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The Ultimate Guide to Portuguese Catering Service for your Wedding Day

Updated: Jan 23

The kitchen is Portuguese pride and food is a culture on its own in Portugal.

Abundance is key when it comes to an authentic Portuguese catering service for the

wedding day.


One of the key elements of your wedding experience is the catering service. Great food & vinho is without exception on the list of top-priorities of most couples, so let's explore what you can expect from Portuguese catering for your wedding day.


Beautifully decorated long table under the vines with lots of candles and fairy lights

Photocredits: Momento Cativo


Catering is one of the first vendors to be contracted


Catering is one of the fist vendors you will contract for your wedding day. In Portugal, many venues have an inhouse catering or they work with fixed catering companies. This means that at a very early stage of your wedding planning journey you will have to look into menus and service options, so a good understanding of what the catering service entails, what you can expect and where to pay attention to is crucial in order to come to the best decision for your wedding day.


Get ready for the most delicious part of the wedding planning! We suggest to grab a glass of Portuguese wine or - if you are reading this at a less appropriate time for a vinho, why not take a cup of coffee or thee before you dive into this in-debth guide about what you can expect from catering service in Portugal.


 

In this article, we will explore:


 

What does Portuguese catering service for weddings and events typically look like?


No matter if your wedding day is catered by an inhouse catering service or an external catering company, the first thing you will be looking at is the menu that usually covers a full coverage catering service, meaning:

  • Guest arrival (duration service - approx 30 minutes) : often with options for flavoured water, juices and/or sparkling wine:

  • Cocktail (duration service - approx 1 to 2 hours):

    • Fingerfood & canapé options to choose from:

    • Buffet options (e.g. cheeses, chacuterie, toasts, jams and typical Portuguese salty snacks)

    • Drinks: this can include soft drinks, wine, spirits and cocktails. Depending on the number of guests, drinks will be served from one or more bar points or waiters will be serving drinks:

  • Dinner: a traditional Portuguese wedding dinner includes four courses (starter, main course fish, main course meat and dessert). During dinner drinks will be served by waiters and usually include wine (paired with the courses), sparkling & still water and soft drinks). The most common type of services for dinner are:

    • Silver service (also called English service): is a method of foodservice at the table, with the waiter transferring food from a serving dish to the guest's plate:

    • Plated service (also known as American service): pre-plated courses are served by waiters

    • Buffet: for all courses, or either for a particular course (e.g. pre-plated starter is served, followed by main courses in buffet style):

  • Buffet of Desserts, cheeses and fruit: traditionally a huge buffet of desserts, fruits and cheeses are served after the dinner, even if the menu includes a plated dessert. The buffets will usually remain until the end of the event and are being refilled if needed.

  • Open Bar (duration service - approx 2-3 hours): although the cocktail service usually entails an open bar service too, we usually regard the service of drinks after the dinner and during the party as an Open Bar service - often without limitations in quantities and serving. The menu typically includes a 2 or 3 hours of open bar service. If you want to party more, you will have to extend the open bar service.

  • Midnight snacks (or supper): usually served past midnight - depending on your timeline and the timing and duration of the dinner. The supper service can include everything, from mini-hamburger, traditional sandwiches with meat, famous ´pasteis de nata´, soup or another snack-buffet.


Caterers can either have pre-set menus that allow little room for customization. The advantage is that these menus are optimized based on years of experience and they provide instant clarity on the price per person. Other caterers provide the option of a fully customized menu that allows you to create a completely personalised experience. Usually this comes with a pricetag.


➡️ Especially when you don´t have the help of a Wedding Planner, we strongly advise couples to rely on the experience and advise of your caterer. Caterers know exactly what works and what doesn´t work in order to provide a smooth and seamless service for your and your guests.


Get ready for the best part of the Wedding Planning - The Tasting


If you have the possibility to visit Portugal prior to your Wedding Day, you will be able to enjoy the best part of the Wedding Planning journey with the tasting. Tastings are often complimentary for you as couple. In case your parents, or other important guests will join you, the tasting will have an additional cost.


