From Self Catered to Full Catered: Why I Gave in and Hired Wedding Caterers

When Mr W and I were first planning our wedding there was no doubt in my mind I’d be catering it myself. After all, we were planning on having a small wedding and I love any excuse to throw a party.

I’d also catered a wedding for a friend in the past and the challenge of putting together a tasty but economical spread was fun. I had a pretty good idea in my head of what I was looking to feed our guests and most of it wouldn’t be too difficult to make ahead of time or call in friends and family to help with.

As with most things wedding related…my initial thoughts didn’t quite turn out to be as realistic as I’d hoped. (The fact the 30-40 guests I imagined inviting quickly swelled to more like 130-140 may have slightly impacted this as well…)

My first stab at a menu looked a little something like this…

  • Roasted Chickens
  • Mashed Potato Bar (I know they’re no longer considered “cool,” but I can’t help it! I love them!)
  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Some type of great bread

Again…nothing fancy…but still tasty.

Of course the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it simply wasn’t practical to expect anyone I knew well enough to ask to roast a ton of chickens to be able to do that AND enjoy the wedding. So not long after we started planning, I found myself giving serious thought to hiring out someone to roast the chickens while we provided the rest of the food ourselves to save expenses.

Then my mom stepped in.

Mom: “Do you really want to have to worry about food  on your wedding day?”

Me: “It’s no big deal…we can make it up ahead of time.”

Mom: “Uh huh. I think you should consider calling a caterer just to see what it would cost.”

Me: “Fair enough.”

Of course it wasn’t but a few weeks prior that Tapioca had convinced me to try on “real wedding dresses…just for fun” after I’d decided I’d just get a nice cocktail dress for our mostly informal backyard wedding. Yeah…just try them on…sure. I came home with a gorgeous full length ballgown. (But that’s another story.)

So…you’d think I would have seen it coming, right? Next thing I knew a local caterer was on her way to our farm to talk to me about options.

But here’s what impressed me. I told her I was looking to keep the food UNDER $15 a person and rather than try to convince me to spend more, she said ‘well let’s talk about what type of food you want.”

Together we talked through my original menu and before I knew it, we’d outlined a plan that actually looked even better than my original menu and we were still sitting well UNDER my $20 per person limit.

As it turns out, most of her clients either did sit down menus or full buffets. Sit down menus were clearly more expensive due to the labor involved and the type of food that’s usually associated with them. I didn’t really want a buffet as I don’t like the feel of them at weddings. So instead we decided we’d go with food stations.

The benefit of food stations was that we could actually offer LESS food choices while still making it look like there were tons of great options. Since we already knew we’d have a killer cookie table/dessert buffet and a late night s’more bar, stations fit in perfectly with our reception plans. They also gave us a ton of flexibility in terms of tent layout.

Rather than have to work a big long buffet line into the mix, we were able to set up smaller tables throughout the center of the tent and dance floor which really helped create a much better traffic flow as people got their food. Going back for seconds was also much simpler if you only wanted just the one specific thing.

We decided we’d offer a mashed potato station with a handful of toppings (sweet corn, cheese, bacon, chives, sour cream and bacon) and a salad station with a big fresh tossed garden salad plus toppings as well as Mr W’s favorite marinated tomato and onion salad.

We agreed we’d taste test a few different entree options and eventually decided on baked lemon chicken and carved roast beef along with freshly grilled garlic bread in a separate carving station.

For an extra few dollars, we were able to add a beautiful hor dourves spread at the start of the reception that featured cheeses, crackers, fresh veggies and fresh fruits as well as passed hor dourves. (Super yummy baked goat cheese pinwheels and bite size bruchetta, mmmm!) While it wasn’t REALLY that much variety of food, set up in station form, it looked and sounded much more impressive than it was.

Our grand total, including service fees and gratuity came out just shy of $30 per person. Faced with an estimated cost of about $15 per person in food costs to cater it ourselves, not to mention the prep time, clean up time and convincing friends to “work” when they should have been partying… it quickly became clear that simply handing the whole process over to the caterer would make for a much less stressful wedding for me (and the people I was going to recruit to help.)

We also saved on costs by providing most of the decorations ourselves. Between my mother and I, we had enough baskets, lanterns and other items that fit in well with the food themes that we simply boxed it all up in an organized manner and left it in the caterer’s area for them to integrate into the food displays. In fact, for the cost of rummaging through our basements and buying a 10 pound bag of potatoes, the mashed potato bar decorations were pretty much covered.

But how did I find an affordable caterer, you ask? Simple…I spent a day searching all the wedding review sites and sent emails to everyone listed as “amazing food” and “affordable” within the reviews. That was until I came across a web site that only gave me a phone number.

I picked up the phone and proceeded to have a twenty minute conversation with a gentleman who reminded me so thoroughly of my grandfather that I was ready to hire him before I’d even tasted their food.

Ok, maybe not absolutely ready to…but it did convince me to set up a meeting on the spot. Luckily for them, they came to us first. I say that because when we went to their facility to do our tasting, we actually called them from the parking lot to see if we were in the right place. It felt a bit like we were walking into an auto-parts shop that hadn’t been updated in 30 years. Mr W was ready to walk away, but I convinced him to go and try the food.

The food was, in a word, amazing.

The reviews were equally amazing. So if you live with the Pittsburgh Metro region and you’re looking for a caterer, don’t shy away from Elegant Accents Catering just because their web site looks like it was designed in 1999.

I guess an old scary facility means you have less overhead and you can charge lower prices. 😉

Either way, we ended up with one of those caterers that has everyone at the party asking who did the catering and absolutely raving about the food.

And when you’ve only got ten grand for a wedding with 100 guests…that’s a BIG win!

The lesson here…don’t judge a caterer by their facility. Judge them by the reviews being left on sites like The Knot and Wedding Wire.

Your bellies and your wallets will thank you.

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