Catering is one of those subtle things that can make or break your wedding. It’s a given that the food and drinks should be amazing; but when it’s not, it can leave a negative impression.
This is why we have Lauren Davie with us today, to help us steer clear of catering disasters. Lauren is the sales and marketing manager at The Farm Café, the exclusive wedding provider at Melbourne’s Collingwood Children’s Farm.
In this chat we discuss:
- Booking a caterer on a budget
- Family-style feast or cocktail reception?
- Qualities of an experienced caterer
- Managing portions and different dietary requirements
- Menu tasting by The Farm Cafe
- How to pair drinks with food
- Availability of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Setting up a champagne tower
Most couples will have a specific budget for catering. Some vendors are more affordable than others, and there’s often a reason for that. The difference in food quality, portions, and service are not always obvious, which is why attending menu tastings can be helpful.
To avoid complications, book a caterer that can supply both food and drinks. An experienced caterer will know how to pair the two, as well as provide enough portions for your guests. In Lauren’s experience, she notes:
“Anyone who’s done a few weddings will know how important obviously, the drinks are. And if they haven’t made that association of it running out, it’s generally a sign. Maybe they’re not concerned, maybe they haven’t thought about it. Or maybe they don’t have the experience you’re looking for in a caterer.”
“Couples should communicate early on what’s important to them. Guests’ dietary requirements and any feedback should be conveyed so the caterer can plan and adjust accordingly.”
Links & Vendors Mentioned:
Find The Farm Cafe:
On Polka Dot Wedding: The Farm Cafe
On Instagram: @farmcafe_weddings
On Facebook: The Farm Cafe
Find Dorothy & the Polka Dot Wedding team:
On Instagram: @polkadotwedding
On the website: polkadotwedding.com
This podcast was produced by Polka Dot Wedding.
The Polka Dot Wedding team is honoured to conduct our work on the land of the BoonWurrung, WoiWorung, Eora and Kuring-gai people. We honour the traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders custodians of the land and pay our respects to Elders past & present.
Hello and welcome. You’re listening to The Feel Good Wedding Podcast by Polka Dot Wedding. My name is Dorothy, otherwise known as Miss Polka Dot, and I’m the founder and editor. We believe in seeking out content that is inclusive and diverse so that everyone can see themselves in the stories that we tell. We’ve done this for 15 years through the written word, and now we want to have those chats in voice through a podcast. Can’t wait to take you along for the ride.
The Polka Dot Wedding team is honoured to conduct our work on the land of the BoonWurrung, WoiWorung, Eora and Kuring-gai people. We honour the traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander custodians of the land and pay our respects to Elders past and present.
So we decided this November that we were going to celebrate and so we’re celebrating with an entire month devoted to champagne. Hello, and welcome to the champagne issue on Polka Dot Wedding. Today’s guest has a very special thought about this one because she comes from a magical oasis in the middle of Melbourne, called The Farm Cafe.
Which if you’ve ever spent much time in Melbourne, especially as a kid, you’ve probably been to the Collingwood Children’s Farm. You’ve probably met all the animals, wandered around the grounds and knowing that this is like this country oasis in the middle of the city. And it turns out, you can also tie the knot there. So with hundreds if not thousands of weddings under their belts, we thought there was no one better to talk to you about how to cater your wedding. And how to make sure you can get your wine matched to your food, which of course ties back to the Champagne Issue, but also all the other intricacies of catering like how do you make sure your guests aren’t going and getting fast food on the way home from the wedding? And what is the menu tasting and should I have one? So we decided to chat to Lauren.
Now she works at The Farm Cafe, which is not only a venue by the way, it’s an amazing full service end to end, start to finish wedding venue because they do everything. They do your event planning. They do your venue management. They do stuff like your timeline for the day, your setup. And of course they do your catering. And that’s what we’re diving into today. So let’s chat to Lauren and find out everything we need to know about making sure that we’re catering our wedding well, and catering our wedding in a way that’s smart. I’m really looking forward to this one and look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Hello, Lauren, I am so thrilled to have you on the show today.
Thank you for having me. It’s pretty exciting.
I’m thrilled to chat to you all about The Farm Cafe but then also to dive into catering and how to do it all and how to understand it. So why don’t we kick off with you telling us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about The Farm Cafe.
Yeah, of course. So my name is Lauren. I’m a sales manager at The Farm Cafe. We have the absolute privilege of being the exclusive wedding provider for weddings at the Collingwood Children’s Farm. So the Collingwood Children’s Farm is a stunning outdoor venue located five kilometres from Melbourne CBD. So it really is one of a kind in terms of finding that natural element so close to the city without having to drive and have all that logistical issue that comes with things like Dandenong Ranges or the Yarra Valley. So the venue itself is stunning. We’ve got different ceremony options. We’ve got beautiful reception options. There’s lovely grounds to wander for beautiful photos. But the best part of it all is we do the entire wedding management. So as well as having a beautiful venue, you also have very great, amazing food and drinks and service that go with it.
And love that because I feel like it’s a venue that you could drive for hours and expect to find and you can’t find it right in the middle of the city, let alone have it as a wedding venue. Like it’s just so special.
