How to make sure you eat when you're working a wedding

November 12 |
Cocktail Hour
Chicken lettuce cups with chili plum sauce. Photo by I Luv Photo.

Something that we all see come up time and time again on Offbeat Bride are questions about feeding wedding vendors: when should it happen? Is it something that's expected? How can vendors make sure it's understood that they are human beings and need food while working an 8-12 hour day?

I admit I'm a little baffled that this is a struggle. Since my early days as a wedding photographer, I have been clear about three things: I will rock your wedding photos, I will love you so much, and I will make sure I am fed. It turns out not everyone is this clear, so I've compiled a list of tips my fellow vendors can use to make sure you get some food at the wedding you're working this weekend (or whenever):

Bring up meals when the couple books

If you feel like you might not get to eat, make sure you say something when your couple is booking. This is most important for vendors who will be logging several hours at a wedding — if you're dropping off flowers or setting up the cake and then leaving, you probably shouldn't expect to be fed. My general rule of thumb is this: if I'm there working during a meal, it should be a basic courtesy that I'm allowed to eat something.

I've generally kept it casual, saying something like, "Oh, hey — it's cool if I get something to eat, right?" I have never had a couple who even acted remotely surprised that I brought up getting a meal. If anything, my couples have been more than happy to shove food down my face. Everyone from the parents to guests have always made sure I'm fed at the weddings I've worked, and for that I'm immensely grateful.

It's also important to keep in mind that some couples are paying for each individual meal, and may not be planning on factoring vendor meals into that total. I've never had someone point-blank refuse to feed me, but there have been weddings at which I knew the budget was tight. It's generally easy to sneak over to the caterer or someone working the kitchen and ask if they can put a plate together for you — in five years, I've never shot a wedding that didn't have TONS of extra food leftover — even weddings with budget constraints.

Sync up your mealtime with the couple's

As the photographer at a wedding, there really aren't THAT many times at which I can break off and eat dinner. Even when I'm eating quickly, dinner can still take 10-15 minutes — and that's sometimes a lot, in terms of wedding day timing. I always make sure my couple says it's cool for me to eat while they're eating. That way we're all busy chowing down at the same time, and I don't have to jump up mid-meal to get the first dance or something like that. Sometimes this feels a tiny bit awkward when I get my dinner before the wedding party or the couple's parents, but ultimately it comes down to this: if I'm going to do my best work for 8 hours, I need to sit down and refuel for 10 minutes.

Bring snacks

Even if I know dinner has been discussed and is supposedly being provided, sometimes I start weddings at 9am and have no clue if a meal will be presented to me before 6pm. That's like nine hours filled with having no idea if I'm going to eat. I am totally prone to getting HANGRY, so guys: I need some food. I always swing by a grocery store before a wedding and grab a bottle of water, a small meal from the deli (think those little containers of sushi or egg salad, whatever's around), and a few Cliff bars or something similar to snack on during the day. I don't always actually eat this stuff — sometimes there's way better food offered, or sometimes I'm too busy to eat — but I like knowing I have the snacks if I need them.

How do you make sure you eat at a wedding? Let's talk about FOOD.

  1. "It's also important to keep in mind that some couples are paying for each individual meal, and may not be planning on factoring vendor meals into that total."

    As someone planning a wedding, it would have been very easy to forget about vendors eating entirely if my venue/catering coordinator didn't bring up the fact that they offer vendor meals at a cheaper rate, and asked me for an estimate of how many vendors we'd bring in who would need to eat. A vendor meal is cheaper for us because it doesn't include alcohol like the guests' meals… Which is good, because drunkenness makes one's work suffer almost as much as hangriness does 😉

    If your caterer charges per meal, it's worth asking if they have a different rate for vendor meals!

    8 agree
    • If you get a vendor meal it's usually a sandwich that was made in the morning with chips that have been stored in the fridge (cold and soggy). This is not acceptable and the family is probably paying $30-60 for this crappy meal.

      Everyone should ask your caterer what they usually serve the photographers who have been working for 8-10 hours. Would you be alright with a soggy sandwich after working all day and into the late evening without a break? Once your photographer arrives there is no place they can go until the wedding is over. Please feed your photographer a hot meal, they will appreciate it and work even harder for you.

