Broke-Ass Category: Caterers & Cake Vendors

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Affiliate Disclaimer NewWelcome to another episode of Broke-Ass Advice! Today’s question is about what to serve guests at a casual reception:

Womans Hand Taking Food From Cafe Table With Dips And Drinks

I love your website. Not just this one, but all of your blogs. So helpful and inspirational. While I was reading your book, I continually would read passages out loud to my fiance and say, finally, someone who gets it!

We are paying for our wedding ourselves. This is a first wedding for both of us.

I guess I’m writing to seek advice or validation for my food idea for our reception. My family is huge, cutting back the guest list is truly not possible. We are inviting around 200, I assume 100-150 will come. We have our venue set at a farm in November 2016; hopeful for an outdoor ceremony, barn reception. We are going for relaxed, informal. It’s important to us to have good music, good drinks, and for everyone to just have a great time. Our venue only allows wine and beer, so we want to provide as much of that as we can. It’s an evening wedding. So here’s my trouble:

I know it is impossible to please every guest. And that it’s my day, etc. But I guess I’m nervous about my idea for food. I was thinking we should have a cocktail hour where we start serving drinks and provide meat, cheese, and fruit trays. For dinner, I was thinking we could have Panera bread cater. I think it would be cost effective. My fiance loves sandwiches. We could serve soup, salad, bread, sandwiches of all varieties. And we are having a pie bar for dessert.

Is this too informal? Is it tacky to only serve sandwiches? It’s my opinion that a lot of typical catered food is overpriced and underwhelming. But, I guess I just want to make sure that my older guests won’t think we’re just trying to be cheap…

I’m so confused! Please help!

– Sandwich Connoisseur


Dear Sandwich Connoisseur,

Aww, shucks. Thanks for the sweet compliments. You are precisely why we do what we do!
Back to the sandwiches, I LOVE IT! I have more to say, but I figured I’d put the most important part of my response right up front.

Logistics: First up, you’re right. If you can’t reduce the guest list, you’ll have to get creative about cutting back in other places. But who says sandwiches are 2nd class food, anyhow? Sandwiches are marvelously flexible, in that you can create custom gourmet options or stick with classics like grilled cheese and cold cuts. I only have two warnings about sandwiches:

1. On a cold November evening (it’s usually cold here in Ohio in November … despite our unusual heat wave this year), guests might appreciate something warm. But you already thought of that! Warm soup is a perfect compliment to room temperature or cold sandwiches, and if any of the sandwiches are grilled like paninis, that’s got you covered as well.

2. If you have any guests with Celiac disease, they will appreciate a gluten-free option. Find out if your caterer can accommodate guests’ food allergies, if necessary.

Chalkboard Table Tent Cards

Chalkboard Table Tent Food Cards available from Etsy seller ThePaperWalrus

The way to impress guests isn’t with the food type (although they will be underwhelmed if they are not fed at all), it’s through your presentation. Put your own unique spin on things by asking if the caterer will create a signature sandwich option for you. Put out DIY labels or mini-chalkboards for the sandwich and soup types with personalized names (try “name of place you met” Tomato Soup, or “your sweetie’s name” Favorite Autumn Soup). Let your guests in on the “secret” — that this food was selected in part because it’s your favorite! Work with your caterer and venue to design multi-\level displays for the different food options, and think about “homemade / comfort food” as part of your overall theme and design inspiration.

Another way to ensure happy guests regardless of your menu is to offer them a variety of options. If you go with sandwiches the same rule applies: have 3-4 options from which guests can choose, whether that’s a preselected meal on their RSVP card, stations for spontaneous selection, or a buffet of soups and sandwiches to choose from. Then let them customize their meals by adding a dips, sauces, and soup toppings station with crackers, shredded cheese, diced onion, fancy dijon and whatnot. Personally, I think guests will appreciate something a little different! (And bonus: You save on silverware rental, too!)

Spicy Mustard With Local Beer

Spicy Mustard With Local Beer by BrownleePreserves on Etsy

If Panera is your fave, go with that! Other options might be your local sub joint — and then you can make a ceremony out of “breaking bread” when a giant sub is cut into smaller slices for your guests. Or schedule in time to share a unity sandwich! One local couple in my area had multiple food chains present stations so that their guests could sample from a few of their favorite restaurants. (Chipotle was one of ’em! Guac-4-Evah!) Whichever route you take, I always recommend getting three quotes before finalizing your decision.

I can’t forget to mention that that pie bar idea is rockin’. Please tell me there will be pumpkin pie. And banana creme. And cherry. OMG PIE. (Mini-pies and pie pops are adorable, too!)

Emotions: You’ve got it exactly right — all the stuff about it being your wedding, and that you can’t please everyone. (Someone’s a quick study of the BAB book!)

I can tell you’ve thought it through, and that’s pretty much what it’s about. If you weren’t considering the comfort of your guests I might have to set you straight — but you are. Now here’s where I stand on my soap box for a sec: Almost nothing about a wedding is required. You must have a partner, a legal document and someone legally recognized to witness and sign the document, and that’s kind of about it. Everything else is subject to interpretation.