Here is some guidance on how to prepare for the tasting:


  • Most caterers invite you to select 2 starters, 2 fish main courses fish, 2 meat main courses (in case of a 4 course dinner) and 2 desserts. If you want a fully vegetarian or vegan dinner, you will have to ask for the options as the standard options are usually fish or meat based in Portugal:

  • Wine pairing is usually done by the caterer (sommelier), but during the tasting you will taste several wines fro different winehouses and regions. In case you have specific wishes, please keep in ind that this may impact the price of the menu:

  • You usually will taste real size portions, so you better come with a good appetite to the tasting, but not starving though. Everything tastes great when you have an empty stomach ;) The courses are often served in pre-plated form, but make sure you ask how the courses are served on your wedding day, as this may differ from the pre-plated service during the tasting:

  • Though it may be tempting to treat the tasting as a casual, relaxing and romantic meal, stay focused. Take photos and descriptive notes. This will strengthen your feedback so you don´t forget any details when you´re looking back on what could feel like endless options:

  • Ask your caterer if a tasting of the wedding cake is included. Some caterers don´t provide the wedding cake, for which a cake designer has to be contracted separately:

  • Tastings usually take about 2 to 3 hours. Plan enough time for your tasting. Tasting your menu in a rush can result in an unpleasant experience for both you and the caterer.


For more information and tips on how to get the most out of your tasting, download our free Catering Guide below.




How to compile your menu?


Before you start putting your menu together, we recommend to have at least a global timeline in place so that you know how many hours of service you require.

The catering service for a 6-hours event will look different from a 12-hour event, so the duration will most likely impact your choices on the menu.


The Portuguese cocktail service on a wedding day is usually extremely abundant and traditionally a very important part to impress your guests. For many couples it may feel a little too abundant, especially when you like the idea of a 4 or 5 course dinner. Talk with your caterer to see where you can possibly reduce the options, especially to avoid food waste.


Menu with choices for guests

For smaller weddings (with up to 30-50 wedding guests), it may be possible to provide a menu for the dinner with pre-selected options, meaning that you as couple will compile a menu with 2 or 3 starters, 2 or 3 main courses and two dessert options where guests can chose from. These choices usually have to be confirmed until 30 days prior to the wedding day.


Pro´s:

+/+ This certainly provides a very personalized experience for you and your guests:

+/+ You can be sure that guests will all enjoy the dinner, as they have been given options to chose from.


Cons:

-/- It does require more effort and investment of time on your end, as you will be the one who needs to inform the caterer in time.

-/- You may be surprised to know that guests often can´t remember what exactly they had chosen for the menu and not seldom they change mind when they see the other options being served to other guests.

-/- A seating plan is crucial in this case for the caterer to know exactly what course has to be served to whom. It easily gets messy when guests don´t follow the seating plan.


Pre-set menu without choices for guests

Al fresco wedding dinner in a garden with palmtrees and fairy ligths with guests raising their glass to the bride and groom

For larger weddings most caterers don´t offer the option to provide menu options to guests for the dinner and this means that you as a couple will define the menu. We call this menu the Regular Menu, that will be served to all your guests - meaning that everyone will be served the exact same courses - except for the guests with dietary requirements (see below for more information on how dietary requirements will be catered for) .


Pro´s:

+/+ A pre-set menu guarantees a seamless experience for you and your guests:

+/+ It enables an efficient organisation for both you and the caterer, that contributes to the quality of the experience for you and your guests. Except for the guests with dietary requirements, the quality of service won´t be affected in case guests don´t follow the seating plan.


Cons:

-/- The experience may feel less personalised, however think of it as a way to share your favourite (Portuguese) flavours with your guests as part of the experience:


➡️ When compiling the menu, couples often aim to make ´smart budget choices´. After all a good (great) part of a wedding budget is usually allocated to catering and negotionating ´the best price´ can significantly impact the budget. When trying to negotiate the price of the menu with your caterer, please bear in mind that the costs of the catering service are mostly impacted by:

  1. The hours of service required:

  2. The number of staff & waiters required:

  3. Food & Drinks.

Often couples are rather disappointed to see the price not being reduced too much, when they reduce fingerfood options, the number of courses or when they remove certain buffets from the menu. When you aim to reduce the menu price, be mindful of the hours of service and staff required for a smooth and seamless catering service.


