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Friday, March 31, 2017

Choosing Your Wedding Venue- Part 2

Written by  David Egan

In the last column we started creating a set of selection criterion to apply to all of the venues you’re considering. My goal is to make your selection process go smoothly and easily. This time we’re going to focus on a single criterion: the relationship of the venue to catering.

How venues handle catering varies widely. On one end of the spectrum, the venue is run by a single caterer, with the venue fee included in the catering fee. On the other end, the venue is totally laissez-faire about catering, allowing you complete freedom to use any caterer that you choose, including self-catering. Between these are several other common ways that venues handle catering. Let’s look at them all and the pros and cons of each.

In-house – The venue is owned or operated by a catering company, so they do all of the catering. The fee for the venue (which is usually not itemized) and for the catering is combined, and is usually expressed as a price per person.

Hotels are a prime example of in-house catering. Country and golf clubs such as Turf Valley and Hayfield’s usually operate this way.

The combined cost and quality of in-house catering is sometimes higher and sometimes lower than using a stand-alone venue and separate caterer. If you’re happy with both the venue and the catering, there is a convenience factor in signing one contract and dealing with one organization.

Single-source catering – The venue has one caterer that they use exclusively. The catering is separate from the venue. The caterers range from locally owned catering companies to national food-service operations. Venues choose to use single-source catering for a variety of reasons, including the complexity of working at the venue, financial incentives, and the ease for them and the caterer of having one caterer on-site all the time. The Reginald F. Lewis Museum and Winterthur are examples of single-source catering.

Approved list – The venue has a list of several caterers from which you must choose. This is the method I use at Chase Court, the venue in Baltimore that I own. I want to have lots of confidence in my caterers performance as well as offer my clients a wide range of style and price options. An approved list is a competitive environment that keeps caterers working hard at performance and price, to your benefit.

While some venues, such as the National Aquarium in Baltimore, have a shortlist of two or three caterers, aquariums being by nature complicated places for a caterer to work, most approved lists typically include between six and a dozen caterers – although I know a venue that has close to 30!

Venues apply their own criteria in choosing caterers. Using a caterer from an approved list insures that they meet a certain level of competency and quality, that they know the venue well, and that they are being held accountable not just by you, but by a venue to which they wish to return over and over again. Most venues periodically review their list, often on an annual basis.

Preferred / recommended list – The venue recommends but does not require you to use any of the caterers from their list. They generally allow you to use any licensed and insured caterer.

Once you leave approved lists, venues typically offer less and less guidance regarding catering selection. This can be a two-edged sword, giving you more freedom but requiring more responsibility on your part.

No list – The venue allows you to use any caterer and sometimes even bring your own food, drink, and service. While your selection of caterers is unlimited, it’s completely your responsibility to to find prospective caterers and assess their competency and quality. The time and effort you spend doing that can be substantial, as can the consequences of making mistakes. If you’re thinking pot luck, a venue that doesn’t require a licensed and insured caterer is the only option.

Next time: more on choosing your wedding venue.

David Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a historic Baltimore wedding and event venue. Visit chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook! Send your comments and questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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