Today's topic is a bit controversial: choosing an event venue that allows outside catering. Why it is at the heart of so much of the wedding planning process, and what you need to know. There is so much to unpack here about BYO catering wedding venues ("bring your own" catering) and oh boy do I have a lot of thoughts about it.
Hi there! We're Olio, a modern/industrial event space in downtown Peabody, Massachusetts. We believe that it's important for couples to have the freedom to create the event that is perfectly suited to them. As you'll see below, one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle when planning a wedding is the caterer and we're happy to allow clients to choose the best individual fit.
And a tad about me: before I built, branded, launched, and ran Olio, I started my first business in 2013, Without A Hitch. We coordinate weddings all over New England and have worked at over 150 local venues.
I have personally experienced working with every type of caterer and venue: off-premise catering, exclusive catering, in-house catering, on-premise catering, drop-off catering, partial service catering, full service catering, DIY catering, and more. You name it, I've seen it in action over the last decade. And when I built Olio I knew one thing from the start: choice is at the heart of what we do and I want to provide our clients with options without limiting their choices.
Choosing a caterer is one of the first steps in planning that I recommend after choosing a venue, date, budget, and guest list.
Let's define a few terms. Then I'll tell you why selecting a venue where you can choose your own caterer is the best decision to make.
First, the main thing to know is that at Olio, we require full service catering.
What is full service event catering?
A full service event catering handles a lot more than just the food at a wedding. Event catering typically covers four main areas:
As you'd expect, a caterer is handling the food for your event. This might include appetizers, entrees, salads, late-night bites, snacks, and more. They will work with you to create a menu that meets your specific needs.
The caterer handles the bar (with or without alcohol). All of the caterers on our preferred list carry their 12C license and use it to service the bar. Olio requires the use of a 12C license, which is a state-wide catering license from the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. The 12C can be used anywhere in Massachusetts without requiring an additional one-day license from the city or town.
Olio is pleased to include a standard set of tables and chairs with the rental of our venue. Additional rentals for events will be customized based on the specific needs of the clients. Examples include: linens, tableware, glassware, serving equipment, specialty furniture (like a bar or lounge set). A full service caterer works directly with the client and/or event planner to take care of all rentals required for the individual event which vary based on client preferences, menu selection, event type, layout, and more.
Lastly, the caterer handles an essential part of the function of an event: service and staffing. The caterer provides the team that takes care of all of the furniture setup (tables, chairs, linens), serves the food and beverage throughout the event, mops up spills and clears trash and plates, takes care of the cleanup, removes the trash from the premises, and sweeps the floors when they are done. They are typically the first or second vendor onsite and are often the last vendor to leave. Staffing levels will vary depending on the specific caterer's needs, client's budget and choices, and event specifics like menu and timeline.
So as you can see, the caterer does a lot more than just the food!
The next thing to know is that at Olio, we have a list of preferred caterers.
Why do you have a list of preferred caterers?
Olio is proud to have put together a diverse and expert list of local event caterers for couples to choose from. We offer options at a variety of price points, preferences, cuisines, and styles. We strongly recommend that clients choose from this list of preferred caterers.
We'll be honest here: not every caterer is going to be a fit for our clients and our space. We have worked with caterers who have not been respectful of the space or complied with the rules. This makes our job much harder. And because we have back-to-back events in a single weekend, and because the caterer takes on so much of the work load of any event (see above), working with challenging caterers presents an inherent risk to our business.
It's not that we don't want to work with off-list caterers. We welcome the chance to discuss this opportunity. But we have pre-vetted a few of the best caterers in the Boston area. They are experienced at Olio and this adds value for you (the client) and for me (operating a busy event space).
I should also note that guests (and sometimes vendors) are typically not aware that the catering at Olio is not done in-house. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that caterers are providing a high-quality experience for visitors to our property.
What if we want to choose a caterer not on the catering list?
Off-list caterers may be permitted, at the discretion of Olio. All off-list caterers will be evaluated for fit and must come in for a site tour, agree to a set of catering guidelines, and send over appropriate insurance documentation. Any caterer serving alcohol must send proof of their current 12C license. The client is responsible for overseeing the off-list caterer process and ensuring that all steps are completed and approval issued (if applicable) at least one month before the event date.
OK, so catering is a big deal. Why is it important that Olio uses outside catering?
Here are a few reasons why it's best to choose a wedding venue where you can choose your own caterer:
Control over the menu.
When you choose your own caterer, you'll have the final say on the menu, the food quality, and the service. This is important if you have dietary restrictions or if you're looking for a specific type of food. While any event caterer can offer sample menus and ideas from past weddings, everything is fully customized from A-Z. Just as your relationship with your partner is unique, so too should be your wedding day.
Because the caterer handles the bar as well, and because it's built specifically for you, you have the option to build the bar program completely customized. Have a certain label of wine that you love? The caterer can source that. Prefer a specific brand of gin? Not a problem. Want to keep tequila off the bar since it makes your college friend too crazy? Absolutely, we support you.
Many venues charge a premium for their in-house or exclusive catering, and they may not offer the same level of quality as an outside caterer. Outside caterers are fully aware that you have choices and they strive to meet and exceed your expectations at every turn.
By choosing your own caterer, you can often save money without sacrificing quality. Ultimately, the budget is completely in the hands of the client. There are no set packages so that you can select the specific menu items that fit your needs. Want the chicken parmesan but hate broccoli rabe and want to skip the garlic bread? Not a problem here.
On the beverage side, 12C caterers can handle any type of bar that you prefer: cash bar, open (hosted) bar, limited bar, partial cash bar, open bar to a set dollar figure or time, etc. The caterer will also work with you to determine the specifics of the bar setup.
From the budget side, most couples choose to do a consumption-based bar. This involves the caterer sourcing the beverages from a distributor, transporting everything to the venue, setting up the bar, serving the bar, packing up anything that is unopened at the end, and returning it to the distributor for a credit. Via the caterer, the client is able to secure distributor pricing and (most importantly) pay only for the beverages that are opened/consumed. This offers the most budget-friendly way to do a hosted bar.
Pro tip: if you have a specific budget figure or price per person in mind as you are researching caterers, I suggest sharing that in your initial inquiry or conversation. Allowing the caterer to provide options that fit your budget will help with the sticker shock that some newly engaged couples experience when receiving catering quotes.
Caterers will also be able to provide you with a variety of options for food service: a plated meal, a buffet, meal stations, family style, passed hors d'oeuvres or a combination of all of the above.
When you work with a caterer who is passionate about their work, it shows. The food will be better, the service will be better, and you'll have a better overall experience. The caterers from our preferred list want to maintain their place on the list and continue a wonderful partnership and so naturally they want our clients, the guests, and me (as the venue owner) to have a top-notch catering experience.
A wedding caterer is a "VIP" vendor. They are an asset to your wedding planning team and your wedding day and will help you create a memorable and delicious experience for your guests.
Phew, that was a lot of information about catering. How did I do?
If you're looking for a wedding venue that gives you the freedom to choose your own caterer, it's time to contact us. We'd be happy to answer any questions you have and help you find the perfect caterer for your wedding. Looking forward to chatting!
Enthusiastic about wonderful food and beverage