Feeding Your Wedding Vendors
Four Issues and Solutions Explained
When a bad article is written and then posted by a publication that is noted as supposedly reputable in all things wedding, it shocks me. I have an emotional reaction really. Where's the fact checking? Where's the actual logic? And I just read one of those articles, which I won't give any more publicity by linking. It gave bad advice on which wedding vendors should be provided a meal at a wedding. I can’t blame any bride or groom-to-be that comes away thinking what was written is the standard, the norm for all weddings. Most couples have little to no experience in planning a wedding before their own, and they look to these articles for advice.
So I figured, lets turn this lousy article into something productive, lets talk about your wedding and the meals provided to the people working with you. Lets talk about the reality of it all and what many neglect or feel awkward talking about. We're going to talk about dinner. Specifically, my dinner!
If there was some driving between your venues, I may have been able to eat a granola bar on the road. Otherwise I don’t stop until you do as well. And that is at dinner. While you and the rest of your guests are eating, enjoying good conversations and good food – that is when I’m able to eat as well, without the fear that I’ll miss a great moment. Plus, I know that no one loves a camera in their face as they're eating! This would be the best time for me to eat too. If you’re eating, you don’t need photographs taken. Logical, right?
Many venues (not all – some of them really get it!) refuse to feed vendors until last. Dead last. They want to serve every guest first. From their point of view, this may seem to make sense. The actual guests are a priority. We're the help. The logistics of food service are difficult, especially at a large event, which I completely respect. But in terms of photography, videography, and music.. it means that when you’re done with your meal, ready to mingle or dance, I’m just being served. Shouldn't the priority be the whole wedding experience? Which includes the vendors you, as a couple, want there doing the best work possible. The reality is, we've probably been going for at least five or six hours now with hours to go. Food matters.
So I’m finally served last; I either shovel food into my mouth as fast as I can without choking, leaving three quarters of a plate on the table in the hopes that I can return for a few more bites only to find out later it has been whisked away OR I don’t eat. I suppose there’s also the option to sit, eat my meal in a civilized manner, and miss the photographs for that moment.. usually the parent dances are just after the meal.. those aren't important, right? (In case it wasn't clear, that's a joke, I could never do that. )
Added Note: In case you're wondering, buffets aren't always any better. A photographer I know went through a buffet line, had food and was ready to sit, only to be told by staff that vendors go last and have that plate taken from him just to be tossed in the trash.
The Solution: You can insist that the caterer feed the vendors at the same time as you, you the couple, regardless of their policy. It still may not happen, but it can be worth a try. You, as their client, have a lot more sway than I do advocating for my own meal.
Once again, I’m going to generalize here because there are venues that have this covered. Every venue has a different policy. They all have a different layout and space constraints. But they all also have vendors at every event. So they should have a solution to this one already, yet many do not.
So, Where will I eat? Simple question, right? I’ve been served at a table off to the side in the same ballroom with guests. I’ve been handed a plate and told I could sit on a crate or pallet in the kitchen where I’m clearly in the way. I’ve been placed in a room so far away that I could no longer hear the dinner music or anything else that was happening in the room. I’ve been directed to eat outside, under a tiny overhang at least, while it was raining. I’ve eaten standing at a bar table where cocktail hour was held (I remember dreaming of a chair). I’ve been seated at a table with guests, next to mom actually, and served with everyone else. And I've had a caterer give me a plate and tell me to figure it out. I’m sure there are other vendors with even more unique meal locations to tell you about too!
The Solution: Have a vendor table included in your floor plan. A table with linens, utensils, and chairs. If we’re in the room with you, we can be ready for an impromptu toast or a group photo before your aunt has to leave. It also gives me a place to keep a glass of water or put my camera down for a moment without it being in someones way. Some venues have adjoining cocktail areas with tables and chairs or side rooms, this works really well too!
This one I hear horror stories about. I’ve been very fortunate. I can’t remember the last wedding I photographed where I wasn’t eating a hot meal comparable to the one the guests had. BUT I’ve seen other vendors post photos of the leftover cocktail hour scraps handed to them, a couple of cold cuts left out half the day on a table for ten vendors, the moldy (no joke) sandwich provided. There are venues that offer a reduced price ‘Vendor Meal’ and it’s not always what you think you’re paying for your vendors to eat. And the hardest part of it all, it’s not the venues and caterers that you might ‘expect’ to give out lousy or gross meals.. more often than not it’s places that might book hotel rooms starting upwards of $700 a night.
The Solution: If it is a Vendor Meal instead of the meal you’re offering guests, just clarify what this meal is. Make sure you’re getting your moneys worth and your vendor is getting something that actually will be edible and provide some sustenance. Extra points if you also contact the vendors to take into account if any of them have allergies or dietary restrictions.
This is where this conversation started. Who gets a meal? A meal that you’re paying for. Off the top of my head, I would include your wedding planner, their assistants, the photographers, the videographers, the band and/or DJs, and any other vendor who is working four hours (that’s just my standard number and it should really take into account the time for setup and breakdown) or more through dinnertime. Opinions here may vary, but it seems like a waste to have any kind of vendor feel they have to leave to go out to hit a McDonalds or be running on fumes by the end of the evening. Keeping our energy up, staying positive to continue doing great work, is a big part of being at a wedding. Working in my office or while writing this blog post now, it doesn’t matter quite so much that I’m getting hangry!
The Solution: Check the contracts. Professionals include language about meals in their contracts so you are obligated to feed them and their assistants if this is the case. But you can also go a step further and just ask them. There are professionals who don’t see language about food in a contract as necessary, probably because they’ve been lucky enough to have good experiences thus far. I realize how expensive weddings are but is the cost of one or two more meals the tipping point? What it comes down to for me.. it really is the human thing to do.
We’re all in this with you to make this day amazing. Sadly, some places overlook or have contrary policies to the points above, some even see the other vendors they work alongside as a nuisance to deal with that day. They’ll do the bare minimum at best (you don’t actually want utensils with that food, do you?). Searching for a place to eat, hoping to be fed at all.. it's all a little silly.. and it's not something I love adding to your plate. Pun intended ;) But the few extra minutes it may take to make sure all of this is a non-issue, that you'd getting the meal you pay for, that you know the policies; it can really be worth it. Setting the right tone for an amazing day!