How to Choose a Wedding Caterer
It’s all about the food. If I had to pick the single most important element of your wedding day, it would be the food. It’s one of the things your guests will remember most and it also plays a huge role in setting your wedding style. Aside from that, wedding food has become a culinary experience for guests, menus can range from simple to extravagant or from budget to gourmet. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your menu is well thought out and choosing the right caterer will help you achieve this.
While this may seem overwhelming, I am going to walk you through all the steps of choosing a wedding caterer that will create your dream menu.
Before your begin, make sure you know the following things:
- Your wedding date
- Approximate guest count
- Your food budget range
- Whether or not your venue includes catering
Step 1 – Picture What Your Menu Might Be Like
Wedding dishes are not as simple as they were back in the day when your parents got married. Grilled Chicken has somehow become apricot-glazed and rice has now turned into a magical risotto that tastes so good you can’t even…
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help envision the menu.
- Are you serving dinner, brunch, or cocktail only?
- Why types of food do you like? Consider things like regional foods, flavors, or even some of your favorite dishes from your local restaurant.
- Are you looking for white-glove service, family style, or buffet?
- Do you want to give guests different options for their entrees? Consider dishes with seafood, beef, pasta, or even lamb.
- How many courses do you envision? In addition to the main entree, don’t forget about cocktail hour, appetizers or even soups.
- Will you cater to dietary restrictions? Vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher etc.
- Will you have both hot and cold hors d’oeuvres? How will those be served? Butler passed, buffet stations or on table platters.
- What dessert will you serve along with your cake? Gelato, cookies, or chocolates.
Step 2 Finding Your Ideal Wedding Caterer
If you are reading this, you are most likely a Millennial (like me!) or a Gen Z, either way, choosing a caterer that “gets you” is a top priority but they also need to actually be able to cook. So how do you find this elusive caterer? I’m glad you asked.
- Figure out what services you need from them. In addition to the food, do you need servers, bar attendants, or rentals?
- Roll up your sleeves and do some research. Search our vendor directory, look on review sites, or ask your venue for recommendations.
- Check out the caterer’s website, do they have actual photos of their food or are you looking at stock photography? Do they offer a menu tasting? Do they have any professional or trade awards? How many years have they been in business?
- After you have narrowed down your choices, it’s time to start reaching out.
- The best way to reach out is by email and then follow up with a phone call. The reason that an email is so helpful is because you can briefly outline what you are looking for before you actually go meet them in person.
Step 3 The Interview Process
Here is the fun part! Much like interviewing someone for a job, interviewing your caterer is how you will find out if they are a fit. This is also the perfect time to identify any red flags in the professionalism department.
- Begin by explaining the menu you unvisioned in step 1 to determine what they can and can’t accommodate to.
- Ask for photos of their previous buffet displays to get an idea of how they style their food presentation.
- How far in advance is the food prepared?
- Will they allow you to have a tasting of their menu options?
- How much experience do their servers have?
- Will you have a main contact throughout the entire process?
- This is also a good time to ask about any other services they provide and possibly bundle them with your catering order for discounts.
- Review their wine list and determine if they have a cork fee.
- Do you they have cake serving fees if you get your cake from another vendor?
- Upon leaving the interview you should have a clear understanding of what they offer and the total cost per person with breakouts of the additional add-ons.
Step 4 Booking Your Caterer
By this point you have already interviewed several caterers. You have a good idea what each one offers and you can finally make an informed decision on which caterer you will choose for your big day.
- Reach out to your caterer and inform them you would like to reserve the date. Always do this in writing so that you can keep it for your records.
- Finalize your menu with the caterer and iron out all the details.
- Be prepared to leave a deposit (usually 25% or other predetermined amount)
- Make sure you receive a signed contract confirming all the event specifics and all the details surrounding your order so that there is no confusion. If something is missing, have them revise the contract and send you a new one. At a minimum be sure it includes, date of your event, location, length of event, number of guests, staff details, proof of liability insurance, cost per person, refund policy and payment schedule.
- Coordinate the delivery of the food between your caterer and venue. Be sure both parties agree on delivery time, handling and that they will have adequate preparation space.
- Another often overlooked aspect is whether or not gratuity is included in the price. Tipping is a common courtesy and super important. If it’s not included in the total cost, be sure to set aside money to tip.
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