I wrote this post out in September and decided to shelve it for a while. I forgot all about it until a week or two ago, when an article advising couples not to feed the photographer or other wedding vendors who are only working “five or six hours” surfaced from Brides magazine. The photography community quickly got very up-in-arms about the writer’s advice, and with good reason. The article has since been removed and replaced with this one that basically suggests what I’m about to tell you, but you can see an archived version here.
I get quite a few questions about the best way to feed photographers during a wedding, and with good reason. No one wants their photographer to miss anything important during the reception because they’re busy eating, or because they’re fatigued from not eating, and photographers certainly don’t want to go 8-10 hours without food. And honestly, it’s nice to be asked. I really appreciate clients asking these questions and trying to figure out the best way to keep me and my second photographers happy, nourished, and energized for the whole celebration. Here is what I usually tell them:
Tip #1: Feed us WHEN you’re eating.
Many caterers/coordinators prefer to serve the couple first, then the guests, and then the vendors (including photographers). While this makes sense from an etiquette standpoint, it’s really not a good idea for photographers specifically. Toasts, glass-clinking kisses, impromptu speeches, table visits, and other events tend to start happening towards the end of the meal. If we’re still eating at that point, then we risk missing those moments. So, we end up scarfing down our food too quickly, or not eating much of it at all. There have been times when I have patiently waited over an hour for a plate, and then been pulled away from my meal as soon as I sit down to eat it. Take my advice: feed us early, at the very beginning of the meal, so that we can get back to work documenting your day as soon as possible.
Tip #2: Feed us WHERE you’re eating.
Some venues prefer to place vendors in a separate room to eat. But consider: if your great uncle stands up to raise a spontaneous toast to you and we’re not in the room, we won’t know about it, and it won’t be photographed. The separate room makes sense in theory, but it doesn’t work well for photographers, who need to be aware of what’s occurring throughout the meal. I’ve also had a venue or two that has no designated place for vendors to eat, which means we end up hunting for a clean place to sit along with (many times) searching for glasses and silver ware. It’s a minor frustration, but not one anybody really wants to deal with, especially if they’ve already been on their feet for 4-6 hours. Keep everyone happy by providing a table at the edge of your room for vendors.
Tip #3: Feed us WHAT you’re eating.
Most of my couples are really good about this and invite us to dig right in with everyone else. At some venues, however, a separate “vendor meal” is designated for photographers. Do you know what a vendor meal is? I’ll tell you: it’s a cold sandwich. Even when it’s listed as costing $27-30, it’s a cold sandwich.
Here is what wedding photography is like for me. I get up early, spend an hour or so gathering, checking, and packing all my gear, and then drive to the venue (sometimes several hours away). Once there, I don’t typically sit down at all until dinner is served. The rest of the day, I’m on my feet, bustling around with 20-30 pounds of extra equipment, a 5-pound camera on my face and another at my hip, in sweaty dark clothes. There is often running, crouching, squatting, and jumping involved, even with all that gear. Wedding photography is very physical. After 4-6 hours of this kind of work, a cold sandwich really just doesn’t cut it, and it certainly doesn’t get me through the next 4 hours or so until your reception ends.
Please be sure your photographers and other vendors are fed something that is appropriate to the work schedule they’re keeping that day. A good policy is just to feed your vendors whatever you feed your guests.
Tip #4: Ask about nutritional concerns.
It never hurts to ask if a vendor has any specific nutritional concerns. Most people who deal with such issues are happy to bring their own food with them, but if they can be accommodated, it’s really nice to do so. I do sometimes hear of photographers who get to the reception and realize they can’t really eat any of the meal.
Tip #5: Yes, we eat dessert!
I have been shooting now for 7 years, and I still don’t know a polite way to ask couples if I can have dessert. I’m always provided some sort of food and encouraged frequently to eat. Sometimes I have multiple people checking on me to make sure I’ve had a full plate. But by the time dessert rolls out, people are distracted. We’re sometimes not explicitly told to get dessert, and the truth is, we know you’re paying by the slice for that cake and we know the other desserts are expensive too. We don’t want to indulge ourselves where it really isn’t welcome.
But the truth is: I LOVE DESSERT. So, I’m asking now: can I please have a slice of cake?
Tip #6: If you’re not sure, ask.
Don’t rely on an article from a national magazine. Get to know your wedding staff and the way they are comfortable working. If you’re unsure whether or not they’d like a meal, ask them. It will be included in some contracts (mine for sure), but you might need to clarify eating arrangements for others. Take care of meal arrangements well in advance so that there are no unnecessary distractions on your wedding day. You should be able to enjoy your first meal together as a married couple without worrying about whether or not the photographer has been fed or if the band has sufficient silverware. Get your caterer, DJ, and planner on the same page about this, as they will likely be the ones handling the meal.