Full Service vs. Traditional Catering

What’s the difference between regular catering and full-service catering? Both create sublime menus to delight your guests but that’s where the similarities end. Here’s an in-depth look at service differences in food catering and how they work for different events so that you can decide what’s right for your San Diego wedding, party, special occasion, or corporate shindig.

What is food catering?

Full Service Catering _ Eco Caterers

Food catering focuses solely on the food: the prep, the catering menu, the cooking, and the delivery or service and cleaning. Depending on the level of service you choose that may also include linens, glasses, china, silverware, and all other dinner essentials.

However, while some catering companies also offer event planning services, strictly speaking, full-service catering doesn’t include event coordination. You or your event coordinator are responsible for everything from decor, rentals, and tablescapes to loading gifts into the car at the end of the evening.

Why event size matters

When it comes to events and juggling budgets, it’s common to be tempted to bite off more than you can chew. This is particularly true when it comes to keeping food catering costs to a minimum. Do we really need staff? What about DIY options and food trucks? It depends on the size of your event.

If you’re planning a small gathering then you can certainly wow your guests with a food catering delivery and buffet-style spread. These caterers simply deliver the food and you do the rest (armed with biodegradable disposables to keep cleaning and breakages to a minimum.)

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However, when you’re planning a larger or more formal event, particularly a wedding or corporate party, without the right support things can unravel, fast. You’re going to need to consider your timings, you’ll need to have the right flatware, linens, glassware, and yes, staff. This is where full-service catering comes into its own.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Full Service Catering _ Eco Caterers


One key difference between regular off-premise catering and full-service catering is staff. Every slick and seamless wedding and the party runs like clockwork thanks to a team of professionals behind the scenes. Full service means you’ll have bartenders, kitchen staff, the front of house and servers, everyone in place to set up tables, the scullery or service area, manage portions, bus away dirty plates and glasses, and pack everything away at night.

Overseeing the catering team is your event captain. He or she works alongside your coordinator but generally concentrates on nailing timings, maintaining quality control, making sure glasses are charged and plates piled high and keeping a beady eye on plates that need clearing.


Let’s tackle the big one. A whopping 98% of San Diego and L.A. weddings that we cater opt for full service, with good reason. With large numbers of people to cater for and many moving parts, this is a seriously choreographed event. Even the most organized bride and groom couldn’t possibly oversee the many varied elements. This is your special day and worrying about any part of the organization is guaranteed to detract from your experience.

Consider if your venue will need to be transformed from ceremony area to dining room and then cleared to become the dance floor. Even the most determined bride and family members will flinch at the prospect of lugging tables and chairs in their finery on this special day!

You need to know that your catering team will set up tables and chairs, have drinks on ice when guests arrive, pass around hors-d’oeuvres, clear the glasses from cocktail hour, bring out dishes bang on time, even cut your wedding cake while you’re having photographs taken or chatting to guests. That way you can relax knowing everything is taken care of.

What about food catering trends?  

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In terms of food trends, any good catering company worth their salt should be able to deliver a creative menu you’ll love, but if you have your heart set on a ‘quirky’ catering option, why not have the best of both worlds? For example, we’ve seen great uses of food trucks at weddings to provide just one element of the meal, perhaps dessert or late night snacks, while full-service catering looks after the main event. That works well and doesn’t leave you with concentric lines of people queuing around the block when they’re ravenous (and knocking back booze).

Get a grip on beverages

What about the bar? Surely, people can just help themselves, right? Depending on the numbers that can work, but beyond a handful of guests more often than not it quickly dissolves into chaos. Inevitably, things are broken or spilled. At the beginning of the night, a confused crowd of thirsty guests will gather around the bar rummaging for whatever bottles and glasses they can find, causing an annoying bottleneck (pun intended).

And then there’s the issue of wasted alcohol. Half empty bottles that have to be thrown out after guests have uncorked the closest thing to hand instead of finishing an open bottle of the same wine.

In short, bartenders know what they’re doing. They add flair by designing signature cocktails, for example, but they also keep order to save you money in breakages, cleaning bills and wasted alcohol (not to mention keeping those good vibes alive) all for the sake of $200.

What do I need to consider when planning my party or special event?

Full Service Catering _ Eco Caterers

The secret to any great birthday party, family reunion, anniversary or engagement party, or corporate event is the seamless execution of your grand plan. Refined service and timing is a key part of that and without it, things can get quickly out of hand. The right level of catering service will make all the difference.

Tiny, informal gatherings – 

If you’re holding a super casual event in your home or workplace for a handful of people, you don’t need all bells and whistles. A food service delivery that you can lay out as a buffet can work perfectly.

Small to mid-size parties and corporate events – 

If your event is on the small side, a buffet-style menu with back of house service (food prep, cooking and cleaning functions) is a great option. It does mean, however, that you’ll be responsible for everything out front, from removing lids from platters, managing portion control, and clearing dirty plates and glasses, etc.

Remember, too, that at the end of the night, you’ll need to stay behind to clean up, clear chairs, pack away rental glasses and chinaware (which are easily broken if stored in the wrong bin). If you have a team to help out then it’s doable but consider whether it’s how you want to spend your precious evening with friends and family.

Large parties and corporate functions – 

In our experience, when you have a large number of guests to impress then full-service catering from a company you trust is the only way to go if you want to maximize their experience, get the biggest bang for your buck, and preserve your sanity. By hiring event planners and booking a full-service catering company you’re able to minimize stress and maximize the event’s success.

Remember, your catering team can shrink or expand to suit the size of your event so there is always an option to suit most budgets. If you want to find out more about the best catering San Diego has to offer or you’re unsure which catering option is best for you then please get in touch at [email protected] or call (858) 246-6129.

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