Why is the food at my wedding so expensive? I mean, really, is it that hard? The short answer is “yes”! Yes, it really is that hard to bring out a hot, delicious meal to all of your guests all at one time! And by the way, the meal itself starts months in advance of the day of your wedding. But, don’t just take my word for it. We did a post a while ago about the cost of wedding photography in the Washington DC area. Many of you loved it and I thought it would be helpful to dig a little further into some of the other costs of wedding. What are those big-ticket items and why do they cost what they cost in the DC area? Today, I’m talking with Erin, operations manager at Washington DC area wedding catering company Eat & Smile Catering. She is sharing with us the inside scoop on all that goes into catering a wedding. I’m hoping her insider knowledge will help you keep it all in perspective as you whip your wedding budget into shape! Take it away, Erin…

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Photo courtesy of Eat & Smile Catering

Any service being provided for a wedding is like an iceberg – seemingly a small, distinct item with assumed boundaries based on what can be seen. For a wedding, that would be the decorations, the meal, the dress and afterwards the photographs. However, as we know about icebergs, there’s so much more than meets the eye! This is very true of wedding catering. There is so much that goes into the planning, prepping and serving of a meal for guests on a wedding day.

To jump right into it,there are two major costs for any event catering company when it comes to a wedding: operation expenses, which includes our facility, utilities, equipment, insurance, vehicles, and all administrative efforts; and food expenses, which includes the sourcing and purchasing of ingredients themselves, as well as the kitchen and event staff – and they time they spend before, during and after your wedding to make your reception a success.

At Eat & Smile Catering we focus on executing special events, so there is a lot of custom work involved. In addition to our overall company mission to use local ingredients, operate under green practices such as composting, using renewable energy, and paying a living wage to staff, we aim to provide client-specific, a la carte options to create meaningful and budget-conscious events. After months of planning, phone calls, and e-mail conversations, we make sure that all of a client’s event details are in order, and that the flow of their event will be a successful one that merges with great food service – this takes a great attention to detail! For many weddings, we need to create a kitchen in an empty space, where we finish our freshly-prepped foods, and this setup happens while other staff is setting up the guest areas – busy, and so many moving parts to manage in the moment!

On the client side of things, most folks see catering as shopping for a meal, but it’s actually shopping for a very custom meal and detail-oriented service and oversight of your event, from pre-start to finish. Behind the scenes throughout the process is a team of 10-12 staff that prep for and then provide an excellent wedding meal service over a busy eight hours. This includes prepping the meal; setting up the space, bars, and the kitchen; the event’s service; and a thorough clean up of the venue once all guests leave. We also have a three to eight month planning period with the engaged couple before the big day!

Our time spent planning with each client starts early with initial inquiries and conversations to develop a custom menu. Then we schedule and hold a complementary tasting of the food (the fun part!). We also spend time working up various iterations of proposals until we get to the one the client most wants, and then we head to creating a contract. These first steps take hours, days, and weeks, depending on each event. Our most active planning time with a client starts at three months out from their event, and covers numerous e-mails and phone calls, as well as in-person walkthroughs as we determine their custom menu, layout for their venue and a timeline for their event. There are often added services, such as staffing for the event and coordinating or double-checking rentals orders. We thoroughly review all of the pieces along the way to ensure an accurate guest count and consider a couple’s budget priorities.

In the week prior to an event, we finally get to the actual food when the ingredients are ordered. Then in the days prior, the kitchen staff is hard at work prepping the food. Meanwhile, the office staff is creating comprehensive event files, confirming timelines, deliveries, rentals, as well as scheduling event staff. The day of the event, our team arrives ready to tackle a great reception! We work non-stop through roughly eight hours of set up, service, and in-depth cleanup.

Running a small business, and especially one that does customized work for many clients and under high stakes like a wedding is done out of a passion! Our work at Eat & Smile Catering is based on years of experience in the industry, as well as a love for creating memorable, delicious events.

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Well, how’s that for an answer as to the cost of wedding catering!? Thank you so much Erin and the entire team at Eat & Smile Catering. If you are in need of a great meal for your wedding, please do check out Eat & Smile Catering, you and your guests will be happy and well taken care of!

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