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May18

Venues hate us and the dreaded “The Vendor Meal”

Venues hate us and the dreaded “The Vendor Meal”

Pardon me while I kinda go off here, but before The Season really kicks into high gear, I want to get out in the open something I KNOW every photographer has experienced. I really prefer and try not to use the blog as a negative place, yet I see this more as informative for brides rather than pessimistic. Its a little something that drives we photogs batty yet brides have absolutely no awareness of, and caterers need to consider.

And what that is, is the simple fact  that many venues and catering facilities treat photographers, dj’s, bands and videographers like second class citizens. Low life slobs. Their attitude one of our ‘being in the way’ rather than all working together for the common good of the bride and groom at their event.

It can start many ways, but of late begins with the ‘introduction email’. Disguised as friendly, it is in fact rather the rules, regulations and demands of the venue. This can include anything from simple things like when to arrive or the need for liability insurance, up to the extreme of telling you what to wear, how to act and – my personal fave – that if you’re caught near or eating any food you’ll be billed for what you dared consume (…you think i’m joking? Guess again.)

These emails are downright insulting and begin the event – months before anything has even happened – with a sour tone. Now in their defense…food service can really suck. I’ve done it–I know. My first job was that of a busboy. Long hours – hot kitchens, handling other peoples half chewed food items. It’s disgusting. Add to that the need to get it out hot and fast to 150 people–and I GET IT! I really do.

BUT.

That does not mean we need to be treated guilty before proven innocent. Have they dealt with their fair share of obnoxious vendors? You bet they have; people whose behavior would make yours and mine skin crawl. Unprofessional jerks who set such a low standard that the rest of us suffer. So I can truly understand that they want to protect themselves.

However that being said, THEIR actions the wedding day should match their expectations of US on the wedding day. Being treated in a fair,  professional manner. Yet what happens more often than not is the polar opposite. You are treated rudely. You are told to store your $10,000 of equipment down some hallway or half lit room. They act as if it’s the first time a photographer has been there. One place in particular (and i’m not naming any names here) REALLY gives you the stink-eye if you dream of even rolling in your stupid bag into a corner before they deem the time ‘appropriate’ (even though they are all in there already setting up) It’s absurd, belittling, and condescending. You’re trying to stay positive for your couple and you have to deal with these jokers who bring your mood down the minute you arrive.

Let’s talk for a moment about food: The Vendor Meal. You know the one. The meal the couple have paid for. The meal they THINK you are going to enjoy and be served hot and in a timely fashion. Did I mention the meal they PAID FOR? Right. And what happens about 50% of the time? (come on photographers—I can feel your hearts racing with anger now…)

You get zip. Zippo. Nada. Nothing. AND IF YOU DO, you are not only served last, but are often given what’s remaining and lying around (old, cold and covered with icicles), have to hunt for silverware and sit on an ice chest with the plate on your lap. A local photographer was recently fed a MOLDY sandwich at a HIGH END Watch Hill RI. ( see photo ) Rooms there start at about $690 a night, yet it’s somehow OK for them to serve THIS:

 

I wonder if this is what the bride and groom had in mind for you when after they ask “Did you enjoy dinner?!!’ What are you supposed to say to ruin their night? “I never got fed.” “I had a turkey sandwich made yesterday.” “I ate, but have no idea what it even WAS.”

What I don’t get is why this is such a big deal. The amount of food shoveled into the trash at night is appalling. And so to act like putting something together that’s edible being beyond their comprehension and such an issue – is mind-boggling. I often wonder if we presented to the bride and groom our dish of food what they would think. I know a few clever folks who photograph their meals (if they’re bad) and include it in the couples photos. A smart, sneaky trick. Yet only fair as they should know what they paid for. I often bring this up with couples, as I feel venues pull this nasty stunt on brides to, in a sick way, see what they can get away with. Why NOT say its a sandwich if its not a big deal? Oh wait—I know: because you couldn’t charge $50 for it then.

