More Like “Hatering” Am I Right!

Jessica and I have experienced, shall we say, frustrations surrounding the issue of catering. As excited as we’ve been about landing such a sweet deal on such a sweet venue (and we’re still thrilled about it, bien sur), we’ve encountered a certain amount of sticker shock when it comes to catering. The Bridezilian Room has a list of approved caterers that range from semi-cheap to very expensive, including one that justified its minimum of $90/person by claiming that they use only organic ingredients.

I wonder if they know that I’ve actually been shopping before? Like, at a farmer’s market?

In any case, it’s becoming more and more clear that we’re not going to be able to afford a traditional catering job for the wedding. We had some promising leads, but whether it was caterers not getting back to us or being unwilling to cut the price by allowing us to, say, provide our own linens and tablewares, fitting food for 150 into our $10K budget has become untenable.*

*[Recent joke from Drew, which you unfortunately already know the punchline to: Did you hear about the guy who wouldn’t accept Hamiltons as payment? He was untenable.]

The benefits of using a caterer include more than just the food. They do all the set up of chairs and tables, for both the ceremony and the reception, they either serve the food or (if you choose a buffet meal) maintain the food, and they clean up. Since there’s a $1,000 cleaning deposit on the line, this is a major benefit.

Luckily, because we are having our wedding on a weeknight, we have other options available to us. As far as we can tell, these are the main permutations we can choose from:

  1. Catered wedding. Not looking good at this point.
  2. Drop-off. We’d use an approved caterer, but just for the food itself – they would drop it off and then high-tail it out of there as fast as their little caterer-legs can carry them. This would reduce the cost significantly, but we’d have to figure out how to do all the setup, breakdown, and cleanup.
  3. Potluck. Or some sort of variation thereof. On weeknights, the Bridezilian Room allows you to skirt the approved caterer list, for a $600 fee. The main requirements are that you cannot pay another caterer, and the volunteers who help set up and clean up and serve food must attend a meeting or two with the staff. We’ve gotten more and more excited about this option and are exploring it – would we get, say, 10-20 friends and family to cook up big batches of delicious food? Could I make enough pulled pork in advance to feed 150 people (minus a couple vegetarians)? Does pulled pork freeze well? Would we just buy food from a restaurant? A combination of bought food and prepared food? Who’s going to do all the work?
  4. Secret Option 4. Secret Option 4 is one we only recently discovered, after Jessica called the Room to inquire about all this. It turns out that we can do the following: Officially use the “non-catered option” (so, $600), but hire two staff from an approved caterer at $30/hr each (so for 8 hours, $480), and get whatever food we wish. Even though we’re already down $1,080 in this case, we could reduce the food costs by a TON and probably come out way ahead, and it would settle the issue of setup and cleanup. A lot of questions remain, of course: Is two staff really enough? (AG Ferrari, who Jessica called afterwards and who are familiar with the Room, seems to think so, but we’re a bit suspicious) Who’s gonna make the food? How did Carrot Top ever get famous, and why does he look so odd?

After a period of moping and kicking things and generally feeling sorry for ourselves, when we decided to actually embrace the non-catered option, we started to get really excited. We love to cook, and so do many of our friends and family. We can pretty much choose whatever we want – a hamburger bar, a taco station, or even a hamburger-taco fusion bar. Or something else, if that’s not your thing. When seeing proposed menus from caterers, we just weren’t all that excited about rosemary chicken breasts and arugula salads and pomegranate polenta and stuffed this on a bed of grilled Chilean that. It’s not that we don’t like that food – we do. It’s just not thrilling, especially because before we got into all this we had dreams of barbecue, which is very thrilling.

So, there’s a lot of work to do yet. But we’re feeling much better about our options – and the fact that we have options. I do love the idea of Jessica and I actually making some of the food for our own wedding, as well as having our loved ones contribute some as well. I keep having to remind myself that we don’t need that many different items – a main or two, a salad, a few appetizers – we just need a lot of actual food.

Any thoughts or suggestions, dear readers?

I’ll leave you with a few photos of stuff Jessica and I have made in the past, to whet your appetites:

Cutting gnocchi dough

The gnocchi balls, about to go into the boiling water

Chocolate mousse

Pizza!

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19 responses to “More Like “Hatering” Am I Right!

  1. If it is of any help, I have organized meals for 150 people, and I know how much food that looks like, I could certainly help organize if you’d like šŸ™‚

  2. Bret- Josh wants to be friends with you. Like forreal. He thinks you’re really funny. I’d even call it a man crush.

    I just saw your new post pop up in my reader and I read it to him like a mom reads her eager little son his favorite bedtime story.

    We laughed out loud throughout your post and crushed hardcore on the homemade gnocchi.

    I saw go for it and self-cater! East Side Bride had a guest post about self-catering and I thought it was helpful. But then again we’re not hard core cooks and we’ve never made a meal for more than 8 people.

    I think pulled pork is a fabulous idea! And if you have any leftover, please send. We love us some ‘Que!

    • Oh man, I feel terrible for leaving you our “reading out loud” story before I read this…That’s just too many couple crushes to handle for one day.

      I agree – Self-cater. I like the idea of having those duders do it. I think we’re figuring out how to have our favorite restaurant – Portillo’s – cater our wedding…and they only serve hotdogs, ribs, Italian beef sandwiches and burgers…you could look into something like that, eh? I’m not sure if you are looking for something more elegant, I saw you talked abotu pulled pork, haha.