Exactly. And just being so close to the city opens up a whole large range of vendors and things that may not necessarily be willing to drive those four hours to other locations. So it’s convenient for guests. It’s convenient for vendors and it’s really convenient for the couple, it just means less stress overall when planning
100% especially trying not to get vendors to travel four hours away, as you said. So not only is The Farm Cafe a venue that takes care of absolutely everything, like you said from start to finish, but you’ve also catered weddings all over Melbourne. And recently, you’ve returned to just catering and focusing on The Farm Cafe itself. So what is your vast experience in wedding catering, and drinks and all of that kind of stuff? Working with couples over the years taught you about the industry? Like what insights do you have to share about wedding catering to kick us off?
So what we have learned is that food is important, and it’s important for a few different aspects. So first of all, it’s got this nostalgic and emotional connection with people that associate big feast food abundant kind of style feasting with family and obviously getting together and connecting and being with the ones you love. So that component’s always really important with weddings. But there’s also a practical side to it as well, where we need to ensure guests are looked after. They’re well fed. If they’re drinking, they’re also eating to balance out any effects of the alcohol. So it’s got a lot to it. And no matter where you go, where your wedding is, or who you are, food will always be an important part of that for both the couple and the guests.
And it definitely shouldn’t be an afterthought.
No, it should definitely not. So, while a lot of people do automatically think of beautiful flowers, beautiful venues, wedding photos, and everything like that, the things that your guests remember is how they feel on the day. And if your guests are hungry, or they’re thirsty, or they’re uncomfortable, they don’t necessarily have the beautiful time that your photos may represent. Whereas if they are well fed and well looked after, they’ve got food to keep them kind of comfortable throughout the evening, then they start to feel at home. And that’s when they really relax and have fun. So it can really set the scene for an entire wedding.
I love that. So, starting off catering because I feel like catering is this enormous base that you either don’t think enough about or you don’t even know where to start with. So what is one of the first things we need to think about when it comes to hiring caterers for our wedding,
The first thing that a lot of people generally get caught out with is understanding that some venues have exclusive caterers and some have kind of open catering. So if you are in love with a venue and it’s your venue that you just have to have, you need to check because if they only have one exclusive caterer or a small list of exclusive caterers, your caterers will need to come from that list. Whereas if it’s just an open venue, you could obviously bring in any caterer that you like, which provides more flexibility and freedom in your choices. So it kind of depends on the couple and what works best for them. I personally suggest taking into account the catering options before choosing your venue. Because there’s nothing worse than finding your perfect venue and then halfway through your planning, figuring out that they’re not going to have an offering, or a service that suits what you’re looking for.
And that’s especially important, I think, with multicultural weddings, where the menus are a little bit different. And there’s a little bit more detail that comes with that rather than a standard alternate drop, for instance.
Exactly. And in all honesty, when you do a venue tour, then you should make it clear at that point before you book anything, whether it would be exclusive catering, or you have that freedom to choose.
And so I know that it’s especially now post-COVID, when the wedding world is a little bit booked up, catching up. But how far in advance should we look at booking a caterer, whether that’s with a venue or kind of, you bringing a caterer into a venue.
I always find finding a date one of the trickiest parts when it comes to planning a wedding. So some venues will only do one wedding per day. Others might do two, if they have the flexibility and the space. But if you’re thinking a specific date, if you have your heart set on a Saturday in November or March, I always say look at least 12 if not 18 months in advance. If you’re a bit more flexible with your dates, and you don’t mind whether you’ve got the Friday, Saturday, Sunday or even a Thursday, then you’ve got a bit more options there. It’s just often once someone books up on a date, they don’t have the capacity to do more than one wedding. So if you love your caterer and you need to have them, I say book them between the 12 to 18 month mark. If you’re a bit more flexible, they’re anywhere between 6 to 12 months.
Awesome. And that’s pretty standard for such a big part of the day, like venue, etc. You’re looking that far in advance because it is such a foundational part, I suppose as well.
It is and we normally suggest it’s better to be safe than sorry. So with wedding couples, obviously, there’s a lot to take into account. Once you log something again, you can tick it off your list, you can relax. It’s not going to cause you any stress later on. And you know that you’ve already kind of covered it. Whereas the reverse of that, it’s never really worth the risk to find out that you might not be able to find a caterer that you like, because you did leave it to the last minute. So better safe than sorry, would be my advice there.
And budgets is such a yuck subject and no one loves to talk about it. But what are we looking at with budgeting, catering? Because I know this is an open ended question because people can spend hundreds if not, you know, thousands, etc. on catering. But is there a wide range? Where do we look at with budget? What do we have to think about?
Absolutely, there is a wide range. Often budget is something that is out of most people’s control. They kind of know what their budget is and have to work with it. It’s a luxury if you have the option of an open budget. So we understand everyone is normally working within some budget constraints. The reality of it is you do normally get what you pay for.
So if you’re looking between two caterers – one does have a lower price point and the other one does have a higher price point. There is normally a reason. So the reason may be that the more expensive one is choosing local or ethically sourced products that might be everything from Victoria, might be high quality, might be choosing to support local over importing different foods. It might be that they’ll have more staff on the night. So one caterer might have a lower price, but they might have two staff servicing 100 guests which obviously, during a cocktail hour might not be everyone’s preferred solution.
