I've been in this business for more than 17 years and I've never seen one topic more hotly debated on video forums than this: Should the videographer eat at the reception, and who provides the meal? I know videographers who will put on their contract: Check one) A meal will be provided__ A meal will not be provided__.
Other videographers will insist that a meal be provided or else they will leave the premises for a dinner break. Some won't even bring it up and hope for the best. Then you have others who insist that you can get by with some PowerBars and Gatorade. I don't understand all the controversy.
If you have a ceremony that starts at 7 p.m. and you could wait until 5:30 p.m. to leave for the ceremony location, you could easily get away with eating before you show up. But it isn't always that simple. I've never had that kind of wedding. In the Chicagoland market where I work, having a 12-hour day is not unusual. Even a 6 p.m. ceremony requires me to be there at 5 p.m., and if I have to drive downtown, I will leave my home at 3:30 p.m. to allow for traffic. I can't go from 3:30 p.m. to midnight without eating. If your day starts at 9 or 10 a.m. with the bridal preparations, photo session, ceremony, another photo session, followed by a reception until midnight, I'll definitely need more than a snack.
I have a simple line in my contract that has worked all these years: It is customary to provide a meal for the videographers—we thank you in advance. No one has ever questioned this, nor has anyone said, "we don't want to feed you." I don't give them an option or ask "if" we will be fed. It's a statement, and it works.
My husband, Bob, comes with me to all my weddings because he operates the second camera. We always eat at the reception. Sometimes it's a pre-packed vendor meal (sandwich, chips, fruit, cookie) and sometimes it's the same meal all the guests are eating. I don't specify "what" we eat, just that we be fed something. When working at downtown hotels, it is not uncommon for all the vendors (including bridal consultants) to eat a vendor meal because the wedding meals can easily top $100 per person. Sometimes the vendor meal is a pasta station in another room. It all depends on the location and the couple. Some couples have included us in the $100 dinner and have us sit at a table with guests. Other couples have a special vendor table where we will sit the photographer, band, bridal consultants, etc. Sometimes we eat in a back room.
In the planning session before the wedding, just ask the bride where you will be sitting during dinner. Nothing is tackier than going up to the bride and groom at the head table as they are about to dig into their steak and asking, "Where shall we sit?" Also ask to be served early as opposed to last. You need to be ready to go when they are finished with their dinner to capture the events that follow. Most are agreeable to this. I also will mention this to the banquet manager early in the evening, so he or she knows where we will be sitting and that we need to be fed early. Over the years, some banquet managers have balked at this and served us last. Another time, the banquet manager had only three pre-packaged meals for four of us (including two photographers). My husband and I ended up splitting one since the photographers got to the room before we did (we were shooting the Special Messages after the toasts). If the bride gives the banquet manager instructions for serving you ahead of time, it's usually not a problem; the couple just needs to be made aware of what you expect.
The bride has a million things on her mind on her wedding day, so I don't recommend waiting for her to bring it up. Just ask. I can recall at my own wedding (before I became a professional videographer) that we were eating dinner when I looked up to see the photographer and videographer eating. I remember feeling slightly guilty for not even thinking about them being fed dinner, but grateful that they did help themselves (it was a buffet). It's one thing if you don't want to be fed or if you have a special diet and need to bring your own food, but you shouldn't spend the day wondering if you will be fed or not. Don't assume anything; unlike you, the bride and groom haven't had extensive experience working with wedding vendors. Ask and you shall receive—or simply state your expectations as I do in my contract (and feel free to copy this statement: It is customary to provide a meal for the videographers—we thank you in advance.)