      15 agree
      • All i have to say to this is any vendor meal i have been served is absolutely awful, almost not even worth eating. Its exactly how Peter described, a soggy ass sandwich and some stale chips in a plastic baggy. I always bring snacks these days just in case, because at this point in my career i just don't bother with the vendor meals anymore. In fact, if i am shooting with more than one photographer from our studio, there have been a few times (very few actually, as we normally do get fed properly.) where they have made food runs or ordered a pizza and had it delivered, haha. working a 6 to sometimes 14 hour day can really wreck you pretty good if you don't properly refuel yourself, not to mention me being diabetic i can sometimes feel extra drained when this happens. Anyways, that being said, in the past 6 years i can count on one hand the times i was told that i could not eat, so thats not so bad me thinks. 🙂

        4 agree
  2. It should be in the vendor's contract, pure & simple. My husband is a videographer, & a meal is standard in his contract & same for all of the videographers & photographers he's worked with. They're shooting for 6-10 hours at a wedding, so of course they should be fed. And definitely make sure to remind the couple about this — when I've acted as an assistant at gigs, wedding coordinators (more than couples, ime) can be stingy or lazy about making sure all the vendors get fed. Just do it when the guests are eating bec. ppl don't want photos/video of them eating (gross!) & the DJ can often setup background music running so s/he can eat too.

    6 agree
  3. I asked my vendors if they had eaten during a lull in the action. We were contractually obligated to feed them, but I wanted to make sure they were taken care of regarding the food. If they hadn't eaten, I told them when we were going to be doing our "next thing" and then asked them if it would be enough time for them to eat, or if we should adjust to make time afterward.

    I'll admit I'm probably an outlier in that, but it was a long day for everyone, including our vendors, and they shouldn't have to suffer any more than anyone else!

    6 agree
  4. For the couple:
    When planning – lots of caterers have "vendor meal" options but be aware that sometimes these meals can be cheaper because they are cheaper food (sandwiches, etc.) I have always been lucky that the caterers I have worked with are generally great about serving all the vendors the same food that the guests are eating (with the understanding that if the steak is gone, the DJ will have to get the fish instead, etc.) but you want to be sure. Even if you forget to include the vendors in your total, there will be food left over to feed them – but if it is a plated dinner make sure that the caterer knows to keep X number of plates back for them.

    When running the day – the DOC (whether it is someone you hire, or the friend you put in charge of the schedule) should make sure that the vendors eat while the guests are eating. If it is a buffet, I let the wedding couple's table go first, and then send the vendors with the next table so they have time to eat before the last table goes through, and then are done and ready to be back to work when it is time for toasts.

    Something to also consider is where the vendors will eat. I had a lovely bride who wanted them to feel included so added the photographer's name to the seating chart, but in most cases the vendors would rather go away from the crowd for a quiet moment (no one asking questions or for photos or a song request). So make sure that there is a table in the back or a corner of the room they can retreat to and eat for 15 min. in peace.

    12 agree
    • "but in most cases the vendors would rather go away from the crowd for a quiet moment"

      THIS! I love having 10-15 minutes to sit, eat, and just be alone for a second. I love weddings and love my couples, but after going so hard, it's nice to have a tiny break.

      10 agree
      • I'm thinking the vendors might like this too but am also concerned that our reception room is already a bit tight and I'd hate to exclude a family member to make room for a vendor at a table. I also don't want to push a vendor out or make them eat standing, but want to find a place that they might feel comfortable but still leave enough space at the tables for friends and family. What other spaces would a vendor feel comfortable taking a break away from all the activity? We have a kids room and cocktail area space outside the reception room which will both have tables. They probably don't want to be in the kids room but maybe the cocktail area?

        1 agrees
        • As a vendor, my opinion is that either of these spots would be fine! Truly, anywhere we can get off our feet for 10 minutes and chow down is great. If there will be kids running around during dinner, I'd suggest the cocktail area in your situation. I personally love to be either in a corner of the main room if there is room or in an adjoining room so I can keep an eye on the party while I'm taking a break.

          2 agree
  5. The reason there is food left over is because we build a little extra into the cost. You never know when the server will drop an entire tray of plates, or a buffet tray, or the chef burns a batch of buns, or even just that everyone loved THOSE canapés so much more than these! It is a cost of doing business to prepare for the "emergencies" (because there is one at almost every event, to some degree) so it is included in the pricing. BUT that means that you never know what will be the leftovers.

    I always remind customers to count their vendors in a separate headcount, check with everyone including vendors for allergies, and have a table set aside for staff noshing. It has a sign that says "if it's here, eat it!" And will have premade cards for "grape warning!" Or what have you on foods that should be avoided by certain people.

