In Defense of Full Service Catering

When it comes to your wedding planning, one of the key aspects of your guest experience AND your budget will be your catering selection. At the very foundational level, you have three options to choose from: full-service catering, drop-off catering, or taking the do-it-yourself (DIY) route. Whether they have a $50,000 budget, or a $150,000 budget, our clients always opt for full-service catering. As we’re seeing many couples in the beginning stages of their planning this month, we thought it might be helpful to outline why we always advocate for this pricier, but well worth-it, choice:

The Battle of the Banquet: Full-Service Catering

Full-service catering is more than just great food; it is akin to hiring a team that ensures every aspect of your wedding meal, including your drinks, appetizers, and dessert, is handled professionally. This option covers all the bases, from preparing and serving the food to cleaning up afterward. While it may be the most expensive choice, it offers an unmatched level of convenience and service, allowing you to focus on the celebration rather than the logistics. A full service catering team can also provide all of the below:

Culinary Craftsmanship

  • Menu Planning: Collaborating with the couple to create a custom menu that suits their taste preferences, dietary requirements, and wedding theme.
  • Food Preparation: Meticulously preparing the dishes with professional equipment, ensuring high-quality results (and temperature-appropriate food in any weather!) that are difficult to achieve without a commercial kitchen.

Ambiance Architects

  • Table Settings: Arranging elegant table settings complete with linens, silverware, glassware, and china, lending a touch of sophistication to the dining experience.
  • Tablescaping: If you are not opting for a venue’s in-house options, or if you choose a venue that requires you to bring in all your tables, chairs, and rentals, your full-service catering team can help handle those logistics. They’ll also set-up and breakdown all those rentals for you, so you don’t need to worry about post-event work.

Guest Services

  • Serving Staff: Providing trained servers to attend to guests’ needs, offering hors d’oeuvres, pouring drinks, and serving meals either as plated, family-style, or buffet.
  • Bartending: Supplying professional bartenders to manage the bar, mix cocktails, and ensure responsible alcohol service. If you choose to purchase your own alcohol, they can still provide you with appropriate recommended quantities based on your guest list, and will likely remind you of your ABC licensing requirements.

Behind-the-Scenes Brigade

  • Kitchen Staff: Managing the back-of-house operations, including cooking, plating, and coordinating the timing of courses. Your catering banquet captain is in constant communication with your coordinator to ensure that any timeline changes are accounted for and your food is ready when you are!
  • Food Safety: Ensuring all health codes and food safety regulations are followed to maintain the highest standards of hygiene and quality.

Clean-Up Crew

  • Clearing Tables: Swiftly clearing dishes, glassware, and silverware from tables to keep the dining area tidy and organized. Can you imagine a wedding without any bussed tables?
  • Waste Management: Disposing of trash and recycling appropriately throughout the event, reducing the environmental impact of the festivities. Some caterers will charge extra for this service. Trust us, it is worth the cost.

Support Staff

  • Set-up and Tear-down: Erecting and dismantling the dining setup, including tables, chairs, and buffet lines. They can also arrange for and return your rentals, as mentioned above.
  • Equipment Handling: Providing and managing catering equipment such as warming trays, chafing dishes, and beverage dispensers.

It is important to note that these tasks are NOT tasks that are otherwise handled by other vendors; most vendors (including your wedding planner) will not handle food or alcohol for liability reasons, and may have a policy against handling any special rentals not sourced through them. In the absence of a full-service catering staff, these tasks will fall to you and your friends and family.

So as to not provide only a one-sided argument, here is a quick description of the other two forms of catering, along with their pros and cons:

Convenience with a Catch: Drop-off Catering

Drop-off catering is the middle ground—more affordable and straightforward. Your chosen fare is delivered to the venue, but the responsibilities of setting up, serving, and after-event cleaning will lie with you and your guests. It’s a practical choice, but comes with the trade-off of managing these tasks during what should be a time to relax and enjoy. During the pandemic, we saw this option work well enough for micro-weddings of 30 guests or fewer. However, we still recommend sourcing one or two servers to work hourly to help serve drinks, bus tables, and breakdown your rentals.

The Homemade Touch: DIY Catering

Opting for DIY catering can inject personal flair into your wedding, with family recipes and favorite dishes on the menu. This hands-on approach can save money but demands careful planning and coordination. It’s a labor of love that will add to your workload and may stress out your friends and family. If you are getting married at a venue, DIY catering may not be an option, as most venues require caterers to have business licenses and business insurance. If you are opting for a casual backyard party, we still recommend saving a few hundred dollars for backup pizza if something goes awry, and purchasing large trash barrels to help with post-meal management.


Not convinced? Let’s have a chat.

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