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Clambake for wedding? Bad idea?

Hello everyone,

Apologies as I think this may have been covered in a previous post, but thought that this would be a good community to ask for advice. I'm planning my wedding for next September and am trying to find recommendations of companies/caterers in the Boston area who would be able to put on a classy clambake for the event. I'm not having luck in finding too many independent reviews online (good or bad) so was hoping that someone might be able to offer a suggestion from weddings they attended or organized (or even companies to avoid!). I don't know if a clambake would be suitable for a sit down meal and if they can prepare the lobsters and shellfish so that it doesn't get too messy? I'd like to avoid a buffet at the wedding, but perhaps that's a better idea for a clambake. As you can tell, I don't have much experience with organizing clambakes!

I'm thinking of holding the outdoor wedding in a tent for around 100-140 people and have contacted Woodman's and Family Crest so far (some of these places offer the tent, tables and linens in a wedding package as well without having to go through multiple vendors which seems easier. I wonder if it is a good idea to rent the tables, chairs and tent from the caterer or if that's just me being a bit lazy), but any help would be much appreciated!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. My first thought is, will everyone you're inviting like clambake food? I can't imagine the cost of lobsters for the size of your guest list. The more people / vendors involved, the more work for you, and the more chances for problems. Messy is a clambake, that's why you have them at the beach, not when you're dressed up. If you want an idea, you could have a dessert and champagne reception, and then on another day have your clambake in a more informal setting, wearing informal clothes.

    1. I attended a smaller wedding with a clambake reception catered by Woodman's at the chowder house in Manchester-by-the-Sea. They did a GREAT job (and I am not a fan of going to the Woodman's mother ship for lobsters or fried stuff).

      It was outstanding in every aspect (except the totally minor issue of mushy corn on the cob, but it wasn't in season yet), however, it was a buffet format and it did require a lot of bibs and napkins - everyone there loved it.

      1. Obviously you know your group, but shellfish is one of the most common food allergens and those of us who have shellfish allergies are fairly paranoid about cross-contamination because it can have such severe effects (as indeed is true of many food allergies).

        1. while I agree a clambake sounds great, not so sure a wedding is the best time. Clambakes are messy by nature, and some people may not like that if it is a dressy wedding. Also, as another poster said, the allergy factor may be a problem. With that many guests (and guests of guests), are you sure everyone you invite is ok with shellfish?
          That said, if you want a clambake, and you know your family & friends are not allergic, go for it. The best weddings are the fun ones, not necessarily the most elegant or "proper". And best wishes for a great wedding!

          1. I've been to a clambake catered by Woodmans... its a fun choice, but a clambake has a certain ambiance - outdoors, casual, perhaps picnic tables. I think "formal clambake" is an oxymoron. Steamer clams and lobster are messy, and even messier when one starts to dip them in clarified butter. If someone is wearing a tux or a nice dress, I'd have rain ponchos handy for them to wear (okay, a bit much, but not far off.. butter stains). If they serve "soft-shells" you are going to have water everywhere from inside the shells. Plus, some people really don't like the killing of lobsters - I know, they are insane - but its their viewpoint... can be up there with veal (mmmm.... veal) in terms of non-PC foods. Plus, are you going to have kids there? Kids often don't deal well with shellfish, or they deal too well with it and they start throwing lobster claws at each other.

            If you HAD to, you can probably have the caterer dress the lobsters themselves - pull the claws, detach the tail, dump the body. I've been to functions that just served chilled tails, which are pretty easy to eat. You could also just do fried seafood platters - fried shrimp, scallops, clam chowder are all easier to eat, very New Englandy, and I suspect easier to serve.

            1 Reply
            1. re: grant.cook

              I'm with the posters who think a clambake is more suitable for an informal affair. Seems way too risky for a wedding, for all the reasons mentioned. A compromise would be to offer a raw bar as part of the appetizers course---something we had at my wedding and that I've seen at other weddings held near a coastline boasting good seafood. It was a big hit, and because it was part of a larger meal, we didn't have to worry about the people who didn't eat raw shellfish.