    4 agree
    • It makes me glad you make sure your customer's ask about food allergies. As sensitive as I am to gluten, I tend to bring my own food in the form of on the go snacks to events out of habit. I'd rather be prepared than end up getting sick and out of commission due to cross contamination or hidden binders. Not all caterer's will ask or are aware – my own wedding as an example; I had stressed the fact that I was vegetarian at the time and the caterer sprinkled Jell-O (aka gelatin aka animal product) on the fruit platters.

      I have a question though, since I do have a food allergy/sensitivity, how do you go about broaching the subject of allergies when asking if you will get fed?

      4 agree
  6. It had never crossed my mind(until now) to feed my vendors. I routinely work more than 8 hours and no one serves me any food. I bring my own lunch. It irks me a little bit to pay wedding rates for a meal for someone when it is just their regular lunch break meal. I never spend more than 7 dollars on my own lunch why would I spend 50 on someone else's. That being said I will make sure it is taken care of because I do not want to violate the norm and starve people…..but this seems kind of ridiculous to me. I pay someone to do a job, provide them with time to eat….and they eat.

    11 agree
    • I agree, my work does not on a regular basis pay for my food during work hours and defiantly not high end food. Everyone is entitled to have breaks during work hours and if you are required to go on location where there is no option of buying your own food (even though you can still bring it with you) it is nice for something to be provided. But expecting oysters and caviar is a bit much.

      4 agree
    • a photo/video team i know, had pizza delivered to the reception hall when they were denied food. with the same "you are paid to work" reason from the client. its either get your own food in, or go out to the nearest 7eleven and come back after the first dance or tear-jerky speech from the father of the bride.

      i dont know but norm or not, THIS puts the client in a very bad light. imagine being in a party with feasting and dining. suddenly a chinese food delivery guy wanders inside.

      10 agree
    • With all due respect, there is nothing even remotely "regular" about a wedding work day.

      As a photographer, if I'm very lucky, I go to the bathroom once in an 8-12 hour day. If I'm really lucky, I go to the bathroom without being stopped 2-3 times there and back by guests asking for photos. This isn't an exaggeration. 90% of weddings are complete insanity. Especially for your photographer.

      You really can't compare an average work day to a photographer shooting a wedding. We can't really pack a suitable dinner. There's no fridge in my camera bag — and who wants to risk food poisoning by using an insulated lunch bag in the car on a July day? There's no microwave. No break room. No food bar. Just 8-12 hours of back-breaking, sweaty, stressful, demanding work.

      And then you watch 200 people eat steak while you fish another LUNA bar out of your bag. Or you eat the soggy sandwich and chips.

      As far as I'm concerned, if it is a financial burden to pay for one or two more meals for vendors who are with you from morning until late at night, you might reconsider your wedding budget. Or better yet, allow them to leave the venue for a 30-45-minute dinner — while the toasting, first dances, and cake cutting happens.

      17 agree
  7. As a wedding photographer in a country area, I don't have the luxury of ducking out to a 7-eleven or ordering in when I'm working – most of the time, the receptions I photograph are on farms or remote locations. So I have it written into my contract that the couple will provide a meal and non alcoholic beverages at the reception, and I give thorough explanations behind each point in my contract so the couple fully understand why its there.

    During the day, I always have ample supply of easy-to-eat-while-driving foods that are packed with protein and are non-perishable (think protein balls, fruit sticks, jerky etc) and an absolute butt-load of bottled water (because theres always someone in a bridal party who needs a drink when theres none available!!). I also carry a bottle of soda water to help settle stomachs, or to clean dirt off dresses. You have no idea the amount of times this planning has benefitted not only me but the bridal party – on more than one occasion, my snacks have become the nibbles for the bridal party while the formal photos take place, usually because the groomsmen have been left with the responsibility to pack the esky, and all they've thought about is beer!!

    I guess I can kinda put it down to country hospitality, but even when it wasn't in the contract, I was always fussed over by the bridal party, and always had someone ensuring I'd had my fill.

    3 agree
  8. As a wedding photographer and someone that is hired (with money!) to perform a service for my clients I believe it's up to me to feed myself. Other photographers feel differently and that's fine but for me, I'd rather not bother the couple with demands for being fed.

    1 agrees
  9. Usually, the alternative to your providing vendor meals is that your vendors need to have a long enough break to go and get their own meals. So if you want them to be there all day, you need to feed them.

    3 agree

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