Indian Wedding Outside Catering

Updated July 2020

As Indian weddings grow in popularity and size and more and more venues open their doors to them, they’re simultaneously opening their doors to Indian wedding outside catering.

At first the concept can be confusing. From a venue’s perspective Indian weddings (for the most part) have outside catering – meaning catered cuisine that has been prepared by a caterer that is not the venue – hence the term outside catering.

{What Does Outside Catering Mean?}

Where it may get confusing is that venues refer to their package of services for Indian weddings as their outside catering package. Some couples take that to mean that the venue arranges the outside catering. Whereas in most cases, what it means is the services the venue will provide sans the catering.

An extension of the services they’ll provide, the venues also have policies and procedures for outside catering. As you can imagine there are liability issues associated with allowing a third party caterer cook on the premises, handle hot dishes and heavy equipment.

ProTip: If you haven’t seen our previous post about what outside caterer kitchen access means, refer it it here.

ShaadiShop teamed up with Shveta Dhillon, the Founder and Principal Planner at A Panache Affair, a full service Indian wedding and event planning companyto co-write this post on best practices for Indian wedding caterer walkthroughs at your wedding venue.

{What Is a Caterer Walkthrough?}

Walkthroughs are an essential component of any Indian wedding and we strongly recommend them; especially if your caterer has never worked at your wedding venue before. 

A caterer walkthrough is simply, a meeting at the wedding venue, with the following people:

  • you and/or your wedding coordinator
  • your caterer
  • a representative from your venue

During this meeting all of the details, policies, and specifics regarding the caterers work at the venue should be discussed. Things like:

  • timelines – what time will the caterer arrive? Where do they park? unload food? How much time do they have for setup and tear down?
  • where do they setup the satellite kitchen?
  • what, if any, kitchen areas and equipment do they have access to?
  • expectations of how food will be packaged and transported
  • where to discard items afterwards
  • what *food and setup equipment will the venue provide? what equipment is the caterer expected to provide?

{Good Outside Caterers Will Setup a Walkthrough}

Many venues require caterers who have never worked at the venue before, to do a walkthrough. Good, professional caterers will proactively setup a walkthrough as they are eager to do a good job for you. We strongly suggest that if you’re working with a lesser known caterer that you prioritize the walkthrough at your venue sooner than later. Venues reserve the right to refuse caterers to work on-property even if they have the proper documentation. If the venue is worried that the caterer will not meet their standards and requirements they have the right to refuse the caterer from working on-property.

Indian wedding at Hotel Irvine with vegetarian catered Indian food.
These serving dishes with the little flames underneath are classed chafing dishes and sternos. Some venues provide these to the outside caterer, and some don’t. Photo: Global Photography

Most established caterers are aware of the general policies and procedures at venues in the US, as they tend to be similar across venues. But it’s worthwhile to go through this process because every venue is different and as we all know, the food is an integral part of any Indian wedding. We’ve heard stories of caterers dumping their frying oil in the venue’s dumpster as well as the venue not specifying all the details that the caterer needed. The solution is simple: get everyone on the same page with a face-to-face meeting. It’s worth it.

ProTip: Once you’ve decided whom your caterer will be, start planning the meeting. With so many [busy] people involved, you’re bound to have conflicting schedules, so just scheduling a meeting date that works for everyone could take a while.

{Who Is Managing Food Setup?}

For an Indian wedding the outside caterer provides the food. The venue provides the beverages and food service staff and bartenders. But who is responsible for setting up the food? setup of food because some venues provide chafing dishes, sternos, serving utensils, and hot boxes while other venues don’t. And then there’s the buffet setup. Most venues provide and setup the tables and linens for the buffets in addition to china, flatware and glassware. Hardly any venues provide menu cards like the ones pictured below.

Mexican food served an a sangeet for an Indian wedding.
Photo: VEK Photo

ProTip: Understanding your venue’s outside catering policies is pretty important as venues have lots of do’s and don’ts, particularly when it comes to using their kitchen and cooking on-site.

{Venue Outside Catering Kitchen Policies}

Back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s only a handful of venues even allowed outside catering in Southern California because they viewed it as a loss or less profitable revenue stream. Additionally the liability issues arising from having outside people, aka non-venue employees come to their property while handling heavy and potentially dangerous equipment, not to mention all the health issues around food ingredients, preparation and storage, made them really really nervous.

