Reception & Catering

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Topic: Types of Receptions, Food & Beverages
Timeframe: ASAP
Pittsburgh Wedding Catering Business Listings
Pittsburgh Wedding Venue-Reception Business Listings

Aside from choosing your wedding date, deciding on a reception location can be one of your earliest and most important wedding decisions. In fact, the reception decision—what kind of reception and where to hold it—may even influence your wedding date. Planning the reception requires juggling many priorities such as budget, space availability, and individual wedding tastes.

While hotel ballrooms, major restaurants, private clubs, and dedicated banquet halls offer the greatest flexibility and widest range of on-site services, the choice of where to host a reception is limited only by your imagination. Caterers, entertainers, florists, and other professionals can transform any space (museum, garden, mansion, park, etc.) into the wedding backdrop of your dreams—budget permitting, of course.

Setting the Date

Late spring/early summer and fall weddings continue to be the most popular. Reception facilities may be booked months or even years in advance for prime weekends. More and more couples are booking Friday or Sunday weddings as an alternative. Another trend is a weekend-long event, with parties, outings, and picnics. If you’ve elected a shorter engagement, you may need to pursue several options to find the right reception location. If you consider an off-season or off-peak day for a wedding, you’re likely to discover caterers and others more forthcoming with discounts and extras.

Reception Options

Banquet Houses and Halls: These sites are created for the banquet and wedding business, and feature catering managers versed in event planning. Many facilities can accommodate both ceremony and reception. Ask about liquor. If you must provide your own, follow our suggestions listed in the beverage section.

Hotel Receptions: Hotels have flexible event space and well-trained staffs. Guestrooms allow those attending your wedding the option of not driving home. A hotel may offer you and your groom a bridal suite for your weddi ng night included in the wedding package.

Independent Caterers: Great for staging an at home wedding or garden reception. Special equipment is required for off-site caterers since they usually do not have access to a kitchen. Several party houses also provide these services, but not all. Independent caterers can help you plan your menu and make suggestions for table placement. Services will vary with each caterer with regard to china, linens, and table set-ups.

The First Cut

You can pare down your list of possible reception sites by asking a few simple questions.

Does the location:

Accommodate your guest list?

Fall within budget/season?

Offer the right style/formality?

Offer easy drive from the ceremony site?

Passing Inspection

After you’ve narrowed the list of possible reception sites, it’s time for an on-site inspection.

Here’s a short (alphabetical) list of major issues to investigate:



air conditioning












A cooperative catering manager or banquet hall manager will gladly spend the time necessary to answer all of your questions.

Remember to:

Ask for photos/videos of hall in use.

Taste test food.

Ask to hear sound system.

Check cleanliness of kitchen and public rooms.

Talk to staff.

Questions for the Reception Location

1. Can the facility comfortably accommodate our wedding?

Consider the space needed for more than just the guest tables. Walk off the space needed for the head table, as well as a cake, guest book, place card, gift, and cookie table. The band or DJ will require set-up space. The dance floor should comfortably accommodate your guests. If the dance floor is not large enough, and space permits, you can rent a portable dance floor.

2. If needed, is there a separate room available for the ceremony?

This can be a smaller area if not all of your guests are invited to the ceremony. Also inquire if there is an area for babysitting if needed.

3. Is there ample parking available?

Ask if parking is self-serve, or if valet parking is required. There may be fees involved if your guests have to park in a garage or use valets.

4. Are there any site policies or local laws that require you to hire extra help?

Local laws or site policies may require you to hire security guards, traffic directors, police, restroom and coat check attendants, parking valets, doormen, cleaning staff, dishwashers, etc. If any of these are required, the site should have a list of people for you to hire, or handle it directly, charging you the extra fees, including any gratuities.

5. What security deposits are required and what do they cover?

You may be liable for any damage done by your guests to furniture, decor, artwork, fixtures, or rooms. Also ask when the deposits will be returned and under what conditions.

6. What hours are the facility available to you and your guests?

If you have setting up or decorating to do, you will need to get into the site early in the day, or the previous day. Ask about overtime and what extra fees would be incurred.

7. Are lighting, heating, and ventilation adequate?

Can each be controlled separately for your chosen area, especially if there are multiple events going on at the same place?

8. Are other events occurring at the same time in the same facility?

Check if there are other functions that may interfere with your party—such as guests sharing common areas, or the music coming through from next door.

The Menu

The menu will be partially determined by the time of day you select. Brunch, lunch, and a light dinner are all acceptable choices for a morning or early afternoon reception. Late afternoon lends itself to a tea reception, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, or a light supper. Evening receptions can consist of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and/or an elegant dinner.

Informal Luncheons should consist of a plated entree with vegetables and dessert.

Formal Luncheons can include up to five courses, including soup, fish, meat and vegetables, salad, and dessert.

Informal Dinners consist of three courses, beginning with an appetizer or soup, entree, and dessert, with an emphasis on hors d’oeuvres.