Someone that has a higher price point might have five staff out there that are clearing the glasses as well as serving the food. So there’s things like that to keep in mind. It’s also like I said, you don’t have the luxury of just paying whatever you want. There is the reality there of what you can afford. So I always suggest talking to the caterer and just checking things like will it be fully staffed? What will the staff be doing? And with canapés, and things like that, there’s often a point where looking at a menu can look really delicious or enticing. And you might be comparing two menus that look, you know, equally nice, and one might be substantially cheaper. But the size of those canapés, they might be one single bite. It might be three canapés per person, which might equate to, you know, three or four bites where someone might actually have substantial canapés. There might be sliders and heavier items that are going to fill guests a lot more. But when you’re looking at that piece of paper, you don’t necessarily see that when you’re comparing the two menus, which is why attending tastings and things like that can be a good option.
Yeah, definitely. And we’re going to get into tastings because I feel like no one talks about tastings, and I really want to learn more about them. So let’s start though with what are the different options when it comes to catering a wedding. Because the standard years ago was like the ultimate drop like the chicken, the beef, the chicken, the beef, whereas I feel like now, there’s so many more options when it comes to that. Let alone cocktail style weddings. So can you talk me through the commonly used terms and explain to me the different things like the ultimate drop, the family style, food stations, and all those kinds of offerings that we can expect to be seeing when we’re booking a caterer?
Of course. So as you mentioned, the ultimate drop is fading out. We don’t see very much of that at all. In fact, we don’t even offer it in our service or food style at The Farm Cafe. So we’ve moved on from that. And we find that couples don’t even want it anymore. The main one we’re seeing at the moment are the shared platters or the family style feasting. So what that is, is when you have a table with somewhere between 8 to 10 people. We’ll bring out three sides, three mains, bread and butter and put them on each table. So all the people are seated at the table, it’s a fully seated service.
And then they can serve themselves from those platters that we’ve placed in front of them. So there’s several points to this; one is obviously, it looks beautiful, and does make nice photos, having these big, beautiful food presented down the middle of the table with your guests in there. Then, it’s also really practical. So guests get to serve themselves the quantity that they like, and the options that they like from what’s been presented to them. So it is great if people are a little bit fussy, and they get the option to choose rather than someone who doesn’t eat chicken being given a chicken dish. It also works well because some guests will eat more than others. So being able to choose the amount of food just means guests don’t go hungry, which is often a big concern at weddings. So having that shared style feasting just kind of eliminates that. If people are hungry, they can just keep eating.
Okay, then we have the cocktail. So we are finding post-COVID cocktail menus are becoming more popular at The Farm Cafe. So they are kind of having the cocktail service is obviously what you would expect as people walking around with food that can be in standing rather than sitting. So you can still have seating for your guests to keep them comfortable. But the food service doesn’t have to be really formal and fully seated with everyone seated at the one time. The thing with cocktail often people associate, people not getting enough food with it. It’s not necessarily the case. So what we do at The Farm Cafe is our cocktail menu is the equivalent of a three-course seated menu. So it is the same amount of food. It’s just served differently and a different style of food. So it creates that more relaxed environment where guests can walk around, they can mingle all night. They don’t have to sit down. We bring the food to them. But we also pair that with having a graze table there. So a graze table is just a beautiful table set up with food placed on it that guests can approach at any time and take the food.
So with cocktail, people think if the food doesn’t come to them, they’re not going to get it and they’re going to be hungry. So by complementing that with having a graze as well, guests at any point can simply go up to the graze and grab some food if they are feeling a little bit peckish. So it helps eliminate that thought of thinking the food’s not going to come to you or it’s all going to be gone by the time that the waiters get to you. So by pairing it like that, it just gives guests more options. But also, it’s always important to make sure that your venue or your caterer do have enough food in that cocktail menu.
And that was going to be my next question is I feel like that’s every couple’s worst nightmare is that your guests are going to remember your wedding by having to stop past McDonald’s on the way home. So how do we ensure that we have enough food for our guests? Like what are we looking at with a guide for cocktail, for example, and what do we have to think about with sit down, to make sure that guests are not running past takeaway on the way home?
So this is also an important part of when you choose your caterer. If you choose a caterer that’s done lots of weddings and has lots of experience, has been around for a decent amount of time, they will understand what guests at a wedding will need based on the number of guests you have. So that’s why it’s really important to choose the right caterer. So we have lots and lots of experience in doing this. And throughout the planning process, we do everything with our couples. So we take them on a tour of the venue. If they book, we send them a welcome pack. We allocate an event planner. They come in, they do their planning meetings. We create the floor plan. We help select the menu. We get the dietaries and then obviously we do the full event on the day. So throughout that planning process, it’s really important that we tell our couples to let us know what’s important to you.
So for example, if someone has a family that eats a lot, tell us at our planning process. Because it just means that we can make a note and we can let the kitchen know that, “Hey, we have big eaters. So just be prepared.” Or maybe that you know, we actually offer our 100% vegan or vegetarian menus as well at The Farm Cafe, because there are quite a few people around obviously with different dietary requirements. So if that’s something you’re looking for, we do that as well. But again, you really need to communicate the things that are important, so we can work with them. But I think the main thing is, the experience lets you know how much. So just for an example, because wedding couples obviously don’t necessarily see the back end. But what happens on a say, for example, a fully seated 100 pax wedding at The Farm Cafe is we have the complete floor plan, which the couple provides to us. We have the locations of where all guests are seating, how many guests are at each table and everything like that. So at the back end, we’ve actually gone through. We have our kitchen staff knowing exactly how many people are seated at each table, and any dietary requirements on that table.