            2. A clambake is a singular kind of celebration. As is a wedding. I've never attended one, but have heard about clambake weddings prepared at a couple of different venues varying from outdoors at the seaside, to the conventional tent or reception facility. None of the affairs I hear or read about were attended by more than 60 people, however. The key to the success of a clambake wedding reception is apparently to keep it as intimate as possible.

              You're thinking of entertaining over a hundred people. Now, if they're a hundred "foodies," you'll be fine having a clambake. However, the more people who're invited, the more chance there is that someone isn't going to be happy with anything a clambake has to offer. So you might want to consider offering something else, too.

              If at all possible, work with a party planner or caterer with regard to the rentals. I cater weddings and have seen brides, grooms and families totally stress out over stuff like that. As with many other life-changing events, it pays to hire a professional if you want to have an affair that's trouble-free and memorable.

              1. I have a suggestion for a great caterer who also has access to many interesting venues in Boston and on the North Shore. It is called Vin Wood Caterers and I know first hand what a great job they do. And I am sure in addition to helping you with venue selections, they can help you craft a great menu. www.vinwood.com
                If you decide not to do a clambake for your wedding, maybe you would want to do one for your rehearsal dinner. Jasper White's Summer Shack does a great clambake on one of the Boston Harbor Islands. You take a ferry from the aquarium and head out to a picturesque island. I went on one this past September and really lucked out on the weather. It was a truly memorable evening. It is on the pricey side, but probably worth it for a special occassion.
                Best of luck with your wedding plans, and congratulations!

                1. Call Jasper maybe he could do nice plated lobster bake less mess.chowder lazy lobster boston cream pie wedding cake HE is still a player with great ideas

                  1. Also fun to do a clambake as a casual rehearsal/night-before dinner for wedding guests!

                    This would take some of the pressure off the clambake in fancy clothes situation.

                    1. I've been to quite a few clambake weddings for 100 guests and more.. They are a lot of fun and people enjoy them.

                      The mess issues is mostly overstated in some of these posts, in my opinion, that is. Those same arguments can be made against serving things like soup or pasta with red sauce too. So, unless you are inviting mostly infants to your wedding, I wouldn't worry too much about you guests making a mess of themselves. (also, you could ask the caterer if he's willing to "clip" the claws prior to serving. This eliminates almost all of the water in the soft shell lobsters)

                      Also, some clambake caterers have a non-lobster menu you can rsvp for those guest who would rather have grilled chicken, steak or vegetarian meals. This would eliminate any seafood allergy concerns as well giving another option to those guests who may be a bit timid about handling a lobster meal. Some clambake caterers offer appetizers and the like too.

                      I think buffets are perfect for outdoor tented events as well. The guests have the opportunity to move about and mingle much more than if forced to sit in their seats as if they're in a restaurant. Unlike a plated sit-down meal, they can go back for seconds, as well.

                      I don't think it matters if the caterer handles the rentals or not. You would still have to provide certain information regarding rentals whether it's to a caterer or a rental company, so I wouldn't eliminate a caterer simply because he doesn't handle the rentals directly. Just tell the rental company a few things about your event and they'll walk you through it. They will know how big a tent you need and all that.

                      I bet you could find a "fancy clambake caterer" who would be willing to travel to Boston from Maine for a party your size. If you do an internet search, I'm sure you will find what your looking for.

                      Good luck,

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: coastalcritters

                        No need to go to Maine for a clambake caterer, there are plenty of great caterers around here who will do a fine job. I used to work with a lot of them in my event planning days, but that was quite a few years ago so any of my recs would be outdated. Woodmans is always dependable, plus they have relationships with pretty much any outdoor venue that would allow you to bring in a caterer.

                        Here's a thread with some recommendations


                        or just Google "Boston clambake caterer" and you'll get lots of options. Anyone who's been around for a while will be able to do a good job. In my experience, the only real distinguishing factor that made me prefer one clambake caterer over the other was the chowder and the rolls, so be sure to get a taste of each before you commit.