      I’m worried about pushing for self-catering, because who wants a Step Brothers situation, where you’n Jessica are crying, covered in BBQ sauce the day before the wedding and you’re all: “Why? Why did you tell us this was a good idea? It was horrible!”

      • Srsly, Lizzie. Sometimes I read the stuff we write and it’s kind scary how similar things are sometimes! I’m going to start dropping subliminal messages to you and Bret to get ya’ll moved to Baltimore. Or at least visit for a night on the town.

    • Angie, that works out well, because I want to be friends with Josh. And you. I’ll have to check out ESB’s self-cater post – A Practical Wedding has one too.

      Tenthou*, I’m totally going to blame you when shit hits the fan, BBQ-style. “But… but… this other wedding blogger told me so! It’s her fault!” and then everyone will look at me like I’m nuts.

      *I hope you go by “Tenthou” among your friends. “Hey, here comes Tenthou!” and “Good ol’ Tenthou, what a friend,” they all say.

      • Hahaha. Oh guys. Really.
        Cracking. Me. Up.
        Oh, I hope you send me a big bag of elephant poo if that happens. I’ve been waiting to piss someone off enough to get one of these for a while now: http://www.poopsenders.com/

        Well…that’s just inappropriate and off-topic now. Anyway. Yes, definitely to all of the above.

      • Oh Em Gee. I’ve never heard of sending poop before. I totally want to find a reason to send it to someone now.

        Relatedly, a friend of mine gave me this as a birthday gift. It was pretty great.

  3. You *know* I love the self-catering idea. provided you really do have adequate and zealous support. I recently read a wedding report (touting the awesomeness of this route) where it sounded like *everyone* worked their asses off, and was perpetually crazed, and exhausted. It did not sound fun.

    On staff, as you know we’re hiring staff since we’re having a restaurant deliver the food. I’ve gotten two quotes on this and one recommends five staff and the other recommends six. That includes two bartenders in both cases. I think with just two, your guests will end up needing to pull some weight to keep things smooth, but that’s not the end of the world, and may fit with the overall potluck/self-catered vibe, without being oppressive.

    BBQ!!!!!

    • Oh, and since price tags are always fun to hear, the drop-off buffet we’re getting from La Med is running us about $1,500 for 100 people. You can see in August if it’s adequate, etc.

  4. We just did my sister’s wedding last weekend and it was wildly successful, albeit a ton of work and as the post above mentioned, really exhausting! I do love the self-catering, but it’s amazing how crazy the day before the wedding and the day of the wedding is, and making all the food yourself that week will be a TON of work.

    We had Whole Foods cater ($1,800 for an amazingly yummy buffet, drop-off style). It was for 100 people, but there was so much left-over food, we took it to a shelter. Then we hired a few people to help out with preparing the buffet on the tables, making some of the buffet into hors d’oeuvres, etc. It was pretty cheap and sooo NOT stressful!

  5. SHUT UP. You are making me DROOOOOOL right now with the gnocchi dough and pulled pork references. DO PULLED PORK. And then invite me to your wedding. I went to school in the south and couldn’t get enough. Fortunately, that freshman-thru-senior-15 melted right off once the pulled pork was out of sight. (Though not out of mind OBVS.) Love you, for serious!

    • I will not shut up, but I just may invite you to my wedding if you keep being so nice to me. I really, really do want to make pulled pork – I’ve made it before and it was freaking delicious – and if it freezes OK, I may even attempt it. I made it for 15 people a few months ago, spending about $25 on 6 pounds of pork; so for 150 people, that’s $250 and 60 pounds, though I imagine if I buy so much pork, I could get a discount. I’ll do a test run soon, freeze it, thaw it, and report back.

      Love your blog, Alison! I really do.

  6. You could just buy a whole pig and have all sorts of groovy stuff–trotters, ears–left over.

  7. So…not only do I love the poop soap…I especially love that it’s on a site called “Waste Some Cash.” That is ripe. Really.

  8. Okay, my turn…
    The question is obviously not IF you and Jess have the skills to self cater- those picture are making me salivate- but is it worth the stress? Just gathering the facts- you guys are planning on doing your own flowers, and probably decorating yourself as well. From my experience, it gets to be A LOT, FAST. But of course I understand the cost factor. I like these drop-off buffet ideas, and if it works with the budget, all the better!
    IF you decide to cook the food yourself (like your pulled pork idea), my advice would be to put someone else in charge of it… completely. They can get a team together to do everything- from pick up of the food from your house to displaying it, replenishing, etc. That way you two don’t have to think about it those last insane 48 hours leading up to, and during, the wedding.

    Oh, and an alternative to having a bartender (don’t even know if you’re looking for an alternative :), would be to put the wine bottles right on the guest tables, and use the staff to set a new one on when they’re empty. Unless you want a full bar which is, well, awesome of you.

    That’s enough of me blabbing. Keep it up, always makes me laugh! Plus, it’s always nice to see agroom that knows what the heck is going on. šŸ˜‰

    P.S. I’ve ALWAYS wondered that about Carrot Top. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  9. Hey Bret,

    What about a food truck? That’s how Seth and I got around some catering restrictions with our venue for our welcome/rehearsal dinner. With all the awesome trucks in the bay area, there are a ton of options. We worked with Curry Up Now, and they were fantastic. They just rolled the truck right up to the edge of the property and people came out and ordered whatever they wanted. It would mean doing more of a mingling reception rather than a formal, sit down one though, which may not be what you’re imagining. Just an idea! šŸ™‚

  10. The thought of those caterers running as fast as their little legs could carry them might make my day.

  11. Pingback: Dog Day Afternoon |

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