The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Catering: A Breakdown of Your Options

Updated 03/04/15

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What, you've never had to feed 150 people before? If you're not sure how to host the biggest, best dinner party of your life, start here. From every type of caterer you need to know about to the options you have when it comes to serving meals, we're breaking down the important information you need to know before planning your wedding dinner.

Step One: Know Your Caterers

An in-house caterer: If your venue has one, you can count on a reliable pricing structure that includes everything — staffing, rentals, booze, and cake. (Expect to pay about $125 per person.) Bonus: Since the caterer has worked on site before, there will be fewer surprises, and the day should run smoothly.

A preferred caterer: Many venues without a kitchen staff (museums, historic buildings) have a list of preferred caterers, and using an off-list pick may carry a penalty of around $500. Upscale locations tend to prefer pricier vendors, but you can often negotiate.

An outside hire: If you're obsessed with a local sushi or barbecue place, you may be able to serve its food at your party. (Check whether your venue allows it and the restaurant has the resources.) In rare cases, stealing a restaurant's chef and staff means it'll have to close for the night and it's on you to pay for every customer it misses out on at the restaurant.

Step Two: Decide How You Want the Food Served

Sit-down meal: Pros — a plated meal brings structure to the reception and makes it easy to curate a menu. Con — you'll need a server for every 10 guests, which can get costly.

Buffet: Pros — self-service cuts your waitstaff in half compared with a seated meal, and there's less lag time on the dance floor. Cons — if some dishes are more popular than others, you'll end up with wasted food. Also, people don't love standing in line for dinner.

Cocktail party: Pros — small plates and stations lets you serve inventive dishes you love, and skipping the seating chart makes your reception all about the dancing. Cons — a party longer than two hours can cost more than a sit-down dinner since the serves — you'll need one per 25 guests — will be working for the whole party. Plus, you'll pay for every passed tray. (You'll want 12 to 14 hors d'oeuvres per guest.)

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