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  • Writer's pictureDavid B Townsend

Basic Wedding Food Planning

Your family is planning a special event this Spring, a Wedding or Reunion. You want to have the party at an outdoor venue like a State Park or winery. There are many things to consider and probably restrictions which you need to be aware before you get too far along in your planning. Location restrictions and accessibility should be your first concern. Many venues either require a full-service caterer or use of their own on-site kitchen to provide food services. Once you're comfortable with the venue selection you need to consider the caterer. Caterers come in several categories.


1] The Deli Platter- You order a selection of meats and cheeses, salads, and drinks and you either pick up the platters or have them delivered.

2] Food Truck / BBQ Guys - A caterer BBQs or cooks several entrees on site and you set up a buffet line or have the caterer help with the meal service. In both these instances, you have to set-up the tables and chairs, rent or buy plates and flatware, and set up everything with your family and friends.

3] Full-Service Caterer - This can be everything from an informal buffet line with several entree choices to restaurant style individually plated meals brought to the table by servers. Both buffet or table service requires enough staff pour wine and water, and clear plates once the meal is over. They may also cut a cake and serve desserts. This type of caterer can provide assistance with the rental of linens, glassware, dinnerware, as well as help set up the tables and chairs if you want or the venue, like many State Parks require them to do.


Start your catering search by first asking the venue if they have a list of preferred vendors. Visit caterers websites. Check out menus, pricing, presentation, and then call a few to ask specific questions. Some caterers charge for travel, an up charge for bartenders, or do markups on ice and fruit garnishes for the bar. Does beverage service include soft drinks or coffee? Is there an expectation of gratuity, a cake cutting charge? If having keg draft beer, can It be held at the caterers for chilling and then brought to the venue? Does the caterer have more than your event on this date?

I've worked with several caterers over the years. One of Nevada County's most requested wedding & company event caterers is Antonio of Antonio Ayestarán Custom Catering. He had some insight into off-site catering and what you need to know to hire a full-service catering company.

"I like to work with clients who are really excited about the food. If all they want is grilled chicken and side of beans and mashed potatoes there are many caterers who would love to work with you.- It's not my style." His preferences are for more ethnic foods: Spanish Paella, Mexican, Czechoslovakian or one of his most requested, the Argentinian Flat Iron Steak with cherry tomato-olive relish with crispy kale.

Antonio likes the excitement and challenges of doing off-site catering. When asked about what challenges he has taken on. "I've done wild game dinners for a group of hunters who had moose, alligator, or elk they want to feature. Those are fun and challenging." If you've ever attended the "Starry Starry Night's" event at the Empire Mine State Historic Park, you can see what it takes to serve 300 guests, and over a hundred volunteers to a sit-down dinner.


So what can a full-service caterer like Antonio bring to your party? Literally everything! His crew will set up tables and chairs help with rental equipment and deliver a great meal.

"It's not just the food; it's the service we provide. We can help with linens and rentals. I give them a list of preferred vendors and I give them a list of things they will need. But I prefer to rent items for the client through my business, and the client actually gets a discount. I do this because if you get to dessert and someone forgot to order the dessert forks, it's the caterer who is going to be blamed".

Once you have selected the caterer and confirmed availability they will schedule a menu tasting. This allows you to try the exact meal you have planned, and maybe even sample a few different dishes. Caterers will charge a nominal fee to cover costs, around $25 per person, which is deducted from your booking if you follow through with a contract.

In planning a wedding, Antonio recommends that you hire a Wedding Planner, even if it's just for the Day of the Event. "The wedding party needs to feel comfortable with changing their minds and calling their vendors with questions, and a wedding coordinator can act as that person to bring it all together. On the day of an event, you want to know what to expect from everyone you're working with."


This 'Day-of-Planner' is a person you hire to be the go-between for you the venue, caterer, musicians, DJ, florist, décor person, etc. When you arrive at your venue the day of your wedding you don't want any surprises or added stress. The Wedding planner can make the day flow and handle last minute decisions that always come up. They will have met with the Venue's lead person and all your vendors. They know where everything goes and who is in charge of every task to get the décor, and table settings right. This should not be your Aunt, who is also attending the Ceremony but a professional event planner with experience beyond just having printed a new business card.

Outdoor wedding and event venues in Nevada County are bountiful and beautiful. To enjoy your wedding and the planning process ask friends, look at local Facebook groups, check out the Camber of Commerce listing and call a few venues to ask questions. the more you know going into the process the better you will be at executing a fabulous day event. The stress of a wedding can be overwhelming if you are not a particularly adept at long-term planning or sorting out details, often at the last minute. If you follow these suggestions and hire the right people to help you will be pleased with you big day.

This article, in an edited version first published in the Grass Valley UNION - Feb 8, 2017- Photo: D.B.Townsend

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