So when we’re preparing our shared platters and our feasting style, where ensuring that there’s enough food on every single plate, and every single plate is allocated to the table that it’s meant to go at. So we’ve done all the math and all the calculations and we’ve got it out there. And we also know where any dietaries are seated. So if they’re not covered in that food selection for the standard menu, we’ll bring out an individual plate for that person that makes their dietary. So we’re doing a lot of work and a lot of planning in the background to make sure everyone is going to get enough food. So yeah, good wedding caterer, they also really care about how your guests feel. So it’s not just the wedding couple that are thinking, “Hey, I want to make sure my guests are fed.” If a caterer doesn’t feed guests well, often there’s negative association with that, which can turn into negative marketing. So a good caterer wants to avoid it just as much as you do.
Yeah, definitely. Because if you’ve got good food, your guests will walk away and say, “Remember that wedding and that amazing food?” So it’s worth it in that sense.
So we live in 2022, where we’re all aware of our bodies, etc. And we’re all aware we’ve got many more allergies, etc. And we will have a lot more guests with things like celiac, being vegan, and having allergies. So what’s a good way to check with our guests and make sure that that information is passed on and make sure the caterer can accommodate those requests.
So definitely, when you’re looking for your caterer always just check that they are okay with dietaries. So there are a large range of dietaries, some which are quite easy to accommodate and some which may not be as easy. For example, Kosher is one that not all caterers can do. So what we do is we encourage guests on their wedding invites to simply ask: are there any dietary requirements? So when your guests RSVP, you should know how many guests are coming and any dietary requirements associated with that party. We’ll collect all that information. So what happens is we collect all the information, we see what we’re working with, then we’ll talk with the couples and we’ll say, it looks like you’ve got a fair amount of vegetarians coming. We recommend selecting a vegetarian main. All of our sides are vegetarian as well. So we kind of encourage and guide the couples when choosing their menu to consider the options. So our menu’s designed to include a lot of dietary. So all the food is completely delicious, no matter what you choose.
But a lot of the dishes are designed with at least one dietary for each one, whether it’s gluten free, dairy free, low FODMAP, vegetarian, vegan, whatever it may be. So by having delicious options that already cover the dietaries, that’s half of the work done for us. So couples choose foods that they want to choose from the menu, but it already covers the dietaries, which is great. Because often in the past, going back a few years, when you selected a dietary dish, it generally wasn’t as appealing as the standard. So they’d go in with the mindset, “If I’m paying the full price I want to choose you know, the best dishes.” So by designing a menu where all dishes are equally delicious, but still covering those dietaries, it just takes that out, which makes it a lot easier for the couple. So we always recommend having at least one vegetarian option. It’s nice to mix it up as well. So with the proteins maybe have one heavy meat and one fish, something like that as well, because you do find people have a large variety of tastes. Not everyone is going to like the same thing. So by having a bit of variety, it kind of takes it out.
And once we’ve gone through that process with our couples, if there is anyone that isn’t covered by the dietary selections, they may have a few dietaries that pair together, or it may be a very specific one. And then our event planner will go and speak to our head chef. And we’ll come up with a specific dietary plan for those guests, which we then take back to the couple and say, “These people with these dietaries, we can offer them these dishes to make sure they’re okay.” And then obviously, on the night, when it’s time, we know where those guests are seated. And we’ll take those specific dishes to those people. So it is quite important to manage the dietary as well, because obviously, as I mentioned earlier, having all of that food makes the guests feel comfortable. No one wants to be watching everyone else eat while they’re waiting for their special dietary dish to come out. Again, having that caterer that can manage these things does make a big difference. If you do it well, you don’t even notice that it happened. But if it’s done poorly, everyone will notice.
Yes, everyone will be noticing that they haven’t been fed. How does that work with a cocktail wedding? And obviously you will know where people are seated, but how does it work with dietaries at a cocktail wedding where guests are roaming around a little bit more?
So with the cocktail weddings with dietaries, we’ll still have the guests’ full name. So we’ll actually have on our run sheets and back of house paperwork, we’ll have the names of all the guests with dietaries. So our staff will memorise their names and what their dietary is. We’ll also get the emcee to make an announcement saying anyone with dietaries, please let yourself known to staff. So we have the emcee letting those people know to come to us and tell us and we can bring them their food. We also have the staff going around asking, “Does anybody here have a dietary?” If they say yes, my name is Amanda, I have this. Then they obviously know what food to go and get for Amanda and bring out to her. Guests don’t notice it, but the staff that we’re working with are definitely all over it.
So you definitely still can accommodate it even though you’ve got roaming guests.
Absolutely. So nothing will stop us. We will always find a way. Our processes are pretty good, whether it’s seated or cocktail now.
And the menu tasting, I feel like especially when your venue is not a restaurant that you can just go and eat at. A menu tasting is really important to understand what is going to happen with the food and what kinds of things you’re looking at. So what is the menu tasting, from the horse’s mouth? And what are we looking at? What should we be thinking about with the menu tasting?
