Monday, December 13, 2010

A Sensitive Subject: Vendor Meals

Hello! Just a quick break from the holiday season to talk about something that can often be a sensitive topic: Vendor meals. I was recently checking my Facebook updates when one of my favorite Chicago wedding photographers, Cristina G, shared a link from famed photographer Elizabeth Messina about vendor meals.

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This is such a touchy subject because no vendor wants to come outright and say, "please feed us a good meal." When it comes down to it, a quality vendor is going to work hard all day, regardless of any situation, to make your wedding more than perfect. A good vendor cares about their couples, their families, and has one goal - to do an above and beyond job. I like to think of myself and SH Weddings in that category.

However, here's the thing: Most "vendor meals" are, how shall I say? ... not great. And it's NOT the client's fault at all. I think most clients are unaware of what the vendor meal actually is. I know that when Mr. Owl and I planned our wedding, we asked our venue (also our caterer) what we should feed our vendors, and they replied, "We have a great boxed lunch that comes with a sandwich, sides and a soda!" Not giving it much thought, we replied, "okay!" I wish we had put more thought into it because we had some amazing vendors that worked so hard all day long, and if I had to do it over again, they would have gotten a hot meal.

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Now that I'm on the other side, I feel like I have some legitimate points to make, and I truly hope I don't offend anyone. I'm going to come outright and and give my real, true opinion because I feel like I owe my clients nothing but honesty and respect.

So, here it is, folks: If you have the choice, get your vendors a hot meal that's somewhat equivalent to what you're serving your guests. While coordinating weddings this year, Mr. Owl and I have had some pretty bad dinners put in front of us by caterers that are otherwise absolutely amazing, so it really baffles me why guests are getting served a scrumptious meal, and we get a soggy sandwich that's quite literally, spongey and inedible. We've been served everything from a guest entree to, as I just said, one soggy sandwich without any sides.

Wedding coordinators and photographers, especially, work a lot of hours on each wedding - upwards of 10-12 hours for us Owl's is normal, if not more than that. We always pack energy bars and other snacks that we can scarf down when we have a free second (usually during transportation), but our energy can quickly decline come reception time. I've thought about bringing my own dinner with me, but because I work with my husband, we would need to pack two substantial meals, and most likely, they'd need to stay refrigerated, and between that, our clipboards, files and emergency kit, and often supplies and decor items from the bride, it's virtually impossible. We really need a meal that will get us through the rest of the night and after for tear-down (we're usually at the reception 30-60 minutes after it's over to pack up all your supplies before we head home). Honestly, a good meal makes the world of difference.

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So, with that said, here are my tips for couples when thinking about the vendor meal:

1. Check the vendor's contract. Some will have a paragraph about their meal saying it has to be a hot meal or equal to that of the guests'. Currently, the only thing we specify in our contract is that our meals need to be vegetarian. I don't want to get more specific, personally, because I know that some couples are in a tight spot financially, and I don't want to force them into anything they're uncomfortable with. But if it doesn't break the bank, we're always grateful for a meal that's a step or two above the boxed lunch.

2. Most caterers give you the option to pick between a meal that you're serving your guests, and a boxed "vendor meal." Find out exactly what that vendor meal is, how it's prepared, what it comes with and how fresh it is. You can find this out by simply asking, "when does the vendor meal get prepared?" If it's that day, great! If it's a few days prior, like a 7-11 to-go meal, think twice. Even though vendor meals are often less expensive, they still charge you a pretty penny for them, and there's no sense in paying AT ALL for something that's not fresh, and that your vendors won't want to eat. It's a waste of money. That said, I've had one boxed meal that was truly very yummy! It was a veggie wrap, two sides of fresh pasta salad and fresh fruit, chips and a very delicious and chewy chocolate chip cookie. I was full and ready for action after eating it. It's just best to know what exactly your vendors are getting and take it from there.

3. Caterers often tell my clients that us vendors prefer the boxed lunch because it's faster to eat. I'm not sure why they tell people this because it's not true. Us vendors are going to inhale that meal as quickly as possible because we want to get back to work, regardless of what it is. I don't think we've ever eaten a meal at a wedding that took us longer than 10 minutes tops, and we've had both entrees and boxed meals.

4. Don't break the bank on a fancy meal if you're on a really, really, really tight budget and struggling to pay your final bills. If your caterer is charging you the same amount for hot vendor meals as your guests, it's okay to downgrade, in my opinion if it's going to hurt you financially. Especially if you have a lot of vendors you need to feed. However, caterers, for the most part, should be discounting guest meals for vendors meals because we're typically not offered a variety of courses like a soup, salad and appetizer. If you need to serve a boxed lunch, it's okay, of course. But offering us some cake would be appreciated for a sugar rush :) And if at all possible, ask your caterer to make sure the boxed meal is fresh and substantial.

5. If you're having trouble deciding, try to imagine yourself as a vendor, having just worked eight hours or more, doing lots of running around in all kinds of weather. What would you like to eat?

So, there you have it! My raw, honest opinion on vendor meals. I know that this post will probably ruffle some feathers, and that's okay. Everyone has a right to their opinion, and there's nothing wrong with a healthy debate :) I wanted to give you some insight into the subject, and help you make a more educated decision when it's time to pick out what your own vendors will be eating at your wedding.

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