Book your reception site before hiring a caterer. Keep in mind that many banquet halls have exclusive (or "preferred") relationships with in-house caterers, which may limit your ability to work with an outside company. Check before you interview outsiders.
Plan to set up your menu at least six months in advance. If you're marrying during peak wedding season (June-October) you may have to order it even sooner, especially if you want a big-name caterer.
Seek out referrals
Ask friends and family for recommendations, and talk to brides in your area. Once you find a caterer you like, speak to satisfied brides and ask for references before you sign a contract.
If having a large number of people at your reception is important to you, scale back on the refreshments. On the other hand, if gourmet food is a priority, then keep your guest list to a manageable size or restrict your bar offerings to wine and beer.
Buffet or banquet
Do you want a five-course dinner menu with individual wine pairings? Or is a barbeque buffet more in keeping with your wedding theme? Consider your personal style to determine what will work best for you.
Are there dietary needs (vegetarian, kosher) to consider? Make sure your caterer has experience preparing these types of dishes.
Set the scene
Bring in photos of your dress, reception site, and flowers—anything that will give your prospective caterer a better sense of the type of reception you have in mind.
If the caterer is offering a complimentary sampling, be sure to clear the number of people you can bring beforehand.