Now not all places are like that. Quite the opposite! Some have it down and REALLY get it. Some go as far as to offer you a selection of white or red wine!!! (can you imagine the civility?) while others are ready to call the cops if you go to the bar for a soda. Some (and this is the weirdest of all) will ‘get it one week’ and then the next it’s a completely different experience. This of course, makes me wonder how inconsistent their wedding service is as well.

And as far as the “feeding us last scenario” (and believe me when I say this: every SINGLE wedding professional reading this knows EXACTLY what I am talking about) …will someone please explain this to me how this came about and what logic it holds. If we are fed FIRST (as some places do, because they GET IT), we can eat, finish and get back to work. Which is why were there. But as too often is the case you’re fed last; shuttled off into the back room, told you have 5 minutes before the cake is cut, jam your ‘Mystery Wedding Chicken’ down your throat and run back out with a stomach ache. I am not there for fine dining – I’m there to work. But to be treated in that manner is degrading.

The interesting assumption venues have, is they seem to think they are immune – that word doesn’t spread. That couples don’t ask about particular locales. That photographers, videographers don’t talk and compare notes. They are mistaken. Believe me – we all talk.

So my plea is this: treat us like professionals. Humans. Let’s work as a cohesive unit to make our couples’ day as great as it can be.

A small degree of humanity can go a very long way.

41 Comments

  1. Diane Parsons

    Wish there was a “love” button! Well said!!

  2. Thomas Morlock

    Well said Mr. Norman! I’ve always thought what was worse than the bad meal, was the $250 the couple spent so the photo, video, and dj’s eat a combined $10’s worth of ‘food’. But you’re right… bumming the couple out isn’t the answer either. Eat well, my friend!

    1. admin

      completely true, Tom!

  3. Matt Branscombe

    Oh. My. God…
    The things I’ve been saying in part for the last few years you’ve put all into one frustrating little article and wrapped it up with a bow.

    This will soon be my most shared article about the wedding industry.

    Well Done!

  4. Mark Andrew Higgins

    I shot a wedding this year for a couple who live locally. We became friends over the year and the day of the wedding the groom actually walked out back to make sure “I was treated right” He freaked when he saw my 3 day old tuna wrap that they served me. He was pissed considering he paid $55 for my meal. The rub of this was that we were at a private country club and his dad was on the board of directors and was the entire reason they had the reception there. It blew up into Defcon 5 when the groom took my meal to his dad and told him this was how they were being ripped off. The catering manager got his butt reamed! I enjoyed turf and surf for my second vendor meal.

    1. admin

      Mark- I had something like that happen at the St Regis Hotel in NYC ($$$$) many years back. They fed us dry, old finger sandwiches. Later that evening the groom asked, “Did you eat?” I said, “Ummm – yeah—sandwiches.” He looked horrified and said, “Were they any good at least?” I said, having shot 3 other events for the family and feeling confident, “No.”
      I thought- you know what…this place is an absolute fortune to have wedding at- he should know how we were treated!! Whether or not anything ever transpired i don’t know, but felt good telling them in their defense, as they were obviously being taken for a ride. Sadly, its frequently the really high-end places that treat you like poo-poo.I once had a low-end place ROLL OUT AND SET UP A TABLE for us as they forgot to do it!! Couldn’t believe it. Please share this – i’d love for this to get around!

  5. Brian Henderson

    Probably the worst I’ve seen was a wedding that was being served buffet style so you know there’s going to be plenty of food and they not only denied us the “real” food, but also didn’t even have the courtesy to offer my pregnant partner a chair to sit on. As a whole I do have to say that we’ve had pretty good luck with this though, but you can definitely tell the venues and catering companies who get it and do it right and for them, we are grateful!

    1. admin

      yes Brian–when its good its GREAT, but when its bad it’s BAAAADDDDDD. The Ritz-Carlton in White Plains had me sign something saying i’d be charged $150 if they ‘caught me’ eating any food during cocktail hour. Then when they DID feed me, they sat there watching me saying, “OOOOO–are you done?? We gotta cut the cake.” It was sickening, especially at a place that nice.

