Four questions you need to ask if you’ve fallen in love with a self-catering venue

Taking a venue’s drinks package and wedding breakfast is an easy way to sort out your food and drink. But what if your venue is more of a DIY affair? Make sure these four bases are covered

Redhall garden - Jo Malone press launch
Three Sisters Bake

What are you going to eat?

As you’re starting from scratch with the food, you have complete freedom. Think about what you really like to eat, and about the surroundings, and play to your caterer’s strengths. “We once catered on a beach, barbecuing fish that had been caught by the bride’s family – it was delicious,” recalls Kelly Naylor of Bespoke Catering.

Gourmet caterer Reagan Hallett has this advice: “When I’m working with a couple we write a wishlist of the style of food and service they’d like, and I come up with menu suggestions.” With some back and forth on the finer points, alongside frank conversations about the budget, Reagan then creates the best possible menu to fit the finances.

When you’re scoping out venues, find out what sort of cooking facilities there are – if any. Don’t rule out a venue with no kitchen, though be aware that this will increase costs. “If you’ve fallen in love with a venue in the middle of nowhere with very limited facilities, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it,” reassures Kelly. “There will always be a caterer who will step up to the challenge of making it work.”

If you’re bringing in a company that is new to the venue, always insist they pay a site visit. If they’ve worked there before, find out when that was and double-check that no renovations have been done since then. This is why most venues have a list of preferred suppliers – they’re recommending people with experience of the location and its facilities, who will be able to use what is available to prepare good food.

Select a couple of members of the bridal party to act as co-ordinators on the day (what, they thought they were getting a pretty dress or fancy kilt for nothing?). “Introduce them to your suppliers beforehand so you can enjoy your big day without having to worry about details behind the scenes,” says Reagan.

Reagan Hallett Catering

Who is serving it?

Handing out hundreds of plates of food quickly and efficiently (and collecting the dirty crockery and cutlery), all without dropping anything, takes experienced serving staff. Your caterer will likely provide a crew for the meal, but make sure you’ve got a plan for drinks. You must agree beforehand what happens during the day and at the end of the night.

“I’d recommend getting in writing what your caterer is and isn’t willing to do,” says Kelly. “Some don’t want to get involved in drinks service during the meal, or the washing of glasses.” Guests staying on-site will no doubt offer to help clean up the next day if they see you standing in your ‘Just Married’ onesie washing 120 wine glasses in the loch, but best not let things get that far…

How is food and drink going to be prepared and served?

You know where you’ll be eating it and who is making it; you now need to figure out where everyone will be sitting and what they’ll be eating and drinking from. “Contact a cater hire company as soon as possible,” says Jackie Henderson, director of Gordon’s Cater Hire. “They’ll be able to advise on styles of equipment and the quantities you’ll require.” No need to worry the bread rolls will be passed around in your mum’s hat, then.

There are lots of decisions to make. What colour of tablecloths? Crystal wine glasses or mason jars? What’s the best way to transform a plain space?

If you’ve ever been to an impromptu summer barbecue or garden party, you’ll know that everyone is there to have a good time and won’t be offended if the forks don’t match. A wedding is no different. “Even with the best will in the world, sometimes things are overlooked,” points out Reagan. “There has been the odd time when couples forget things like extra tea-lights or plastic cups for the bar. You just have to think on your feet and find a solution. I’ve started carrying an emergency kit of extras and essentials with me just in case!”

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Reel Time Bars

What are you drinking?

Anyone with a basic grasp of arithmetic can figure out that a glass of wine at a fancy venue costs the same as a whole bottle from the supermarket. By that logic, you might think a DIY bar will be super-cheap. But by the time you factor in glasses and a wide enough selection for it not to feel like a festival beer tent – not to mention sourcing and paying for staff – the costs add up. Not to mention the work that’s required. That’s why so many people opt for a mobile bar company.

“There’s no need to transport stock, or work out all the requirements,” says Mark Gilligan of Reel Time Bars. “Most companies allow you to stock the bar yourself, while they provide the staff and set-up.” So what are the bar essentials? “We find that a core range of spirits, wine and beer will keep your guests happy,” says Mark. “A couple of cocktails can also be a nice touch.”