And what really is “tacky,” anyway? Ignoring your guests is tacky. Being a poor host is tacky. Individual choices about what to serve, how and where to serve it, etc. are not tacky, although they might be different from what someone else has experienced before. What’s wrong with that? (For more, check out this article on Offbeat Bride.)

My last thought for you is this: You and your partner are the ones who need to feel comfortable with all of this. It’s your money, your wedding … you know the story. I can tell you I love it or I hate it, and my opinion just doesn’t matter. (Sidebar: The opinions of family may matter because you care about them and want them to enjoy your wedding, but they shouldn’t deter you from doing what you want or convince you to do something you can’t afford.)

But I do love it.

You do you. 😉 And let them eat sandwiches!

Party on!

– Lisa 

Planning a wedding in Northeast Ohio? Here’s where you can find me for wedding planning assistance.

Got a planning question? Ask us in the comments below!

  • 11/9

    Image: Persimmon Images
    During my venue visit, I found out that their pastry chef doesn’t do cake. This was annoying because I had not planned on having to find a separate vendor for this, but now I do. Being that my venue is a few hours from home, it’s not practical to use a bakery close to home which is a bummer since, like with all vendors, I know the reputations of bakeries around here, and I’ve sampled their goods! I just can’t risk transporting such precious cargo myself. Plus, we are heading up there on a Friday, and the cake won’t be served until Sunday, so I just don’t know how I would store it.
    My venue provided a list of bakeries they commonly work with, and I spent some time searching their websites to check out photos of their previous work and flavor options. It was a short list to begin with, so I easily narrowed it to two choices. I reached out to both for pricing information, and as usual, I was shocked! I’m only having about 75 guests, at the most, so I figured I didn’t need anything huge. I thought maybe a couple hundred dollars. I’m not looking for lots of decorations  or embellishments; I just want to it taste good. I’ve been told that’s the opposite of most brides who are just looking for a pretty cake, but I’m all about that cake, so quality is key! Since I’m indecisive and love dessert, I simply cannot choose one or two flavors. My fiance and I also have very different taste preferences, and guests do too, so I thought cupcakes would be a good option since I wouldn’t really have that many tiers on a traditional cake to mix up flavor options. I was quoted close to $500 for cupcakes and a small cutting cake from both places! That seemed crazy to me. $4 per cupcake!!! And they weren’t that accommodating with tastings, charging a fee and only offering two flavors to taste. I was so looking forward to  the cake tasting experience, of different cakes, fillings, etc., but no such luck here.
    Since I’m flying blind, I took to social media.  I found a Facebook group for Vermont brides, and asked if anyone had recommendations for bakers.  I got a few suggestions, but they mostly seemed to be hobby bakers that would whip up a box of Ducan Hines in their kitchen. The potential quality issues there make me a little uneasy. Is this worth the cost savings?

    So BABs, how do you find delicious desserts without starving to be able to afford them? I’m thinking of exploring the sheet cake route next. I’ve heard that can be a money saver. Any other suggestions?

  • 9/11

    Ask Liz Wedding Time vs. Catring

    Dear Liz,  The second deposit for my venue is due next week, and when I looked at the contract and thought about what we want to happen that day, I'm starting to freak out. Our wedding is next month, we're getting married at 5pm, and the music has to be off by 10pm, so we can be totally out by 11pm. With the ceremony, cocktail…

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    Photo: Andie Freeman Photography Dear Liz, My fiancé and I are in the very beginning of planning our wedding. Naturally, we started with the venue hunt. But now we have a small problem. I  found a beautiful venue, it barely needs decoration, and it's sooo unique. However, they  only have one exclusive caterer, and they don't impress me. With our budget we would only be able to afford a…

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  • 3/24

    You may remember my telling you that English weddings tend to be boozy affairs. And by that I mean that most people measure the success of a wedding on just how trollied they were by the end of the night. Credit Trollied" is English slang, meaning "very drunk." It does not necessarily require a "trolley" (for US readers, we mean "cart"), although this does sometimes happen…

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    Credit: Bright Fizz Photo I downloaded one of those wedding countdown apps a few weeks ago out of curiosity. Just how many seconds were left until we said “I do?” My biggest shock though came in realizing that, duh, January to June is FIVE months, not six. We had missed the six month mark, when I told myself that I’d have to actually start making hard…

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    "I know someone who does that!" "You can just borrow mine!" "Here, let me help you make one!" These are just a few phrases I have come -- fortunately! -- far too familiar with in the past year. The truth is, when you plan a wedding, everyone wants to be involved. It's not a bad problem to have! Steve and I chose a venue that…

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  • 1/8

    Real Bride Elissa: Catering to My Love of Food

    Food is very, very important to me in my everyday life. When I say things like “I love to travel!” it’s really because I love to try new food. When I say “Let’s go do something!” it usually means “Let’s go out to eat!” Because of this, I knew going into wedding planning that finding the perfect caterer was going to be a tall order.…

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