  6. corey hendrickson

    Amen.

    Nothing else to say, you nailed it.

    Have a great season and don’t forget to restock the Clif bars in your bag,
    Corey

  7. Kelley

    Amen!! Love this and agree that some light needs to be shed on this legitimate problem!! Keep up the good reflections… And keep brides informed!!!

  8. Jason Weaver

    What’s an even bigger crime is when the crappy deli spread they serve us is actually BETTER then the junk their serving to the guests 🙂

  9. Richard Esposito

    Yeah. What else can be said? “Vendors” are guests of the wedding as well. I had a videographer once tell me that he got so pissed at a venue that he had pizza delivered to the dance floor.
    And something has to be done about us being served last. One place told me the guests come first, which I can partially agree on. Plus they want to make sure that if a guest ordered chicken, that they have enough chicken towards the end of service. But vendors probably talk more trash about a place than anyone else. And seriously, usually it’s 4 plates. I would even be willing to walk into the kitchen and grab my own plate if one waitress can’t taken 2 minutes to bring us one.
    I think I’ll start ordering kids meals. They come out first and it’s quick to eat with your fingers.

  10. Brooke

    You are a genius! Well said and so true!

  11. steve depino

    Amen Brother !

  12. Chris Collins

    Well said! I have given up and started packing my own food. I have never considered that the couple is paying for my plate, I will definitely keep that in mind.

    Last weekend the venue set a place for me and my second shooter but forgot about my assistant. They did however have a place set for the bus driver who was no where to be found. I presume this was because he backed the bus across the parking lot during the ceremony, backup beeper and all… So we ate his plate 😉

  13. admin

    I’m leaving this response (which is from a past bride of mine on facebook) here because she sums it up beautifully:

    A note to any brides to be, if I may…I specifically asked my venue what they would be serving my vendors and they insisted that they would receive one of the 2 meals from my menu. Now I’m not exactly sure what they were served (not only are some details blurry from “celebrating” all day and night, but I’m sure Robert told me it was fine), however I’m sure that wasn’t the case, as the venue didn’t live up to a few things they promised. If my memory serves me correctly…they charged me more than $50 per vendor…and about $25 less than I paid for guests! So here is what I would do if I could re-live that day again…I would count them in as guests…in the long and short of it, no matter what you have been told they are being served, you really have little control over it as you’re knocking back champagne and saying “hello” & “thanks for coming” to more people than you’ve ever had to greet in your life. It’s actually not tacking on all that much to make sure they are treated fairly and given a descent meal…after all, these people are busting their a** to make sure your day is captured beautifully and sounds great…I think they deserve a seat and a meal! *And if Robert happens to be your photographer…not only did he capture my wedding perfectly, he also put in my veil (where were my 9 bridesmaids?) and he even got out a horrendous stain on the front of my gown…pfft, that’s more than a “vendor” if you ask me!

  14. Melissa

    I agree to everything! When I got married 3 years ago, I made sure my vendors were served immediately after my husband and I, and our 2 parents tables were served. I wanted them to enjoy the meal (and I know they got what I paid handsomely for) before going back to work. Being in the business, I worked them hard that day! We all know to well how it feels to work hard and barely get fed… I usually bring some type of snack with me, but for those “all in 1 place” weddings, you never have a minute to get it! Thankfully, most places I have been to treat me well. I haven’t felt truly put out by a venue in several years. Thankfully!