                        1. re: coastalcritters

                          I completely agree with coastalcritters. I've only been to one clambake wedding: it was for over 100 guests and everybody had a great time. A clambake will inevitably be not super fancy: at the wedding clam bake I went to, we were eating off of paper plates with plastic lobster bibs on over our suits. So obviously, you have to know your guests and know what you want - if you want something very formal, or if that is what your guests are expecting, definitely not the best idea. But I think a clambake wedding will be something very unique and memorable from your guests, so I wouldn't shy away from it if you are excited about it. I also think the mess issue is way overstated - especially if you get the claws clipped to prevent water from squirting everywhere.

                          I do think it is important to be able to offer a vegetarian and non-seafood options (grilled chicken, maybe?). I assume most caterers would be able to provide that, but double-check.

                        2. I've only been to a clambake rehearsal dinner, which was great fun. I don't think clambake necessarily implies lobster, and it might be best to interpret broadly. One way to think of it is that the actual "bake" part, rather than what it's comprised of, is the main spirit of the thing. The rehearsal I went to was at Francis Farm in Rehoboth Mass http://www.francisfarm.net/ , and the facility made quite a show of layering the food items over hot rocks, laying wet seaweed on top and then tarps over for it to steam. The showmanship and then the revealing of the steaming piles of food was the most important part. There was delicious moist chicken, potatoes, corn, and of course clams. No lobster. They served clam chowder while the steaming was going on. The servers placed platters family style on the tables, so in that sense it was sit down. As someone who planned every detail of my own wedding and did as much as possible myself to keep expenses down, just remember the most important thing is to have the best, most fun night you can imagine. Good luck!

                          Francis Farm
                          County, Rehoboth, MA 02769

                          1. Try B&M Clambakes out of Pawtucket RI (http://www.clambakeco.com/). They will travel for a reasonable fee, so no worries there. In addition to traditional clambakes, B&M does a wide array of bbq as well (I highly recommend the whole hog). They are more than happy to mix and match to create a custom clambake/bbq menu should you like. The fod is all top notch and we found it to be more reasonable proced than other options. In addition the entire team, from planning through day of execution, were a pleasure to deal with. Everyone was asking us for B&M's contact information after the event. I could not recommend them more highly.

                            The only caveat I can think of is that it is going to be next to impossible not to do a buffet for this type of event. However the more casual nature sort of goes hand in hand with a clam bake and your guests will probably say it was one of the best weddings ever (they can get a bit formulaic). I agree with the other posters, if you are going clambake, you are going informal and no traditional.

                            1. I absolutly love clambakes, but a bad idea for a wedding. Bad, veddy, veddy bad!
                              However, Congratualtions on your upcoming wedding. Have a great time.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: CocoDan

                                Thanks so much to everyone for taking the time to help me, as it's much appreciated!! The excellent advice, links and information that you've all taken the time to provide is going to be very helpful, as I was starting to feel a little lost in where to start...

                                We hadn't considered the clambake for the rehearsal dinner but will start to think about that as well as an option. I'll look into all the places you've all recommended to see how things stand and thanks for sharing your experiences with me, especially in terms of the pros and cons of trying to do this for the wedding.

                                Thanks for the congratulations and hope you all have a great weekend.

                              2. For that many guests a catered clambake will be a pretty penny. And as many people here have already said, you should make sure you know your guests and be sure that they will appreciate a clambake. It would be a shame to waste all that money and food on a group who is squeamish about lobster. It might be better to consider it for your rehearsal dinner where the setting will be more intimate and smaller.

                                Also, if you're thinking of having an even slightly formal wedding are you going to be ok with getting lobster juice on your dress, or cracking and picking at a lobster with your newly manicured nails? Even if you might be ok with it, your guests might not be and may not dig in because they are afraid to get messy, which would be, again, a waste of perfectly good lobster. Just stuff to think about.


                                1. we had a "maine lobster boil" as our rehearsal dinner, it was a great way to go about it, you still got the festive aspect for the wedding, but people were dressed more casually. every guest got a mesh bag with corn, red potatoes, an onion, a sausage and a hot dog and then a lobster. If you didn't want lobster you could have chicken (we had guests specifiy on their RSVP cards) and the lobsters were steamed seperately, so there was no cross contamination. this was years ago, so i don't remember the name of the caterer. it was a blast, easy to plan and clean up.