So there are a few different types of menu tasting. There are ones where you can buy a table for just you and your guests. And it might have a really high price point for a few people to come along and try the menu that you’ve personally selected. We do ours a little bit differently at The Farm Cafe. So we understand not everybody has you know $500 to spend on a tasting night when they’re planning a wedding. So we do a group tasting night. So we have one every two to three months, we hold it in our reception location at the farm. So guests can come along and see a little bit of the setup, they can see what the venue’s like.
They get a nice feel of the venue, the staff, and the food. And we have quite a large and extensive menu that we offer. So we can’t offer everything that’s on our menu at a tasting night. So we do a selection, we do entrees. We do a variety of different mains. We do dessert. We do our ice cream bar. So it is a beautiful night to come along too. But guests essentially come along with maybe up to, you know, 30 wedding couples there on the night. We’ll invite them all in, we’ll have everything set up beautiful. They get to sit down. We give them a welcome and just tell them how the night is going to work so there’s no surprises and everyone’s prepared, and then we just start bringing the food out. So guests can just sit back, relax and enjoy. And they get a really good idea of the interactions our staff have, the style of service. The quality of our products definitely comes through in our tasting nights, which is a big one.
So we normally suggest couples do this about 3 to 6 months before their wedding because it really helps choose your menu selection. And we get couples as well that are early on in the planning process and do come along before booking us which is completely fair enough when food’s important, you do want to try it. And then we do get couples that are more focused on the venue and then they come along and try the food. Luckily for us, they’re pleasantly surprised when they try our food because we do put a lot of love and effort into making sure our food is of a very high quality. Yeah, so our tasting nights there’s $70 per person, that includes a welcome drink. So we had our beverages on offer as well because we understand you want to try both the drinks and the food. And then we also have our staff and event planners on site as well. So it’s not just about trying the food. It’s also realising that couples have questions and that those questions often pop up when they’re in the middle of doing something wedding related. So while you try the food and you’re enjoying the night you also have our staff there to answer any questions, whether food related, venue related, or whatever it may be.
And what do I do if I’ve booked my venue and I go to the tasting and the food isn’t really what I thought? Is that also a good time to bring up feedback and to interact with you guys and chat with you about? Like, what can we do to make this worth my while? And what can you do to make this something I would enjoy?
Absolutely. So we want all of our wedding couples to be happy with the wedding that they’ve got. So we encourage feedback. So if you come along to our tasting night, and you tried something, and it wasn’t what you expected, or it was different, absolutely, let us know. Because if we know in advance, obviously, we can work with it and find a solution that’s going to work for everyone involved. If we’re not aware of it, then we can’t really change it. So obviously, we do want to know these things. Because if someone is thinking it, there’s a chance others are thinking it too. And it may be that that’s something we need to then consider. Take back and see if our menu does need some updates or some changes. So feedback is helpful, good and bad.
Awesome. And when it comes to catering, what are some of the things that you find most couples are forgetting or that they don’t include or that just gets overlooked?
I find the thing that gets overlooked these days is that sometimes simple is good. So often, when people start thinking about it, and they talk to friends and family, and after you’ve spoken to a few people, everyone has a different opinion or a different point that people often get overwhelmed. And they’re trying to include too many points around their catering based on, you know, speaking to five other people. What I normally suggest is the wedding couple, they sit down, they maybe pick two or three points that are really important to them around catering, whether it be big, abundant face, or it might be locally sourced product or ethically sourced product. Or it might be price point. That if they choose the two to three top things that are important to them, and then find their caterer based on that. I think that’s what works well.
The more you add it and overcomplicate it, the more things that kind of become issues in people’s thoughts that may not actually be issues for caterers that do, you know, four Weddings a week and have everything nailed down to a tee. So keep it simple. Just remember what is important to you for your wedding. And stick with that. Don’t necessarily overcomplicate something that when it’s done… When I say simple, it’s not necessarily simple. There is a lot of effort and love that goes into it. But the presentation seems effortless in the way that it’s simple. So when it looks effortless, it’s just so much more easy to enjoy.
And I think a lot of that comes down to choosing good vendors as well. Because when you’re choosing a good vendor that you trust, you can trust in them to get it right, and that you’re not going to forget stuff because they’ve got that covered and they know.
Exactly. And word of mouth from couples that have been married in the last 12 to 18 months really is a good indicator. So over time, obviously businesses may change hands or management may change and things can change. But if in the last 12 months, one or two people that you have spoken to personally can give a great review about a caterer. That’s a really good sign.
Yeah, definitely word of mouth. And reviews are the best place to start, I think. So let’s talk drinks and alcohol because I feel like this is the forgotten part of wedding catering that we don’t often dive into. So where do we even begin with that, especially we picked our food, where do we start with drinks and alcohol?
So my suggestion is choose a caterer that does the alcohol. So you can obviously get catering companies that may just do the food, or for example, then you might only do the bar but not offer food. To keep things simple, to keep things consistent, and to keep the planning easy, I suggest choosing a caterer that will do the beverages as well. It just means you’re taking out a vendor, you’re taking out extra organisation, and things are going to match up. So if you have someone else doing the food and someone else doing the drinks, they don’t have the same schedule. They don’t have the same goals. And it can get a bit messy.
