I happen to think that choosing your caterer is one of the more appetizing (pun intended!) wedding tasks to tackle. Some brides and grooms turn it into a very stressful experience, but that's not necessary. All you're doing is choosing food that YOU like to eat to share with your friends and family on your wedding day.
Why does this one, very important detail of wedding planning freak people out? Because there are so many choices! Brides and grooms who have trouble making decisions really struggle because it's a two part process: First you choose the caterer, and then you choose the menu and the bar. Not that difficult, really. And if you approach it the right way, it can actually be a lot of fun!
If you're getting married in your hometown, you likely have a good idea of which caterers are the best, based on reputation and food you've eaten at other weddings and special events. Get in touch and ask them to send you menus and any pricing that's available. Sometimes, you have to send your selected menu to get a bid because pricing is based on quantity as well as the food. So if you've got 30 guests, it's more expensive per person than if you have 80 guests.
Once you've chosen a caterer, you should put together your dream menu and then pare it back from there. If it ends up costing a lot more than what you'd budgeted for, you may need to think about chicken and pork in lieu of surf and turf.
There's a gross misconception about how doing a "tasting" for your wedding reception menu works. You don't just get to call a caterer or venue and say "I'm thinking about having you cater my wedding so I want to come taste all your food to decide." It doesn't quite work that way.
Although every caterer and venue may have different policies, as a general rule, there's no tasting anything until after you've entered into a contract. If they have a restaurant, you can go eat there and try a bunch of different food and see what you like. If you let the management know you're coming in to "secret shop" their food for your wedding, so to speak, the chef may send out some other bites for you to try. But you're not going to be able to eat your way through the menu for free in the hopes you might hire them for your wedding.
Some caterers charge a fee to do a tasting, especially if they have to bring in a variety of special ingredients just so you may taste 20 different appetizers. You can usually do whatever you want if you're willing to pay for it. When the tasting is included in the catering service, they're going to want you to choose a menu first and do a tasting of those items. Then, based on how much you liked the food, you can tweak what you're actually going to serve.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, a full-service traditional and destination wedding planning company and Do-It-Yourself wedding planning consulting service for DIY brides and grooms based in the Washington, DC area. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show "Wedding Island," about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques. Sandy's book "How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional," will be released on March 1st, but is available online for pre-orders now where books are sold.