How to Choose a Wedding Caterer
Do Your Research
Start digging up information on area wedding caterers. Use resources that are within your reach. The Internet is a fantastic tool for navigating local options. Reach out to people you know. Chances are, someone in your circle was recently married or attended a wedding in the last five years.
Ask a Friend
Get nosy and ask the key questions.
- Get the name of the catering service that was used and learn about its accreditations or specializations.
- Press for details on the quality of the food and service. Ask if all the services were completed in compliance with the contract.
- Inquire about the contract’s fine print. Ask how clear it was and if there were any surprises.
- Last but not least, ask about the total cost. It’s not always a comfortable question, but it’s necessary in understanding if this company can fit into your budget.
Begin the search by narrowing down the choices according to accreditation and professional recommendation.
- Search wedding specific websites, such as WeddingChannel.com that assists in a local search with customer reviews.
- The Better Business Bureau’s online roster of caterers can be searched by using the keyword “catering”.
- The International Caterers Association and National Association for Catering Executives will have contact and website information for international and local affiliated caterers.
If you’ve hired someone to assist in the party details, exercise their wealth of contacts and know-how to your advantage.
Things to consider
Keep your budget in mind as you meet with caterers. Explore menu options and learn about how your guests will be served. Use this time to understand the organization of your reception's set-up.
Make the Initial Contact
Once the options have been narrowed down it is time to set up an initial meeting with potential companies.
- Arrive prepared with a detailed list of what is important to you.
- Ask for references and call them.
- Search community reviews on websites such as Citysearch, MerchantCircle and Yelp!.
Consider the Cost
Know thy budget and stick to it.
- Communicate budget limits with the caterer in the initial meeting so everyone is on the same page.
- Maintain tight budgets and ask for creative options to keep choices cost effective.
- Review any conditions that may tack on additional fees.
Learn About Service
Ask about how the guests will be served.
- Ask about the average ratio of servers to guests.
- Find out if the caterer provides china dinnerware, drinkware and flatware and whether or not it is included in the quoted price.
- If china is included ask to see some samples. Check to see if it will match the rest of the wedding’s theme or style, and look for excessive wear or chips.
Set-Up a Tasting
In the initial meeting, the caterer provides menu choices for a scheduled tasting. This is a key time to ask questions about food preparation and options.
- Learn about meal and dessert alternatives for allergies, diet restrictions or children.
- Inquire about what will be done with the leftover food.
- Find out if wine is provided. If so ask how many bottles per table and if it is included in the quoted price.
Know the Party Organization
When discussing the head count and cost, agree upon when a final headcount will be handed in and honor it.
- Agree on a due date for RSVP’s.
- Consider transition times from cocktails and appetizers to dinner time.
- Plan and coordinate the service and kitchen expectations to avoid lag times in service.
Inspect the Staging
Get to the nitty-gritty of how service will run on the big day.
- Ask for photographs of the appetizer stations, dessert stations, buffet or plated meal set- up.
- If dinner is served by buffet, ask about crown management strategies available to keep guests from waiting in a five mile conga line.
- Ask about service availability and last minute requests such as: extra flatware, napkins, or to replenish the chafing dishes when they are less than 25 percent full.
When selecting the best wedding caterer for you, be prepared and keep organized with manageable checklists. Enlist help from a close friend or family member to avoid getting overwhelmed. And most of all remember, have fun with the planning! It is a party after all.
Long speeches can often get in the way of the service timing. Agree on a musical cue to help the toasting guest to wrap it up, or instruct the caterer to continue service through the speeches.
- Wedding Menu Ideas & Tips
- Catering Display: How to Design the Perfect Buffet
- How to Cater a Party for 25
- How to Cater a Party for 50
- Developing a Catering Menu
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