So and also often caterers that are going to do a good job, they are going to have both on offering because they understand that point that food and drink do go together. So we are in Melbourne, so obviously in Melbourne, everyone is a foodie. Everyone has their own favourite drinks and you can’t please everyone. That’s also important to understand. So a lot of places offer beverage packages. Beverage packages are great overall but like I said, you do miss that little niche gap where people have drinks that you know maybe really important to their family or they might not drink the standard type of drinks. So what we personally do at The Farm Cafe is we’ll have our two beverage packages. They are unlimited, which is also an important point to note so they’re not going to run out on the night. We’re not going to have guests reach 9:30 and go, “Oh my gosh, there’s no drinks left. What are we going to do?”
So obviously we still keep in account our RSA. If someone is drunk, we will get them to drink water rather than the alcohol. But what we do also do is then offer BYO, in addition to those beverage packages. So you do have to choose one of the beverage packages as your base. But then to cover those gaps that pop up, you can supply any drinks, whether they’re alcoholic or non alcoholic. And we’ll serve them from the bar, just to make sure that your guests are getting what they want, and that we’re offering a service that you’re going to love on your wedding day. So we may find people don’t necessarily want to have to bring anything so they don’t bring anything and it’s just the beverage package. We might find our wedding couples want to create their own kind of cocktail or have a signature drink, in which case there can be those cocktail ingredients, we can make it up in a dispenser. So it will look beautiful up on the bar, and we can serve it throughout the wedding for them.
It’s also a good chance often, if you include spirits in a beverage package, it can get incredibly expensive. So doing the BYO option in the addition just allows couples to still bring things like some spirits and have them served but not necessarily have to have the hefty price tag associated with that. So drinks are important and never forget them. They always kind of balance out the food. They also make guests feel comfortable in terms of when you’re kind of standing around enjoying a wedding and you can sip on your drink, there’s something about it that relaxes people as well. They feel kind of more comfortable having something in their hand.
And it’s celebratory, I think as well, for people to have a nice drink, whether it’s alcoholic or not.
Exactly. So definitely after a ceremony, we always recommend either you know, sparkling or non alcoholic sparkling. Something like that for guests to toast to. The couples love it. The guests love it. Everyone’s always happy and full of love at this point. It’s just a really joyous moment to do things like that. And it is just beautiful.
And I think that leads into my next question about when do we need to think about serving drinks? Because I think post ceremony is one time that’s often forgotten, but it’s a really good time to break out the bubbly. But then you’ve got other parts of the day like the cocktail hour, the dinner speeches, I know that everyone talks about charging your glasses, filling them up with champagne for the speeches and after dinner midnight cocktail. So what are the kind of different planning elements we should put into the stages of the day when it comes to drinks?
So in my opinion, a good caterer and a good wedding would generally have a bar available at all points. So not necessarily alcoholic. So when we do a wedding at the farm, we’ll have guests arrive before the ceremony starts. We’ll make sure we’ve got water on offer, just for any guests that are arriving. There might have been rushing, leaving the house. They might have got stuck in traffic. It might be quite a warm day. So we’ll always at least have water available just to keep guests comfortable. And just make sure you know they are looked after. After the ceremony is just that really crucial point where everyone just wants to burst with excitement.
So there’s definitely a big point where you want to have something for people to grab and toast to. If you are doing post ceremony canapés, you always want to pair the food with the drink. So post ceremony canapés plus drinks is a really perfect hour for people to enjoy. So normally at a wedding, you see a lot of people you may not have seen in the last 6 to 12 months, it’s a great time to catch up. Everyone’s mingling, everyone’s chatty, everyone’s excited. So that time we can have some drinks with some canapés. It’s just you’ll find guests are just, you know, that moment it goes so quickly because they’re enjoying it so much.
For us, once guests leave their ceremony location and head to the reception, we will have a bar setup from the second they arrive. So we actually don’t have a point between the ceremony to the end of the event where there is no bar available. And that is just for the comfort of the guests. So to make sure that they are going to be well looked after. But you will find obviously when people are eating their mains, they’re probably not drinking as much because they are busy eating. But obviously when you do speeches, very crucial point everyone does want to do a toast. It’s just you get the beautiful photos where people are sitting down and everyone’s got their glasses raised. And you can see the looks on their faces. You can see how happy they are for the couple and things like that. And it does sound silly when you say that it can contribute, but it really does. Having the nice, free flowing drinks where people can just enjoy and celebrate does make a difference on the day.
I think that comes back to being about abundance, doesn’t it? Because having abundant food and abundant drinks. And everyone just revels in that rather than thinking about what there isn’t. So I agree with you very much.
Exactly. And as long as you have it, people are happy. But sadly it’s one of those things that the second it’s not there, everybody notices and it can become a sticking point after a wedding when people say, “Oh, how was the wedding?” and people go, “It was great, but the drinks ran out and we didn’t get this.” You don’t want to have to worry about that. I understand that’s not at all the biggest part of a wedding. It’s all about the love but just having to know that you don’t have to have that in the back of your mind, ever. Taking out that stress factor. It’s just really nice for the couples to not have to stress. The day is about them having fun and enjoying. So any element of removing stress, no matter how big or small, we will take it. Just to ensure that they have that beautiful day.
