The Best Way to Choose a Wedding Caterer

Follow Our Tips to Pick a Great Wedding Caterer

All of your friends and family are coming to help you celebrate your big day!

They’re here to help you celebrate, but they’re probably also going to expect you to feed them!  Good food can certainly add a great vibe to your celebration, and mediocre food won’t be remembered.  But bad food.  Well, that’s bad.

Whether you’re just serving some light snacks and cake, or a full blown sit down meal, you will need to spend some time and energy to pick a great wedding caterer.

If you’re lucky enough to have a venue that provides in house catering, all you have to do is pick a menu.  But if you’re shopping for a caterer, just follow our tips below to find the best one.

The Budget

Catering is also one of the biggest line items in your budget so you want to be sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck. And a menu that you love.

If you haven’t set your budget yet it’s going to be very difficult to get catering quotes.  A budget helps you determine which companies can best help with your event, but it also gives the caterer the chance to detail a menu that will fit into your plans.

Along with your budget, you’ll need to know your guest count before you start seeking bids from caterers.

Ask Around

We always, always, always suggest that you start looking for any of your vendors by asking for recommendations.  Word of mouth can still be the best way to find any kind of service and it may point you to some places that you hadn’t heard of or thought of.

For some wedding vendors it can be hard to ask for recommendations unless all of your friends are getting married around the same time.  We bet that everyone you know has had a catered meal at some point, probably even recently.  So let them help you pick a caterer.

Then double check all these recommendations by reading reviews.  It’s great to know if the caterer did something special for the bride and groom, and how the guests felt about their service.  Were there long lines to get food?  Was their staff friendly?

Your venue may also provide you with a list of vendors that they have worked with before and that can be a give you even more options.  Many venues have a list of preferred vendors.  Some venues will require you to use vendors from their list and some just provide it as a bonus.

It’s nice to work with a vendor who is familiar with your venue and any special requirements that they have.  Find out if it’s required, or how to handle a vendor who isn’t on the list.

Find out Their Specialty

If a caterer sticks to doing small events under 100 people and you’re planning to have 250, this is not the time for them to “test the waters”.  You want a company that is comfortable and has experience handling a crowd the size that you’re planning for.

All caterers have a market that they specialize in.  Some stick to smaller events and some cater to larger corporate style events.  You want to be sure that you’re interviewing ones that can meet your needs.

Ask them upfront what types of events they specialize in.

Get Proposals

You want to have several proposals so that you can compare the cost and what it includes.  Your caterer will need to know how many guests you are expecting and the theme or type of food that you’re wanting.

They should be able to provide you with a recommendation on how many appetizers, servers, etc. it will take to cater to your crowd.  The staff amount is largely dependent on the type of service and the amount of people.  What you might expect is:

  • Buffet – You may need 1 server per 30-40 guests.  For a very large crowd you may need runners to help clear dishes and restock stations.
  • Sit Down Dinner – You’ll want at least one server for every 2 tables, and staff to handle beverage service.
  • Bar Staff – One bartender and one bar back should be sufficient for every 50 guests unless you are providing a specialty cocktail or drink stations.

Other things to consider about the bar.  Most catering company’s have bartenders on their staff so find out what their pricing is on this item and whether or not you can BYOB.

Menu Options

Many catering company’s will have a standard type menu for you to choose from, but do they offer changes or can they handle dietary restrictions?  This can be an important consideration when looking at the menu’s.

If you have a special recipe that you want them to make, or your theme has a seasoning that you’d like to use, are they open to handling these requests?  Can you mix and match choices so that you have a more custom menu of your favorites?

Menu Tastings

You can’t decide if you like a caterer’s cooking if you haven’t sampled their menu.  A caterer should set up a tasting for you so that you can try out their dishes.  Sometimes it will just be the two of you tasting your menu and sometimes it’s set up like an event and other couples will also be there to sample dishes.

You may be expected to pay a fee for a sample menu but you should just count that as a dinner out and try it.  Be sure to try all the dishes that you want on your menu or are considering.  Believe us, even though you’re only trying a sample of a few things, it will amount to a meal by the time  you are done.

Your Venue

Be sure that your caterer knows the specific rules to your venue.  It can be helpful if they’ve worked there before, but if not be sure to put them in touch with the right people so that your event runs smoothly.  At the very least, the caterer should schedule a site visit so they know where to park, what entrance to use, where they’ll be setting up and how they need to organize their schedule.

Other things to find out:  does your venue provide tables, chairs, linens and dinnerware?  If not is this something your caterer provides?  Having one less vendor on the day of your wedding can help things run smoothly so that can be a bonus.

The Contract

Your contract with the caterer should spell out every last detail about your event.  It should be very specific in:

  • The exact menu
  • Number of Servings (or people)
  • Beverage Service
  • Pricing
  • Additional Fees
  • Staff

Be sure you understand what items are considered upgrades with your caterer and exactly what items are included.  Do they provide paper plates or china?  Plasticware or Silver?

What are their standards for clean up and leftovers?  If you’re wanting to keep the leftovers do you need to provide disposable containers for them?

Be prepared to pay a deposit when you sign the contract.  Many times this will be around 50% of your contract, with the balance being due in a certain time period before the wedding.  You should be able to provide your total head count at that same time.

Insurance

We haven’t met a caterer yet that didn’t carry liability insurance but be sure that you ask this question.  This is a necessary part of their business and you don’t want to deal with an uninsured caterer.

Remember that the catering is not only about the food.  You are hiring them for their experience, their menu and also their service.

These tips should help you pick a wedding caterer easily and start planning the next step for your big day!

Now who’s hungry?

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