Formal Dinners consist of three to six courses, including appetizer or soup, fish, entree, salad, cheese, and dessert, and are often complemented by small baked breads and rolls. Hors d’oeuvre quantities are limited when preceding the formal dinner.

Buffets provide guests with a choice of two or three entrees, and a minimum of four accompanying vegetables. Appetizer or soup and salad courses can be presented at the guests’ tables or you may substitute heavy hors d’oeu vres.

Dining Stations, a popular form of buffet, are small displays each dedicated to different types or themes of food, scattered throughout the room.

Cocktail Receptions feature a wide variety, up to 12 selections, of substantial hors d’oeuvres generally hand-passed. A buffet of additional hot hors d’oeuvres and a carving station are often included.

Tea Receptions offer bite-sized sandwiches and sweets, with a limited selection of beverages.

Choosing the Menu Within Your Budget

Catering costs are based on a per-person charge. Most caterers offer a variety of sample menus that can be adjusted for price. Keep in mind, though, that the total cost will be greater due to the addition of taxes and gratuities. Gratuities can range from 10- 20 percent, plus tax.

Some caterers include the wedding cake in the price, but give you the option of bringing in your own for a slightly reduced price. Savings, however, may be eliminated if the caterer charges a cake-cutting fee.

Ask your caterer if special dietary needs, such as kosher, low-sodium, low fat, or vegetarian can be met.

If you are inviting children to the reception, ask what type of children’s menu or discount is offered. Special meals of chicken fingers or hamburgers, french fries, corn, and applesauce are big hits with the under-10 crowd.

If you are providing meals for the wedding professionals, such as your photographer, videographer, bridal consultant, or musicians, see what options the caterer can suggest. These people do not need to be fed the same meal as your guests; family-style platters or sandwich trays, accompanied by soft drinks will be sufficient and should cost significantly less than your per-guest cost.

Questions for Your Caterer

1. Are there a minimum number of guests that must be paid for?

Most places do have a minimum number of guests they will book their site for. If you are a few people short , you may have to pay extra to reach their minimum figure.

2. Where is the food prepared?

Ask this if you are having on outside caterer. Additional kitchen facilities may be needed at the reception site that will have to be rented.

3. When must the menu be finalized and when is the final count due?

They will give you a cut-off date, after which no changes may be made. If you run into an emergency, most caterers will do everything possible to accommodate you.

4. What is the wait-staff-to-guest ratio, and how are they dressed?

The wait staff should have professional uniforms, or dress in black and white. At a sit-down meal, one staff member for every 15-20 guests, at a buffet or cocktail reception, one for every 25-30 guests should be sufficient.

5. How are fees determined, and what do they include?

Inclusions may be food, cake, beverages, liquor, complete set-up, dishwashing, clean up, linens, cloths and special skirting, taxes, and gratuities. Some wedding packages will also include the DJ and table centerpieces. Are there separate corkage, cake-cutting, and/or cookie-traying fees? Can an ice sculpture be provided or must you look elsewhere?

Once you have chosen your menu, make arrangements to sample the meal. The caterer may prepare the meal especially for you or make arrangements for you to unobtrusively visit another wedding reception to sample the food and view the presentation.


Beverage service consists of coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer, wine, and hard liquor. Usually fees for coffee, tea, and soft drinks are included in the catering service.

If you are faced with a limited budget, you can opt to serve beer, wine, and soft drinks only or set up a basic bar to offer your guests wine, vodka, gin, scotch, rum, whiskey, and beer. You may also wish to serve champagne for the toast and wine with dinner.

When serving hard liquor, house brands can be significantly less expensive than top-shelf brands. Some caterers give you options on methods of payment and may charge on a per-person basis, by the drink, by the hour or by the bottle opened. If you have a crowd of heavy drinkers, the per-person charge may be your best selection. If, however, your guests are less than social drinkers, by the drink may be the most cost effective. If you are having children at the reception, be sure that you are not charged a full bar price for them. Make sure your caterer has a liquor license and adequate liquor liability insurance.

Even if you are providing your own liquor, you will need the services of a bartender. Your caterer can usually arrange this. You may need to purchase a liquor liability policy if the caterer and/or facility are not sufficiently covered. Talk with your home insurance agent about your needs. Short-term riders are available through most insurance companies. You may also need to stock the bar. In addition to your liquor needs, you will need mixers, soft drinks, ice, lemons, limes, oranges, cherries, cups, and napkins. Some caterers will provide these for a small additional fee.

You may be considering purchasing wine with personalized wedding labels. Be sure to check with your caterer to see if you are permitted to bring these in. Ask if there will be a per bottle corkage fee associated with this, and what that fee will be based on (total bottles ordered vs. only the bottles opened).

A nice selection of flavored coffees and teas is always popular with wedding guests. Late in the evening, after dining, drinking and dancing, a cup of tea or coffee can be refreshing.

Be sure to check out the Reception Worksheet and Seating Arrangements diagram under: For Brides: My Bridal Suite

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