Ask for Recommendations
Many caterers say that most of their business comes from word of mouth. Ask your florist, wedding planner or coordinators at your reception site whom they like to work with.
Do a Background Check
You can see whether the caterer has any complaints filed against him with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org), but if so, don’t cross him off your list yet, since you won’t know his side of the story. Calling references is your best bet. Contact three or four past clients and ask: Was the caterer pleasant and accommodating? Was the service efficient and unintrusive? Was the food delicious, and did it arrive hot?
Meet and Eat
When you’ve narrowed the list to a couple of caterers, you and your fiancé, and maybe even a food-savvy third party, should be able to sample some of the chefs’ signature dishes (note that there may be a fee involved). You can expect the food to look precisely the way it will at your reception. So if the salad is meant to be garnished with flowers, you should have them for the tasting, and they should look fresh. That said, seasonal items you plan to serve may not be available at the time of the tasting, so you’ll have to imagine how those dishes will ultimately look and taste. Though you shouldn’t expect a total overhaul of a recipe, don’t hesitate to make suggestions or to ask the chef if spices or subtle elements can be modified to suit your taste.
Wine While You Dine
Let caterers know before tastings that you’d like to sample the wines that will be served with the wedding meal. If you don’t like the way the cabernet sauvignon goes with your food, ask to taste-test another wine. Don’t get hung up on which wine should go with what food, however—the best choices are those you, your fiancé and your guests will enjoy drinking.
Put It on Paper
You’ll need a written contract—not just a verbal agreement—spelling out the date, time, fees and specific menu items. Both you and the vendor must sign this to make it binding. Remember: The number of guests may change at the last minute, so be sure to agree on a deadline for your final count.
Get It to Go
Ironically, after all the time and energy you’ve put into planning the meal, you may not even have a spare second to eat during the reception. Ask your caterer to pack a basket for you and your new hubby so that you can devour it later, back in the hotel room. You deserve to enjoy the meal, too!