  15. Eric Foley

    I feel you Robert. I just had a wedding this past Saturday and I had to ask the banquet manager 3 times if we were going to be fed. Let alone we were fed at 9:30pm!!! A hour and a half after the bride & groom! It’s time to hold these venues accountable. I will be emailing this venue to bring them aware of my experience. I’m sure I will get the “who cares we do 200 weddings a year” attitude though! I say it’s time to chew and screw 🙂

  16. Kris Gay

    I have it in my contract that I am served immediately after the head table or I can leave for up to 90 minutes to drive to and from someplace that will serve me a hot meal. If I am not immediately served, I go tell my clients that I need to eat in about ten minutes or I’m leaving. It’s in my contract so the couple makes sure I get fed or I really will leave. I have often already worked a solid eight hours at that point and I deserve not only a rest to catch my breath but enough food to keep my blood sugar at decent levels. I’ve never had a problem since I put this in my contract. I make sure the client initials that area of the contract plus their regular signature. I have blood sugar issues and can not work that long without food so this is an important issue to me.

  17. Paul mcnerney

    At wave hill in ny…. ” your diner is in the basement”. The base ment looked like my parent 1800’s basement as I ate my chicken of the washer and dryer my hair was brushing the asbestos pipes. I found a folding chair for my wife…. Then as we were finishing the chef came down and said “oh my, come into the kitchen if you have a chance for some steak”. We are already done jerk! But gee thanks;)

    Not only does my contract say something we call all the venues ahead of time and tellthem what we expect, it usually works. Thank you Robert:)

  18. Danielle Fuller

    Love this Robert….great food for thought 🙂
    Also LOVE your brides response!!!!!

  19. Monika

    I could not have said it better myself if I tried. I have it in my contract that I am to be served a HOT meal and if not I can drive somewhere to get one. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and some newbies have laughed at me. So what I say is, “listen, I’m on my feet from 8am sometimes till 10pm. Give me a minute to eat!”. I also call the venue and make sure I am fed when the bride and groom get their food. Why?? Because the cake cutting/toast/first dance etc. can surprise you at any time. We are not the dj/band. We did not just arrive, we’ve been at it all day.

    I’m glad to finally hear my thoughts being echoed! Thank you!!

  20. talitha kuttler

    when i got married 8 years ago i had the same meal given to my photographer and d.j. as i did for my guests…i even gave them a seat at the guests table. they are making your day…give them the respect and appreciation of a seated meal!

  21. Jerome Braga

    I’d love you know your web traffic stats for this post. We all shared this on our walls… Thanks for writing! (I get to work for my ‘box lunch’ tomorrow… .

    1. admin

      Jerome- its been 1,300+ so far!!

  22. Kathy

    The solution is very simple just ask your bride to send you an invitation when she is sending them out so you have it for pictures then fill out and return the response card with your choices. When the bride receives your response she will include you and your assistant in her count and seat you at a table with guests. Most brides just don’t think about vendors when making their table seating arrangements. If she tells you the venue has a table for you just ask her that she make sure the table is in the reception room so you won’t miss anything that happens. Once they realize that this is a benefit for them they make sure it happens. This has worked for me for years.

  23. Amy Graver

    I’m sending this to all the brides I know getting married this spring! You are totally correct. I think the way to combat this trend is to educate the couples and forget about trying to change the venues. They’ll only change their disrespectful ways if the people paying them demand it. I know I’d be mad if I paid for a meal for my photographer (or any other vendor) that was a bad turkey sandwich. You work hard all day and deserve a decent meal, a clean table and other civilized considerations. Thanks for bringing this issue to light!

  24. Leo Hebert

    Right on the mark on all accounts! Most of us give our heart and soul to our couples and deserve to be treated accordingly! These “high end” places just don’t get it. The worst offender we’ve experienced is The Bond in Hartford. The way they treat (in their words) the “hired help” should be against the law! On one occasion, the father of the bride asked us if we enjoyed our meal, we told him that we were to get kitchen leftovers once everyone else was served. He immediately went to the manager and told them, “You will get a table set and feed the photographers NOW!” They STILL gave us attitude!

  25. Richard Esposito

    Yup… another weekend, another wedding. This time we got everything but the main course. No steak for you!

  26. Greg Loehr

    This is quite a firestorm you’ve started, Robert. It seems to be spreading like wildfire.