And you can have fun with drinks too, because I know with some of the weddings on Polka Dot Wedding at The Farm Cafe, you’ve done like a Pimm’s bar. You’ve done a gin bar. So it doesn’t all have to be like, like it can be personal to you and what you love as well.
Absolutely. And that’s where that BYO component comes in. So, for free, if they want to do the gin bar, if they want to do a whiskey hour, they want to do that signature cocktail. We even do mocktails, so we use the big dispensers. So having the dispensers on the bar obviously looks beautiful, it helps bring everything to life. But you can do the mocktail as well as the cocktails just to accommodate anybody that’s not drinking alcohol. But there is a lot of fun.
And I mean, we get a lot of nice couples that come through, and they might have a vineyard or winery in the family or they might have someone who grew up and people will, you know, they might have their wedding favours as a home brewed bottle of beer. Like their photo and stuff on the front of it. They might have some beautiful locally made wine that’s come from the Yarra Valley if they have connections out there or a family vineyard. There might be multicultural families that have drinks that, you know, not necessarily had too much in Australia, but still have really beautiful and stunning drinks to have. There’s just that element really personalizes the catering touch to the couple. And that’s something not necessarily found everywhere in wedding venues in Melbourne. So it is a beautiful match. And it is something people remember. And we do encourage it, the more fun you can have with your wedding, the better.
100% agree with that. If we take nothing else, that’s the best part. But in Melbourne, we know and you’ve mentioned this, food and wine is like such a big part of our culture. And so how do we ensure that we are pairing the food to the right wine and and you know, doing all that kind of stuff where everything goes together? And it does taste delicious together? How do we figure that out? And how do we decide?
So again, I don’t think that necessarily lies with the couple. I think that lies with the caterer and choosing an experienced caterer, a well versed caterer, a caterer with good reviews or word of mouth feedback, that is probably the best way to ensure that it’s going to be looked after. So it’s very important to find a couple that has the knowledge between them to bring it all together. And if they do, amazing. We listen to them. We take their lead, as their wedding, we want it to be what they want – easy. If they don’t have that experience, or they’re not sure, or it may be something they’ve never thought about, then we’re here to guide them. And when we have our wedding menus, obviously it just looks like a menu when people read it.
But what people don’t understand is there’s a lot of work and research that goes into everything that’s in that menu. So we research all of our suppliers where they’re from. We only source things locally made. So all of our beverages are all locally sourced, as local as possible. And we do put a lot of research into it. And we also with the packages, the good thing is you don’t just have one wine to choose from. There is a selection in there. So obviously, the premium package has more selection than the classic. But having the selection also allows us to ensure that there are the options that are going to pair well with all of the menu items. But then it also allows the guests to choose what suits their tastes within that stuff that we’ve already suited to match and pair really well. So trust your caterer or choose I should say, choose a caterer that you trust. And they should do a lot of that work for you.
And I know this next question, I know wish, if we are lucky enough to have a caterer who does beverages, we’re covered. We should be trusting them. But if we don’t, what should we be thinking about with terms of quantities when it comes to alcohol and the kinds of amounts per person? Is there like a rule that you run by?
We did used to have a rule that we ran by. So again, any reputable caterer, if they’re not supplying it, they should still be able to guide you based on your numbers. I personally don’t have it, but our event planners would have it. We used to have a calculation of how many guests and how many hours. And then based on that, how many glasses of wine or how many bottles of beer or how many non-alcoholic options.
So we had a full kind of mathematical system that we would use in the back end to guide couples on how we’re doing that kind of thing. And again, if you’re working with someone that doesn’t have that to prepare them, that obviously means they haven’t thought about it, or they don’t understand the consequences if it is going to run out and it should be a little bit of a red flag. So anyone who’s done a few weddings will know how important obviously, the drinks are. And if they haven’t made that association of it running out, it’s generally a sign. Maybe they’re not concerned, maybe they haven’t thought about it. Or maybe they don’t have the experience you’re looking for in a caterer.
Okay, I should be looking for someone that can help guide me with alcohol even if they’re not providing it.
Absolutely. Because even if like the caterer is doing the food and not the drink, it’s important to understand guests don’t necessarily know that. So if the drinks run out, they might associate that with the caterers fault, when it may have nothing to do with them. And then obviously, it reflects poorly on that caterer, which isn’t good for them, because it’s obviously not their fault. That’s just something that everyone wants to avoid as well. So I would always say be prepared. And always I recommend going with packages just to avoid this to be honest, because the packages just-
Take the mental bandwidth off your brain.
Exactly. Remove the unnecessary stress and go with the package.
Okay, I like that advice. So champagne towers, which seems to be an ever rising trend coming up this year, which I’m all for, because a champagne tower is the ultimate celebration. So tell me the ins and outs we need to know of a champagne tower and what we need to do if we want one.
So champagne towers, obviously are beautiful, they make for fabulous photos. They’re are a lot of fun. The real ins and outs about it is to hire someone that knows what they’re doing. You do not want a disaster. So if the venue offers it, perfect. If they don’t, and you really want one, then you can hire vendors that will come in and just do that champagne tower. So champagne towers are beautiful, they’re amazing. They have a really exciting feel to them. You take your drink, and then it kind of dissipates. So we do recommend taking the opportunity when you have that tower and the pouring to really get all the photos and everything you want at that point.
