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Exploring Your Catering Options

You’ve made the decision to have your wedding catered. Good job, one more decision made! But, you’re not really sure where to go from there. No worries! The good thing is you have a lot of options.

First of all, there are three general categories of caterers. The place where you’re having your wedding reception may have its own caterer. This is often a good choice because the cost will usually include everything you need, from staff to adult beverages to cake. Because the caterer works on-site, there is less chance that things will run into snags. Cost for this option is roughly $125 per person. Even if your venue doesn’t have their own caterer, they may have a short-list they can share with you of caterers who do weddings there regularly. Be sure to ask if they have a preferred caterer list because if they do, and you use an off-the-list caterer, there may be a penalty fee of up to $500. Prices for these list caterers can be negotiated oftentimes. The last type of caterer is to simply hire a local catering business that isn’t connected to the venue in any way. If you have a favorite local restaurant, they may also be able to bring food in for your event. Costs for this option will vary per business.

The other thing you will need to consider is how you want the food served. A sit-down, or “plated” meal adds structure and is easier to plan, but you will need to have several servers, and that can end up costing a lot.

Anthony Matson, chef at Westgate Sportsman Club in Eau Claire, says he prefers plated dinners because they allow “more control in portioning, cost, and consistency.” He adds, “It allows me to personalize each plate, whether with a garnish or by visual inspection. Plated dinners when properly plated add extra flair to the event.” If you decide to go with a plated dinner, Matson offers this advice: “Know your guests. Plan to go heavy on the appetizers with a light dinner, or go light on the appetizers with a heavy dinner.” He also suggests, “Take advantage of food tastings with your venue and chef. Request that the tasting be plated for ‘actual service’ to allow you to see what your chef is able to do visually. It might taste good but still not look that great.”

Another food serving method is to have a self-service buffet. This doesn’t require as many servers, but if some dishes are chosen more often than others, you may have extra food at the end, and some guests may feel like they didn’t get what everyone else got. Another way to go is to have a cocktail party atmosphere, where guests have smaller plates and they circulate to various food stations as they wish. For one thing, this plan means you don’t have to create a seating list! With this plan, you could instead have servers circulate with the trays of food, but again that could get costly. Other ways to have the food served include only serving hors d’oeuvres (this would be more like the cocktail party scenario), or you could go more informal and have a picnic or hire some food trucks to come in.

Brian LaFontaine, pitmaster and owner of Captain PJ’s BBQ in Menomonie, says food truck receptions are great because “they use fresh, local foods that let your guests be involved with building their own plates.” LaFontaine has found that there is a trend toward rustic weddings with “rustic food that is comforting and creates a relaxed atmosphere—like BBQ!”

Matson agrees that local fresh food is very popular right now with couples and with guests: “I am a huge fan of the farm-to-fork trend and the people that request local products.”

As you plan your wedding reception food, take all of the options into consideration, and choose what works best for you and your special day.

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