Wedding planning is a full time job. Not only for actual wedding planners (a true version of angels on Earth), but for the brides and grooms who are tackling the majority of the planning themselves.
Of course if you are going with a full service planner or coordinator, they can give you great recommendations. They know the ins and outs of the venues. They have also worked with many of the companies you are considering before so know all these answers and they will guide you through the process step-by-step.
However, if you are acting as your own planner and going through the process of finding, interviewing and booking your own vendors where do you start? What questions should you be asking?
When it comes to your bartending needs, whether it is bundled with catering or not, there are some questions that you may not have even considered asking that can save you time, money and even stress down the line!
Here are 9 questions you should ask your bartending and catering company before booking so you are getting the right company!
Tip #1 - Detailed Package List!
Make sure you get a detailed list of everything that is included in their package. Once you get this full list, compare these line item by line item with all the companies you are considering.
What does their package include? Number of Bartenders? Do they provide garnishes, straws, napkins, glassware, bar set up, buckets to ice down beer and wine? How much ice is provided? Are non-alcoholic drinks for guests included for those that do not drink? What mixers are included in the package? Some companies only include soda, items like Sour Mix or Margarita Mix are not part of the package…so they are extra if they will provide it at all.
If you select a Signature Cocktail that's ingredients are not included in the mixers list they provide, are they still willing to make it and, if so, what are the additional costs? Or will they require you to provide that yourself?
If you have to provide anything the bar needs to serve drinks, you should consider that as part of your bartending budget!
Tip #2 - Do they take their own trash with them?
This is a multi-point question with basically all the same theme. Where will all the trash go at the end of the night? Some venues have large, commercial grade dumpsters where your vendors can dispose of large bags of trash at the end of the event. If they do, make sure you know whether that is part of your package and that your vendors can use it. Some venues charge to use their trash. If your venue requires trash to be taken off site and has no dumpster, does your catering/bartending company take their trash and does that carry any additional fees?
Side Note: This isn't just for catering and bartending trash! This is all event trash at the end of the night including your décor or florals that you are not keeping. Make sure you have plans for end of night trash.
Tip #3 - If your venue does not have a physical bar, does the bartending company have a setup they provide or do you have to rent tables or bars?
Many venues have their own bars. Some only offer a bar for one location, whether that be cocktail hour or reception. Some do not have bars and you have to provide them. So find out if the bartending company has their own physical bar set ups they provide if physical bars are not included with your venue package.
If the company does not have a bar and you have to rent a set up, shouldn't those additional costs be considered as part of your bar budget?
Side Note: Remember that when reviewing photos of previous events, the bars pictured may not be property of the catering/bartending company. They may be rented or one owned by a specific venue. So make sure you’re not assuming that the bar pictured is what you’ll be getting!
Tip #4 - Ask about any additional costs.
Ask about any additional costs! Yes there are some companies that charge a fee to move the alcohol from cocktail hour to dinner. Some charge to take their trash to venue dumpsters. Do they charge a travel fee for your venue?
Asking all these questions and getting a full picture of each companies costs will better assist you in selecting the right company!
A few other items to keep in mind while you are in your planning process and getting a solid number around the bar budget!
Tip #5 - Bartender to Guest Ratio
How many staff members are part of their package? In our experience 1 bartender is simply not sufficient in any situation.
One HUGE concern we always hear from couples is LINES at the bar. They were at “THAT” wedding and the bar always had lines and was so slow. The reason is, they went with a company that thought 1 bartender for 125 people was acceptable to save money.
Make sure to double check that your bartending company has fully thought out and covered staffing. Less staff is less expensive but it increases the risk when it comes to your perfect day and your wedding becoming another couple's "THAT" wedding.
Tip # 6 - Liability
Read your liability clause in their contracts. MOST companies put all the liability back on the shoulders of the hosts, aka the couple getting married, if there were to be an alcohol related incident. That means if your bartenders over-serve someone and there is an accident, or a minor is served at your wedding, you can not hold them liable! So those companies that allow shots, that will not cut people off or card could be a costly mistake for you. Of course there are the financial implications, but do you really want the last memory you have of your perfect day a call the next day that some did not make it home for your wedding safe?
Tip #7 - Will caterers buss tables during cocktail hour, or will they only clean up after guests have moved on to the reception space?
This is a Traveling Tap pet peeve! We see so many catering companies who do not bus tables during cocktail hour. They wait until the very end to clear tables once guests have gone to dinner. This might not be a huge deal to you, but those small cocktail tables fill up fast and your guests will be forced to play Jenga at the tables with dirty plates and glassware to have room to place their new plates and drinks. We are sure that is not the vision you had when planning your day! The next place guests will go is to the bar and place their dirty dishes there! Which causes the bar to slow down to clean and deal with that before helping the next guest! So request that your caterer bus tables DURING cocktail hour!
At the very least, if they do not have someone to clear tables during cocktail hour make sure that they provide trash cans around the area or that your venue has trash cans that can be put out so guests have a place to throw dirty items away. This is something that needs to be established early on. Trash cans might be unsightly, however trash all over tables is JUST as unsightly!
Who will buss tables after dinner? Make sure you discuss who will bus tables! Some of the smaller caterers do not stay and bus tables so it is left to the end of the night and often that is left to you the couple to clean up if you do not arrange for someone to do it. Do you really want to be dealing with trash in your wedding dress?
Tip #8 - Estimate & Contract
Ask for an estimate and contract for services you are interested in before your first call! This way you can review it and create a list of questions for the call! This way you have the details in front of you and can go line item by line item.
Side Note: Ask other vendors you might have already booked, if they have worked with who you are considering. Having a team that has worked together in the past and enjoys working together makes a more seamless day for you!
Tip #9 - ALCOHOL
Alcohol is the pivotal thing needed for your bar and to get your guests out on the dance floor!
In PA it is illegal to sell alcohol unless you have a liquor license like a restaurant or bar. That means the cost of alcohol can not be part of any mobile catering or bartending package price. That means you have to provide the alcohol for your catering/bartending company to serve.
So all things being equal and all the companies you are looking at are within the same range… can they offer to assist you with the alcohol?
So you spend hours trying to figure out what you need and how much. Now companies might give you suggestions. Providing you with some base numbers as recommendations for you to go purchase. If they provide these, make sure to ask where they get their data from! Do they get those numbers from the online calculators out there? Every one of those sites suggest something different. Or do they have their own data of what was delivered, what was returned unopened to calculate what was consumed for an event like yours?
Side note: If a company says alcohol is provided as part of the package or they can do a Cash Bar for you, think twice about using them! If they are not a Restaurant/Bar with their Liquor Licenses and Off Site Catering Permit, and they get caught… you might be without a bartending company when it is time for your wedding.
The more you’re prepared during your first calls with the various companies you are considering, the better the odds you will find the perfect match to bring that last piece of your perfect day together.
BONUS TIP - Hire a Day of Coordinator
We can not stress enough the importance of a day of coordinator! So if you are planning on planning your whole wedding yourself, awesome! We strongly suggest you find a great day of coordinator. You do all the upfront work and then pass everything off to your coordinator a month or just a week ahead of your big day.
They will go over everything and make sure you did not miss anything. They will be the point of contact for all your vendors the weeks leading up to your big day and on that day to answer questions. You do not need to be pulled away from your First Look to answer a question about table cards!
A Day of Coordinator leaves you to be able to be present in the moment. You should not have to work your own wedding!