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Wedding Catering For Restaurateurs

What should you consider when thinking about tackling wedding catering?

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In a down economy that's been especially hard on restaurants, what better way to recoup some lost dollars than catering a wedding or two?

Wedding catering can be big money. People spend between $15,000 and $30,000 on the typical wedding. And they put about half of that money towards catering, according to popular wedding websites like Elegala.com.

Also, when families choose your restaurant to cater their wedding, they show their admiration not only for your food, but also for the experience of dining in your restaurant. They give you the chance to strengthen your ties to the couple, their families and your community.

But wedding catering isn’t for everyone. According to many who do it, it requires a lot of energy and time spent working with your clients. Also, your clients have an enormous investment in the success of their wedding reception. Most people expect to be the bride or groom in only one wedding in their lives. Some restaurateurs who have catered weddings say that this boosts accountability—and stress—in catering weddings as opposed to other events.

Most in the restaurant industry suggest having a dedicated person to manage each wedding that you cater. That person can be you, but if you're adding wedding catering to the services offered by your restaurant and you already do a steady business, you may find yourself in over your head.

Kristin Irani of northern Virginia catering company Design Cuisine believes that a dedicated manager for wedding catering is a must. "Catering involves service as well as product," she says. "It's important to interview the client to figure out what they want and need. Part of your job is to create the experience that the client wants."

On the other hand, Yvette Peacock, co-owner and –manager of two restaurants and an event caterer in Tecumcari, New Mexico, says, "It would be easier and better to hire someone to handle events, but in a small town that isn’t possible so I do all of the planning and orchestrating myself." She concedes that this can be stressful.

Many in the restaurant industry also recommend a kitchen with its own staff to handle weddings separate from the kitchen and staff for restaurant service. If the same people are on both teams, then you should consider stopping serving people in your restaurant while you’re catering a wedding.

Claire Stoner, a former catering server at an inn in western Pennsylvania, recalls that the inn had a restaurant and bar at one end and banquet facilities at the other, and for each it had a food service manager and set of staff, including cooks, bussers and dishwashers.

You also need to be sure that you have ample space and equipment for the catering part of your operation. Jennifer Conger, a former wedding director and catering assistant, emphasizes the importance of making sure that you have enough resources, including ample counter space and food preparation and storage equipment, especially if you're planning to offer restaurant service at the same time as you’re catering a wedding.

To plan wedding catering, Conger says, you need to determine how many people your restaurant can serve at once, how much you’ll need of kitchen supplies, space, staff, and refrigerator and freezer space and how you’ll serve the food. The answers to these questions will help you decide whether to buy or rent additional equipment.

Restaurateurs who cater urge others to make too much food for weddings. Steve Armstrong, chef and owner of Chef At Your Door, says, "The client states: 100 guests to include X portions of entre 1, Y portions of entrée 2 and Z portions of entrée 3. Then the problem arises of guests changing their mind on what they wanted, or more guests than expected. I always calculate 10-15% greater than the client's prediction and charge accordingly."

As you’re thinking through whether wedding catering makes sense for you, you may want to visit some popular wedding planning web sites to get a better sense of the kind of work you'd be doing, like WeddingDNA, your one stop source for all things wedding. http://www.landafun.com/landaadmin/BrowseImages.do?cat=7747&site=2

Written by: Kate Hough

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