortunately, have had some issues getting them to call us back or answer our emails but we’re working through it and trying to be patient. As always, look for reviews and a history of working well. Although we have had issues getting return phone calls, we have worked with this caterer for different events over the last several years and so we know they will come through in the end, the pre-planning just might not be their strong suit.

Catering is so important because FOOD is so important! It is such a central part of social affairs in so many ways. And, good food is just pretty much amazing. Working in agriculture, it’s one of my passions and I love coming home and cooking a good, wholesome meal for us every night and experimenting with cooking adventures. So it’s only natural, that food would be where I started with all of you! Until next time!

Jessica Bishop Headshot

is the founder of TheBudgetSavvyBride.com, and author of the best-selling book,The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner & Organizer. Jessica's expert wedding advice and money-saving tips have been featured by Good Morning America, COSMOPOLITAN, Glamour, and more.