This is not a blog post about if you should feed your photographer or not. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’re a decent human and you wouldn’t expect to work a 12+ hour day without at least one break to eat. I’m not here to debate if you should feed your photographer and why. While you don’t often see anything about not feeding the DJ, a lot of wedding blogs will plant the idea in your head that you may not need to feed your photo and/or video teams. They suck. That’s the meanest thing! Honestly. It is absolutely standard for wedding photographers to require a meal in their contract just like your DJ and other all-day vendors.
I wanted to talk about something today that usually doesn’t get addressed until there is a problem or an issue. I, like most wedding photographers, require that my clients provide myself and my second shooter with a hot meal during their wedding reception. I ask that my team and I are able to eat immediately after the wedded couple - before the rest of the guests. Today, I want to share with you why this little request is so extremely important, why it seems to cause unnecessary drama and how to talk to your catering company when they push back.
Before we go any further, this is what we know:
Food is fuel. We need to eat in order to function.
Photographers do bring their own snacks. I am actually embarrassed to admit the size of the snack and drink bag that I bring. In the winter I usually do infused water plus a mix of healthy snacks (bars, nuts, etc.) and candy. In the summer for super hot weddings, I will always pack water and gatorade with more fresh and healthy snacks. HOWEVER. These snacks are not a replacement for a real meal.
On a typical wedding day, most photographers will only eat one actual meal - the one the couple provides at the reception. We scarf it down in 2.2 seconds and then get back to work. Seriously, you’ve never seen anyone inhale mashed potatoes that quickly.
All wedding vendors work hard to provide their couple with an incredible day. Photographers are not more or less important than any other parts of the vendor team - we simply have only one opportunity to step away during the reception.
Our days are consistently around 11 hours of working with anywhere from 1 - 6 hours of driving. We’re talking 16 hour days and 25,000 steps. It’s both mentally and physically exhausting. Most people have absolutely no comprehension of what we do on a wedding day. I’ll just leave you with this: my husband once assisted me for a four hour elopement. Easy peasy! But when we were finished he said, “You need a new job! I am SO TIRED. My feet hurt and I’m starving. How can you do this every weekend?!". Yeah. That.
We don’t take breaks. From the moment we walk in to where the bride is getting ready on the wedding day to the time we get in the car at the end of the night we are moving, shooting, working.
When my clients sign a contract with me, they will see the clause that requires them to provide a meal to my second shooter and myself. My team and I can be served a plated meal or go through the buffet line. How the food gets to us isn’t the important part - it’s the when.
I require that we are able to eat immediately after the wedded couple and their immediate families - before the remaining guests are served.
No, I’m not selfish. No, I’m not impatient. I’m a planner. I’m a big fan of smart logistics and logistically, this is the only time that makes absolute sense for me to be eating. Don’t get me started on food waste but that’s honestly what happens! Meals go to waste. My biggest point here is that I asked my couples to spend money feeding me and then, at no fault of their own, that meal which they paid for sits there uneaten when we are fed last.
If you think about a typical wedding reception, it probably flows something like this:
Photographers capture both cocktail hour and the reception room details simultaneously
Cocktail hour ends and guests enter the reception room and find their seats while the wedding party lines up for entrances (photographers capturing guests candidly)
Guests are seated and grand entrances begin
Newly wedded couple enter
Some combination of reception “activities”: speeches, toast, blessing, first dance, parent dances
Wedded couple are served dinner
Everyone else is served dinner, the couple are finished their meals and begin mingling
After most are finished eating or even slightly before, there may be additional speeches, parent dances, anniversary dance or simply an open dance floor
Dancing and other reception activities
The only time during that timeline that the photographer isn’t shooting anything is while the couple are served and are eating.
Why aren’t you shooting anything while they’re eating? Absolutely no one wants to be photographed while they are eating especially when they’re visiting with and sharing a meal with family and friends. The entire goal of my work as a wedding photographer is to make people feel comfortable. I want even the guests to remember me positively and feel like I took care of them. If I’m wandering the space with my camera, trying to capture people during this time, it will make them feel uncomfortable and reflect negatively on me. Plus, this is not a time where I can shoot images that the couple will cherish for generations. The details of the reception space must be captured before anyone enters the room so aside from taking candids of people, there is nothing for me to be shooting during this time. Therefore I have two choices - stand around and waste my couple’s investment with me or eat.
Why not step away during dancing? I could. I absolutely could. But like I mentioned above, I cannot be shooting while people are eating so if I’m not eating, I’m going to be standing around. I don’t think it’s respectful to my couples to waste their investment of time with me. If there is dancing happening, I’d like to be shooting it!
Why couldn’t you just eat with the rest of the guests? The wedded couple are always served first and no matter how hungry they are, 9/10 times they eat a little bit and then are up to mingle with their guests. This is a time where they go table to table and chat, take selfies with their friends and spend time with the people who have come to celebrate them. During this mingling, I try to shadow the couple because it’s very common that they look to me to capture a quick, impromptu snap of them with a guest. It reflects positively on me to be there in that moment plus it’s always something that my clients want. Their questionnaires always list “photos of us with our guests” as priorities.
So, why is this such a big deal? Almost all of my couples see the value and reasoning behind my team eating quickly right away and then getting back to work before anyone realizes that we’ve been gone. I’ve even had couples who come find us to make sure we were served. But catering companies or venue staff seem to push back on this quite often.
There is an old fashioned thought behind the idea that vendors are the staff and the staff eats last. It is my belief that this idea translates into a policy where caterers will only serve the other vendors after every single guest has been served.
But what happens when you serve the DJ, the photographers and the videographers after everyone else is that our meal sits there… untouched… wasted… because we have to get back to serving our clients and making sure we are capturing each moment of their dream day.
So, you reach out to your caterer to request that the photography team be served immediately after you and they agree. Great!
But what do you do if your caterer says NO?
Kindly, explain that you understand that this is outside of the norm for them. Be considerate…
… but be firm. Let your caterer know that it’s extremely important to you that your photographer does not miss any moments and the only time that this is possible is while you are eating.
Ask what you, as the client, can do to ensure that your photography team will be fed after you and before the guests. Let them know that you expect this request to be accommodated and appreciate the caterer going out of their way.
Explain that the photography team does not need any kind of service or special attention, just a plate and silverware. They will eat out of sight and quickly.
If you need to, share your photographer’s contract clause with the caterer. If you’re a SSP Couple, your contract includes language covering this request: The photographers need to be given this meal at the same time the Client eats, so that the photographers are then able to cover all the events as they happen. If the meal is a buffet, Savannah Smith Photography needs to be permitted to go through the buffet line after the Client and their immediate families.
If you are still receiving pushback from your caterer, reach out to your photographer.
I just want to deeply thank all of the incredible caterers who have served me and my team beautifully over the years. Some of them even go above and beyond to make sure we are fed and happy - which is incredible and appreciated. If you’ve ever brought us the extra salads or a few warm rolls, I worship you. I always remember their hospitality during those parts of the evening when we are exhausted and need to refuel to serve our couples.
I hope this post helps couples understand why the timing of their vendor meals is so critical and how to address this with their caterer!