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If I had a dollar for every bride who wanted a friend, family member or neighbor to cater their wedding, I would be a wealthy woman. I mean, I understand the reasons: They want to do it for me as a wedding present, I love their food and the ever-popular, it’s going to be cheap!

I am all about people saving money on their wedding. And I have no problem with you hiring someone you know to cater your event IF they are a legit caterer. Being a good cook doesn’t make you legit, nor does cooking a mean Thanksgiving meal. My idea of a legit caterer is someone who has proper licensing, insurance and permits, someone who understands and follows the rules of food safety, someone with a competent and experienced STAFF (not just a motley crew of family members) to execute your event.

If your friend/family member/neighbor has a catering biz that boasts all of the above qualifications PLUS delicious, affordable cuisine and TONS of catering experience…then sign them up! But if they don’t have all of these qualifications, here is a list of things that could potentially happen at your day. And this list is, sadly, based on experience:

-The venue/food are not ready by the time guests arrive

-There isn’t enough food during the cocktail hour OR the reception…especially if you have a buffet

-There aren’t enough beverages during the cocktail hour or the beverages are not cold

-Service is s-l-o-o-o-o-w

-The hot food is cold and the cold food is hot

-Re-fills of the buffet take forever

-There are not enough forks/knives/napkins, so if you drop yours, kiss it up to God and keep moving

-There isn’t enough staff to clean tables in a timely manner, so guests are sitting for long periods with dirty dishes stacked in front of them

These are just a couple of things I’ve seen happen when brides didn’t hire the right catering crew. In addition, you want your caterer to be prepared for anything that could happen. For example, I had an outdoor wedding last August. It was hot. Of course it was hot! It was August! Anyway, I asked the caterer if he was prepared to serve guests beverages when they moved inside. He said that he had only prepared enough tea for dinner. So, I sent him off to purchase bottled water. But he only bought enough for 1/2 of the guests. People were NOT happy. They were hot and thirsty and didn’t understand why everyone couldn’t have water. We had diabetic guests who needed food before dinner and he was not prepared. He had 2 waitstaff to assist with 200 guests. He insisted on serving each guest from the buffet line himself, so feeding everyone took forever. I could go on and on, but it’s all too painful to remember.

Anyway, my point is this: cheaper is not always better. I’m not saying that every part-time caterer is going to ruin your day. But it’s important to ensure that your caterer understands what you expect of them and that they are prepared to meet the challenge. You don’t want your wedding to be referred to as “the one where they ran out of food” or “the one where we had to stand outside for an hour because the caterer wasn’t ready.” If you insist on using your friend/family member/neighbor, make sure you do some comparisons. Visit the other caterers in the area, the ones you fear will over-charge you. Find out how much staff they bring, what insurance they have, how long they take for setup and breakdown, get various different menu ideas, different layout suggestions, find out if they include linens, flatware and china, etc. Take all of the info to your friend and find out if they are as knowledgeable. I’m not opposed to a hook-up at all, just do your homework first!!

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