Your Guide to Wedding Catering

Treat your guests to an unforgettable meal on your unforgettable day with our step-by-step guide.


Belly Up to the Bar!

No Regrets:
Catering to Your Desires

• Be sure to have a complete tasting, using the exact china you want and accompanied by the same wines you'll serve, so you discover any clashes (visual or gustatory) in time to make changes.

• If you have multiple bar areas, make sure the bartenders coordinate and consolidate their stock as the event winds down so you don't end up paying for duplicate opened bottles.

• Ask to see proof that a caterer or catering hall is licensed with the city and state health departments, and make sure that the facility maintains liability insurance in order to compensate guests who suffer physical or other injury, such as food poisoning.

The bar is often the wedding-planning area that causes brides and grooms the most angst. There's a world of choice—cash vs. open bar; wine and beer only vs. the full range of liquors; and paying on a consumption basis vs. paying a flat fee. The difficulty of making bar choices is compounded by the fact that alcohol is expensive. But there are ways to cut down on your bar bill.

While finding ways to cut expenses is important, our experts agreed: Cash bars (where guests pay for their own drinks as they order them) are très tacky. Your wedding guests are just that—your guests. You wouldn't think of asking Uncle Al for a five-spot if you made him a vodka tonic at Thanksgiving dinner, would you? Plus, points out Hasslocher, caterers have a minimum sales number for cash bars to cover the cost of setup, bartenders and ice, and if your guests don't meet that you'll still end up with a hefty bill at the end of the event. So please, no cash bars.

If you want to cut down on alcohol consumption, consider holding your wedding earlier in the day, when guests aren't likely to drink as much. "At a morning wedding guests are more likely to have a glass of champagne for a toast and call it quits," notes Hasslocher. There's money saved without sacrificing style.

Know your crowd: If you expect heavy drinking, you're probably better off negotiating a total food and beverage price with your caterer, or paying a flat fee for bar service. If you're hosting an older crowd, or aren't expecting guests to indulge too heavily, then you're probably better off paying on a consumption basis, which means you pay only for what your guests actually drink.


There are other ways to save, as well. "Discourage waiters from refilling wine glasses at dinner without asking guests if they want more," says Livers. Also, be clear with your caterer that new bottles should not be opened until others are finished.

Livers also recommends that brides and grooms consider purchasing the alcohol themselves ahead of time. "Hotels and other venues with on-site catering may not let you, but an outside caterer will often agree. You can save a lot of money by shopping at discount warehouses or superstores."

If you decide to go this route, plan to serve two to three drinks per person during the first hour of the reception, and one drink per hour after that. If you have unusually heavy or light drinkers in attendance, you may want to adjust the figure slightly. Benning notes that in most cases, your caterer can give you a good idea of how much beer, wine and ice you'll need. When making your purchases, be sure the seller will allow you to return unopened bottles. Since you'll be making a fairly large purchase, negotiate with the seller for an even larger discount or for free delivery.

Finally, no matter what type of bar service you opt for, Benning suggests you stop serving alcohol about 30 minutes before you expect the reception to end, especially if the hour is late and your guests will be driving home or to area hotels. Not only will you be saving money, you'll be ensuring their safety.


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