The liability issues still make them wary but many venues have gotten the hang of it and that’s why they’ve put several policies in place to make it possible i.e.

  • at some venues caterers are allowed to use the venue’s kitchen for storage
  • at VERY FEW the caterers are allowed to cook on-site
  • at some venues they’re just not allowed in the kitchen at all

Each venue is different and it’s a fluid situation. The hospitality industry has a lot of turnover and as new General Managers, management companies and Executive Chefs come in, so do new policies — so things continuously change. That’s why we never tell my clients to assume a venue doesn’t allow something just because they didn’t allow it for their friend or relative.

{Can Outside Caterers Use
The Venue’s Kitchen?}

The vast majority of venues do not allow outside caterers to use their kitchen. There are exceptions but for the most part outside caterers are invited to setup a satellite kitchen at the venue which is where they setup a tandoor and other equipment. This is usually a designated area outdoors. Caterers are expected to manage all setup and cleanup.

The very few venues that allow a caterer to use their kitchen are usually those that have more than 1 kitchen on-property. The value to you in knowing whether the venue will allow kitchen access is that if they do then you can get more fancy with the cuisine that you’ll serve i.e. food stalls and freshly made pakoras vs. pre-made.

mmm…, freshly made paneer tikka masala…I hope my client’s venue allows me to make it on-site!

{Evolving Policies for Indian Weddings}

Part of our work at ShaadiShop is to be an ambassador of our culture to bring South Asian weddings to the attention of venues. We came across a venue that sought South Asian weddings but kept losing to competitors. We found out that for outside catered events they didn’t provide the stemware, flatware, glassware, china, and linens. You had to rent them! No wonder they were losing to competitors as every other venue includes those items! We talked about it and got them to relax that policy so they could be more competitive.

{What Could Happen When Things Go Wrong With the Catering?}

Shveta shared her experiences as a wedding planner.

“We’ve run into many situations where a caterer neglects to meet with the venue beforehand, and on the day of the event invariably runs into issues – especially with regards to what equipment is needed but not provided by the venue.

Our advice is once the menu is selected have your planner accompany your caterer to the venue to discuss the layout, what equipment they need to bring vs. what will be provided by the venue, how food will be kept warm, how desserts will be kept cold, any items that need to be served, how many attendants the caterer will need to bring and how they will work with the service staff.” 

{Story 1: Go Ask The Caterer?!?}

Samta: I attended a non-Indian wedding at a high-end resort last year. Even though it wasn’t an Indian wedding, it was an outside catered event, so for all intensive purposes it could have been an Indian wedding. The dinner was served buffet style but there were no cards stating what each dish was. I’m vegetarian and I couldn’t decipher what I could or could not eat. When I asked an attendant, she told me to ask the caterer. I was a guest at this wedding, standing in the buffet line and the attendant told me to go ask the caterer???

These are the finer details that make the difference in your guests’ experience at your wedding. No venues make and provide the dish/item display cards – that’s up the caterer or you and we highly recommend them.

Mexican food served an a sangeet for an Indian wedding.
Those dish cards that identify each item are really helpful! Photo: VEK Photo

{Story 2: How Are You Going To Serve That?}

Samta: I’ll share another story from an event I attended. I was at a sangeet at a private residence and the caterer forgot serving utensils…and didn’t realize it until people were already in line for the buffet. Luckily the event was at a private residence and they had plenty of serving spoons of their own but those 5-10 minutes of scrambling to get them were pretty stressful. The caterer was careless in forgetting something so important, but also the family assumed that they’d bring that and didn’t verify. The other challenge was that the caterer didn’t have enough buffer time to fix any errors. They showed up with just the right amount of time to setup before dinner started.

ProTip: To be really thorough, (and this goes for anyone – you, vendors…everyone, make checklists of the items you’ll need, whether it’s for catering equipment or all the stuff you need to pack to take with you to the hotel you’re staying at during your wedding weekend. Checklists are a gift like a little gift from heaven because, as long as you make good ones and take the time to make sure you got everything on the list, you’ll always be prepared.

