Eat, Drink and Be Married

Picking the perfect caterer for your wedding is about style, cost and taste

Eat, Drink and be married

Story by Sarah Gonzales

The menu on your wedding day serves much more than your hungry guests; it also represents your unique tastes, your family background and even your identity as a couple. Whether you opt for a formal three-course dinner or a casual outdoor barbecue, there is most likely a caterer who can dish up exactly what you’re craving.

When planning the menu for your wedding there are a number of factors to consider. Perhaps the first among these is your budget. Catered dinners can cost anywhere from $20 to $100 per guest, depending on the type of food, whether or not you include alcoholic beverages from the caterer, and how you choose to serve the meal. And don’t forget the tip – leaving an 18 percent gratuity on the total food tab is standard.

Casual or Formal

The style of meal service you choose – buffet or plated – should fit the formality of your affair. “It all comes down to the atmosphere you are trying to create and your budget,” says Christine Gire, who plans weddings for SMG, the group that manages the Dena’ina and the Egan convention centers in Anchorage.

“Usually buffets are more economical if you compare the price to the portions of food your guests are serving themselves. And overall they are more pleasing to guests as they can select whatever item they wish,” she explains. “But plated meals are more formal.”

For couples on a tight budget, dessert buffets are often a popular choice, says Karla DeLong, wedding planner and owner of Karla DeLong Weddings. Or, she adds, instead of serving a full dinner some couples are “making the cocktail hour last a long time,” with a variety of appetizers served throughout the evening.

Once the reception has been in full swing for a few hours, offer an after-dinner snack, suggests Heather Siegel, wedding planner and owner of Beginning 2 End. She recommends “cheese, meats and crackers served about an hour before the reception ends” if you plan to dance and drink late into the night.


An all-inclusive caterer is the time-crunched couple’s dream. With one stop, you can choose your location, food, drinks and often, select from a roster of trusted vendors for additional services such as flowers or a band. The Anchorage convention centers at the Dena’ina and the Egan are this type of full-service caterer. They boast a variety of banquet room sizes, wedding planning services and their dedicated caterers, Savor… Alaska, can also provide off-site catering. While this option will save you time by bundling a number of services, Gire recommends booking at least 6-12 months in advance for a summer wedding, and about 3 months in advance for September through May.

Gire notes that many couples want to show off Alaska’s bounty to their out-of-town guests and their halibut Newburg, a poached halibut fillet topped with rich lobster cream sauce and Alaskan bay shrimp, obliges.

If the bride and groom would rather stick with the traditional meat or fish, they can do that too. “We offer a variety of choices such as a filet mignon, prime rib, herb-crusted rack of lamb and smoked Gouda chicken,” Gire says. “And for those who can’t make up their mind between serving surf or turf, we offer both on the same plate.”

Gire and her staff will meet with the couple and plan out all the details from arrival to departure. “We offer a certified wedding planner to help coordinate the details of their special day, a menu consultation to fit their budget, a floor plan so they can visualize what their reception space will look like.”

Fresh and Flexible

If you’re a foodie who insists on ultra-local and homemade then Sacks Café and Restaurant in downtown Anchorage is an ideal choice. They offer creative entrée options such as maple-glazed Alaska salmon with a wasabi aioli or duck confit with a berry-port reduction. Jo Ann Asher, owner of Sacks, says that her wedding catering clients are usually discerning gourmands “looking for a quality food experience.” She adds, “Many people are now not satisfied with the out-of-the-box catering menu.”

Asher says that while they do offer an established catering menu, they will also work with the couple to create a custom menu based on their tastes and history. “Our chefs are very flexible,” she explains. “For instance, we are serving tapas at a wedding this summer because the bride and groom met in Spain.”

Sacks does offer on-site catering in their restaurant, but they will also bring the food to you, along with a chef, serving staff, bartender, tables and serving ware if required.

Handling Your Liquor

Your caterer can suggest wine and beer pairings to complement your menu. Many couples will choose to offer one white and one red wine, one light and one darker beer, as well as an assortment of non-alcoholic beverages.

DeLong recommends estimating three drinks per guest. There are many ways to serve alcohol at your reception: a non-hosted (or cash) bar where guests pay for their own drinks, a hosted (or open) bar where the wedding couple picks up the tab, or simply placing wine bottles on each table. Depending on where the reception takes place, be sure to ask about bringing in your own liquor (a budget friendly option) and if TAM-certified bartenders are required to serve. “You definitely want to check with the site that you’re going with,” says DeLong, because they all have different requirements for serving and/or selling alcohol.

While the caterer may prepare the food and the bartender may serve the drinks, the bride and groom are the real hosts of the party, so choose a menu that is both crowd-pleasing and personal because it’s your day.