And then after that obviously, you have the beautiful champagne coupes, you enjoy it for a bit. Normally the tower then gets taken away to avoid anybody accidentally knocking it over. You don’t want that to happen. There is a moment in the night that do kind of it, let’s again another point where everyone can celebrate, it’s like when you have your first toast at post ceremony and everyone’s really excited. It’s the same kind of concept. Everyone gets their champagne coupe, they have their little cheer and their little clap and applause and the couple feel really special. And then everyone can then head to the dance floor normally and start the party after that point.
So high the pro’s because I feel like I would not be very good at stacking the coupes myself, especially on my wedding day. So like trying to DIY that.
Yeah. Remove all responsibility for the champagne tower, and the wedding couples should just enjoy it. So it is one of the things that is worth hiring a vendor. Like sometimes people when they’re considering their budget, they go, “Should I just do it myself? Or should I spend the money?” Spend the money, get it done properly. And again, if you’re not doing it, you’re free to enjoy the moment. If you’re responsible for that moment, you’re probably not going to enjoy it the way you want to.
That’s really good advice too. And I feel like 10 years ago, when you had a guest that wasn’t drinking alcohol, you probably limited to like lemonade, whereas nowadays, especially in the past couple of years, there are so many options when it comes to non alcoholic beverages. So how can we cater for those guests that aren’t drinking alcohol in a really fun way, rather than just saying – have some lemonade.
So that’s where we bring in those mocktails I was mentioning earlier. To be honest, having a cocktail and a mocktail next to each other and dispensers on our bar, guests don’t even know that, you know, unless we tell them which obviously we do. But if you’re standing there drinking it and you’ve got a cocktail and you’re standing next to someone drinking the cocktail, there’s no difference.
So often people when they’re not drinking, sometimes they don’t want to have to, you know announce that to everyone that they’re not drinking or for whatever reason it may be personal, so beautiful mocktails make the guests that aren’t drinking feel like they’re still doing exactly the same as the guests that are drinking. They still get to go to the bar. They still get to choose the beautiful dispenser. It’s still served in beautiful glassware. They can walk around the wedding feeling fabulous with beautifully dressed glass of mocktail.
So that’s always fun because it means you know everyone’s kind of equal when it comes to that. People aren’t having to feel awkward or feel like they’re outcast or feel like they may be seen as a party pooper because they’re not willing to drink, which is not true in any way. We pair it with things like cute little Capi bottles. So Capi obviously a kind of premium soft drinks or flavoured sparkling drink, so you can have sparkling water. It’s also really popular. We find a lot of that. You can have kind of cola flavour, blood orange. So it’s definitely a step up from any kind of standard soft drinks. They are served in little bottles and you can have the cute little straw in it so it does have a little bit of like a racing carnival vibe to it if you’re walking around with a little Capi bottle and a straw.
We then recycle all the bottles. And then always have water as a standard. But having the drinks that still look pretty, still look beautiful, still have some garnish and some dressing that just don’t contain alcohol is the best way to do it. Like we don’t serve Coke. We don’t serve Fanta. We don’t serve Sprite. We don’t do any of that. We do it at a much higher standard, and people love it. We’ve never had kind of anything happen where we’ve thought that it might not be a good option to do it, we’re really confident in our non alcoholic offerings.
Awesome. So I feel like we’ve almost covered absolutely everything that I think is a must-know, when it comes to catering. What have we forgotten? What else should couples know when it comes to catering and drinks and all that good stuff? Like, I feel like it’s a foundational element, like you said, because it isn’t the pretty, but it is that foundational thing that keeps everything humming along really well. So what else should we think about?
So I think the main point is to understand your caterer or your food selection is important. So while it’s not the pretty aspect, again, like you just said, it is that foundation that is going to make or break your wedding. And your guests whether they feel comfortable, whether they feel full, whether they’re completely satisfied, and just everything that happens is a joy to them. So don’t overlook it. Always keep it early in your planning processes. Give it considerable thought.
But then also, once you’ve thought about it, lock it in, you don’t need to think about it again. It doesn’t need to be stressful, you just commit a little bit of time to doing the right research, talking to your partner. Making sure you both agree on the options that are important to you. Lock it in, then you can kind of sit back and enjoy.
But do always speak to the caterers or the event planners or whoever it may be in each person’s process and make sure they are aware of the things that are important to you. So we always say to couples, if we don’t know we can’t help you. If you tell us we’ll do everything in our power to help you. So rather than just assuming that someone’s going to know that this is important to you, be open and just be clear. Because once you tell them, it will become their priority as well as yours, because obviously everyone wants the couple have to have the best day possible. So put in the research. Just remember what’s important to you, then lock the caterer in and then just clear communication with that caterer. And don’t think anything’s silly. Sometimes people feel shy or embarrassed to say something because they think it might be annoying, or it might be a bit of hard work. It never is.
Our job is to work with the couples and make sure they have the best day possible. So don’t feel shy to tell us what it is you’re looking for or what it is you want.
I love that. Thank you so much for sharing all of your catering and drinks and food wisdom with us and our listeners. And I’m really excited for everyone to hear it and understand the work and the thought that has to go into this.
It was really great being here. Thank you again for inviting me.
My pleasure. Thank you. A big beautiful thank you to Lauren today for sharing all of her wonderful wisdom with us.
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