    My two “worsts” are Worst Meal Served To A Vendor: I won’t mention names, but an inn in Westport with a golf course attached to it, makes Vendor BLT’s on TUESDAY, according to the maitre’d , puts them in the freezer until Saturday, thaws them out and serves them to the band/photographer/ videographer. What we get is, what used to be a BLT, FLOATING on a pool of water! Totally inedible! When I do have to work here I usually stop by a Subway, just in case. I have also worked with bands who have had pizza delivered during the reception!

    My other “worst” is a posh tennis/golf club over in Westchester County (I have forgotten its name THANK GOD!). They treat vendors like scum. Not only do we have to park our vehicles A QUARTER OF A MILE AWAY (I checked) but we are not allowed to use the front door, for fear of wedding guests actually seeing us (?). The food is okay, but like others have mentioned, it is leftovers and it is served last.

    I feel this impacts the quality of our work in that, if we are treated like this, why should we go the “extra mile” and push ourselves to do the best we can do? I don’t need to be treated like the groom’s best friend, but I don’t need to be treated like a sub-human.

    What most facilities don’t realize is that quite often, prospective brides or their families will ask US for our opinion on various venues or vendors. When my wife’s best friend announced that her daughter will be getting married, she asked for suggestions as to venues, DJ’s, photographers and florists. After I gave her a list of places I liked to shoot at and vendors I liked to work with, she chose them ALL (including you). And they loved their wedding.

    My daughter got married last year and had her ceremony/reception at the Gershon Fox Room in Hartford. Absolutely the BEST service of any venue I’ve been to. My only request as Father-of-the-Bride was to have the vendors fed right after the head table. I was told that they did. They had the whole meal, served early enough for them to enjoy.

    Hopefully I will be sending more prospective brides to G. Fox.

    Thank you for allowing me to vent, Robert. I feel better now.

    1. admin

      i recall one of those tales from you in the past—and YES—it looks like this has caused quite a buzz. I hope a few venues think about thing and brides are now more educated!

  27. Catherine Fiehn

    I have to say the “more upscale” the venue the higher chances of you not getting fed or getting kitchen scraps!! I find it ironic that the more modest venues seem to treat vendors the best. Oh how many times have I had a bride excited about her day call me to discuss venues and details and then a few weeks before the wedding I get a call from her asking my meal choices! It is so nice of them (I’m sincere about that) to think of me as a valued part of her special day. But then you get to the event and are thrown a club sandwich (some have been good and a nice break from “Chicken a la wedding”(Stolen from Robert) BUT my bride raved about the surf & turf she was ordering for me! Then when she comes around and asks how my meal was I have to sheepishly mention what I was served. I don’t want to put a damper on her day in anyway so I tell her well the sandwich was a nice change, BUT if she paid for surf & turf she needs to get her money back! Certain venues will treat you like family! I have even had them sneak me a better meal from next doors wedding etc but to be given a letter before hand saying you can’t grab a snack during cocktail hour or even get a soda at the bar is upsetting. At my wedding last weekend we where given a pitcher of water at dinner and the meal was good, but I usually like a cup of coffee after dinner to get thru the 12 hour (literally) and it seemed that was a vendor no-no!

  28. Amber

    There was one place in particular in Norwood I believe its the 4 points something… or other. Anyway, the chicken was raw when it came to us. Being desperate for my team of 3 that they would all pass out (photo+video crew) I was running around the back getting salad and bread or something to eat for everyone. I had to been gone for a total of 5 mins when the “wedding coordinator or I like to call her the “Fräulein Coordinator” tells me we have been there for over 40 mins and the bride was getting nervous! Well maybe if you a) didn’t feed us last, b) didn’t stick us in a back break room 10 rooms away from the main event, c) then maybe the bride would have realized that this hole time we were standing in the corner while everyone else stuffed their faces while I was waiting for you to serve us food which YOU purposly served us later than last so after a 30 min meal did you decide it was time to feed the vendors. Oh wait, no thats not right I went and “I” found the extra salads, then served my team the salad and my stash of protein bars for dinner. Because when we finally got our meal it was nicely dry on the outside and raw chicken on the inside. Yummy! I’m glad I have the whole of 5 mins to round up any scrap food I found and then another 1 min to eat before you came in and told me I was going to miss the cake cutting. Yes, you run a very fine show indeed.