Dietary Requirements


Dietary requirements are the needs of someone who has specific and/or a restricted diet. Gently note that dietary requirements are not supposed to cover preferences. If uncle Ben eats ´everything´ but slighty prefers meat over fish, he still eats fish. In case dietary requirments are treated as preferences, you will end up with individual tailored menus which requires a lot more organisation (and investment).


The most common dietary requirements are:

  • Pescatarian: someone who eats fish, no meat:

  • Carnitarian: someone who eats meat, no fish:

  • Vegetarian: someone who doesn´t eat fish, nor meat:

  • Vegan: someone who doesn´t eat any food derived from animals:

  • Gluten-free:

  • Lactose-free:

  • Food allergy (e.g. shellfish, nuts, cilantro, etcetera)


The caterer will suggest alternative courses for those guests with dietary requirements. Especially in case of food allergies, it is utterly important that guests are duly indicated in the seating plan and with a clear tag on the table where they are seated.


The dietary requirements will have to be clearly communicated to the caterer 15-30 days prior to the wedding - together with the final guest count.


Where to pay attention to in the contract with your caterer?


Although contracts come in all kind of shapes and sizes, we will here cover the most important things that you should pay attention to:


  • Minimum number of guests: usually the menu price is based on a minimum number of guests. In this regard it is important to have an as acurate as possible guest estimate at an early stage of the wedding planning. Although you will only have to confirm the final guest count about 15-30 days prior to the wedding, be aware of the fact that major changes - in particular when the final guest count is significantly lower than estimated - can impact the menu price. Often contracts state a minimum number of guests. If your final guest count goes below the minimum, the menu price will need to be recalculated:

  • Payment conditions:

    • First payment upon signing contract: usually you will have to make an often non-refundable downpayment in order to book the caterer for your wedding day. Without this downpayment, your date is not officially booked and you may risk that the caterer won´t be available for your wedding date if you want to decide later.

    • Second payment: often to be made somewhere between 90-120 prior to the wedding. At this stage you may need to reconfirm the estimated guest count:

    • Final payment: 15 to 30 days prior to the wedding and together with the final confirmation of the guest count. At any stage, the caterer usually reserves the right to adjust the menu price in case the guest estimate changes.

  • Hours of service: the contract should clearly mention the hours of service included and the rate per hour in case you wish to extend the service. Often contracts also describe until what stage you can extend the service and the additional cost per hour. Sometimes this has to be communicated beforehand, while other caterers provide the flexibility to extend service if you feel the party isn´t over yet.

  • Leftovers: some caterers provide the option to keep leftovers from the buffet for yourself or to donate the befittingly packed leftovers to a local institution. There are some great initiatives where caterers can help you with the distribution.

  • General clauses:

    • Children: for children caterers often have a reduced menu price, depending on the age of the child. Usually, for children a special kids menu will be served:

    • Staff meals: most vendors who will provide a full-wedding day service (e.g. photographer and wedding planner, amongst other vendors) require a staff meal. Caterers usually have a special price for the service of staffmeals. Make sure you take note of this, because with a vendor team of averaly 10 to 12 staff members, this can easily become decent amount to be ´forgotten´in the budget:

    • Material included: make sure you have a good understanding of what material the caterer will provide for the performance of their services. Think of tableware, glassware and cutlery. But also buffet tables and bar units for instance. You may need to rent this separetely.


Conclusion


Al fresco wedding dinner at two long tables with fairy lights

Choosing the right caterer is one of the first big decisions for your wedding, playing a crucial role in your overall experience. When deciding on the best caterer, there are numerous details to consider. While it might be tempting to explore various options, we recommend narrowing down your choices to a maximum of two caterers. Comparing different caterers takes a lot of time and patience, as each has its unique way of working.


If your chosen venue doesn't have an in-house caterer, it's wise to follow the venue's recommendations. Being the first wedding a caterer serves at a new venue can lead to challenges. We had this experience once and despite everyone's efforts, it

wasn´t an as smooth and seamless experience as we´d hoped.


Let us know in the comments if you have found this article helpful.

Cheers to a lifetime of happiness and delicious memories and Happy Planning!


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