{Story 3: Are They Serving Dinner at This Reception?}

Samta: I was at a wedding where the caterer showed up about 1.5 hours late. They showed up that late, which meant that by the time they actually set up dinner, over 2 hours passed. People were antsy and hungry and the families had to scramble, last minute, to add more entertainment into the reception program. Luckily they and their friends are super talented and had already had a mini concert, so they sang a few more songs, which everyone enjoyed. But after extending the program by an hour (which is a lot! MAD props to them!), they closed the program and guests mingled for the remainder of the time until the food was ready.

The impact didn’t end there though. Their costs shot up because:

  • their bar expenditure was higher because everyone went to the bar during that big time gap
  • they had to pay overtime charges to the venue for having the server staff stay late
  • there wasn’t as much time to dance because, dancing started so late

Did you know most venues have a cutoff of 9:30pm? That means that diner has to be served by 9:30pm to avoid paying overtime fees for the server staff. Did you know most venues charge a fee if the event extends over the allotted hours? That fee usually ranges between $500-$1000 per hour.

{Selecting an Outside Caterer}

After having gone through some unhappy experiences with outside caterers, some venues restrict your options to a few pre-approved caterers. Most venues allow you to bring in whatever caterer you’d like as long as they’re an actual business that’s licensed and insured. However there are some that restrict your options to a handful of caterers. But again these policies are constantly changing and we work with clients to help them with this. But the larger point is that unfortunately, your <enter an Aunty’s name here>, who makes the best halwa on the planet, cannot provide the halwa for your wedding….unless she runs a professional catering business.

{Story 4: My Aunt is Making Our Cake}

Samta: I was talking to a bride who recently got married and she shared how they had a stressful situation just two weeks before their wedding because they didn’t realize that the outside catering policies applied to dessert vendors too. This bride’s masi (maternal aunt), is an excellent baker and makes professional grade cakes, but it’s her hobby…not her profession. Not realizing the venue’s policies about working with licensed bakers she arranged for her masi to provide the cake, until two weeks before the wedding when she just happened to mention it to the venue’s catering manager who informed her that that cake would not be allowed. So last minute they had to find a cake vendor who could make the cake with the custom design they wanted. Luckily everything turned out fine. But I wanted to share the story, to help you avoid going through the same scenarios. And below, I just wanted to share some cake photos because wedding cakes are so gorgeous!

Take Away: All of your wedding vendors must be licensed and bonded and be able to provide copies of their business documentation. This applies to coordinators, decorators, caterers, photographers, cinematographers…all of your vendors.

You might like our related post on a wedding cake mishap, with a GREAT learning lesson that (we think) every couple should know. As well as this money-saving wedding cake hack.

{Can You BYO Alcohol?}

Another venue policy I’ll mention simply because I get asked about this a lot is that most venues don’t allow you to BYO alcohol. There are a very select few venues that do allow it like the Diamond Bar Community Center; but you have to hire a professional, licensed, bonded bartender — again a family member cannot be your bartender. The Cerritos Performing Arts Center requires you to work with a particular company to provide alcohol and bartending services whereas the Diamond Bar Community Center let’s you bring in whomever you want as long as they’re a professional bartender. The majority of venues require you to purchase all beverages – alcohol or not – from the venue…again because of liability issues.

Some venues allow you to bring your own wine and charge a corkage fee. For more info and details about that, check out ShaadiShop’s Guide on Understanding Venue Bar Packages for an Indian Wedding.

all of your wedding vendors must be licensed and hold liability insurance.

{Take Aways}

This article is all about Indian wedding outside catering. We covered:

  • What outside catering means
  • The importance of the caterer doing a venue walkthrough
  • Outside caterer satellite kitchens and venue kitchen access
  • Understanding venue outside catering policies
  • Real stories of when things went wrong with outside catering
  • How to select an outside caterer
  • BYO Alcohol

From all of us at ShaadiShop and A Panache Affair congratulations and cheers to your upcoming wedding!

Pictured left: Samta Varia, Founder & CEO, ShaadiShop
Pictured right: Shveta Dhillon, Founder, A Panache Affair

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Cover image: Inbal More Photography