    I don’t think these people know that we are on our feet for over 8 hrs lugging at least 30 lbs on equipment on back, neck and arms. We don’t get a 30 min “break” which actually is required by law to get a break and we don’t get it. However, the break we do get to eat for 5-10 mins gets looked at like we are lazy when the entire day we have been running around in 80+ degree weather wearing all black, shooting, squatting, kneeling, bending and chasing all the details of the day to fit into 6-8hrs of shooting.

    So feeding us first is very nice indeed, because actually all we care about is having something in us so a) so we won’t faint b) we can have more fuel to go out there and take more shots and c) so we can decide if we want to recommend you to any of our other brides or to tell them to stay the f-away!

  29. Ian Christmann

    I’m so glad you’ve said this. Nobody want’s pictures taken while they’re eating, so it only makes sense for photographers to eat while everyone else is rather than after. Moments are happening after the meal that are not being captured because the photographers are down a hall in a side room somewhere. This is not serving the bride and groom well. Thanks for putting attention to it Robert.

  30. Jessica Robinson

    That’s a bunch of crap. BUT at least the photographer’s get fed. We have designed nearly 500 weddings and only been fed ONCE!! I usually pack snacks/lunch for our crew and feed them on our way home. We work ALL DAY long to complete our job and hardly EVER get fed or even thought of.

  31. Gina

    Yes! Yes! And yes! Seriously, yup.

  32. ahoustondj

    I have been in this business professionally for 36 years. I have yet to go through what some of you are experiencing. First you have to realize that YOU ARE NOT THE VENUE”S CLIENT and THE VENUE IS NOT YOUR CLIENT. ALL arrangements HAVE to be made through YOUR Client who BTW happens to be THEIR Client.

    You have to make it so that whatever they do to you, they are also doing to their Client. If you want to eat then arrange it that you eat from the same Buffet or service as the other Guests at a table, hopefully close to your gear in case you are needed at a moment’s notice.

    You won’t get anything accomplished unless you ask for it. You have to ask your Client to get it or facilitate it for you. Do this BEFORE the Event so you know what to expect. Same goes to DJs. You are unhappy because you were put in a corner. That is YOUR fault. You should be proactive with your Client and do a site visit to determine what is the best place to setup so you can deliver the best sound. They are Paying you to deliver the best!! The Venue could care less if you had to hang from the ceiling.

    The Client is PAYING for the Facilities that day. You are not the Boss, the Client is. Let them call the shots with the Venue! Remember that.

    1. robert

      You are absolutely correct, except time and time again this IS discussed with the client, who fully understand the situation as well as agrees to this in the contract. However on the wedding day, when a turkey sandwich is slid in from of you–what do you do? Do you make a fuss and bring it up or let it pass? It’ a very touchy since I don’t want to upset the client, yet also want to make them aware what they have agreed and paid of isn’t what’s happening. I feel that mentioning it DURING a wedding and agitating your client is kind of in bad taste. It’s a tough call!!

  33. Fran Gagnon

    You Guys have to stop working at those “high end” New York places. The ritzier the place, the worst we’re treated. When I’m going to a place that I’m not familiar with I pack a lunch. That way I eat when I want and I know when it was made. I don’t play games with these venues. In fact, I rarely even talk to anyone from the venue. I just get in, do my job and go home. Much happier that way.

    1. robert

      Your are right Fran, the higher end the worse it seems, but don’t you think a couple should get why they’re paying for?

  34. Foto Nunta Brasov

    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.

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