Catering is a big deal when it comes to your wedding. It’s important to understand the several different ways that wedding venues handle catering before you go shopping for either.

On one end of the spectrum, the venue is run by a single caterer that you are required to use. On the other end, the venue is totally uninvolved. Between these two are several other common ways that venues handle catering. Let’s look at them all and the pros and cons of each.

In-house catering – The venue is owned or operated by a catering company, so they do all of the catering. The fee for the venue 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 also 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 small convenience factor in signing one contract and dealing with one organization.

Single-source catering – The catering company is separate from the venue, but the venue has one caterer that they use exclusively. The caterers range from locally-owned catering companies to national food-service operations. Venues that are primarily museums or other types of public attractions tend to favor single-source catering for a variety of reasons, including the complexity of working at the venue, financial incentives, and the value to them of having one caterer on-site all the time to serve their daily needs as well as events.

The pros and cons of this arrangement are similar to those of in-house catering. It’s convenient, but the combination of the venue and the caterer might not suit your pocketbook or sense of style.

Approved catering list – The venue has a list of several caterers from which you must choose. This is a common method for high-end venues to use. It’s the one that I use at Chase Court, the venue in Baltimore that I own. I want to have lots of confidence in my caterers’ performance and offer my clients a wide range of style and price options. An approved list is also a competitive environment that keeps caterers working hard at performance and price, all to your benefit.

Most venues with approved caterers lists typically include between six and a dozen caterers, although I know a venue that has close to 30!

Using a caterer from an approved list insures that they meet a certain level of competency and quality. They usually know the venue well, and are held accountable not just by you, but by a venue to which they wish to return over and over again.

Venues with an approved list have done the work to qualify caterers for you. They are also likely to have a formal contract with each caterer, specifying the caterer’s responsibilities and stipulating licensing and insurance requirements. In other words, the venue has done the work to save you time, stress, and risk.

Preferred / recommended catering 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.

Theses venues typically offer less guidance regarding catering selection, and usually don’t have contractual relationships with the caterers. This can be a two-edged sword, giving you more freedom but requiring more responsibility on your part.

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

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David Egan
David Egan
David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.