We all know the big day is, well, kind of a big deal, and everything needs to be flawless. And one of the major considerations of your reception is your food and drink choices. Whether you’re hoping for a full, sit-down dinner or a cocktail hour with passed apps, it needs to go off without a hitch, and finding an awesome wedding caterer is a key piece of that puzzle.
Hiring a wedding caterer can be pretty complicated, especially as you’re trying to figure out the budget, guest count, and menu. But the good news is that hiring the right wedding caterer will help you in figuring out all of these things. If your wedding venue doesn't have in-house caterers or a list of preferred vendors, start the search by narrowing down a list of caterers you absolutely love. Once you settle on a few options, strike while the iron is hot and set up appointments. Booking early is so important!
When you start your search for a wedding caterer, look at Instagram for food inspiration or check with a restaurant you already frequent to see if they have a special events department. You can also ask your friends or even your wedding photographer or DJ if they have a suggestion from a previous wedding.
According to Alexis Berry, General Manager for Tom Douglas Catering in Seattle, choosing a caterer in tandem with your venue can be a total game-changer. “Typically, couples will choose a venue, and then try to accommodate catering within that space,” she said. “Think about your vision, work backward, and consider logistics. Working on the venue and catering needs at the same time will help to eliminate compromises later on.” Because the venue and the caterer are two main party components, choosing them at the same time and making sure each vendor communicates is crucial.
As you’re thinking through catering options, come up with an idea of a comfortable budget from the get-go. “It’s really important to know what kind of food you want, and a rough idea of your budget,” says Shawn Niles of Fat Pastor Productions. “For us, we work to craft a meal that is very specific to the wants and needs of our clients. We don’t have cookie-cutter menus, because we want our service to match the people we are serving. Without an idea of budget, we don’t know whether to craft a menu for sandwiches or lobster.”
Once you’ve figured out a budget and a few caterers you’re interested in, set up appointments for interviews, and see if you can do sampling at the same time. “Going into the first meeting with a clear idea of your vision, whether it’s laid back and fun or formal, definitely helps,” says Diana Ceballos of Rise & Shine Catering in L.A. “Walk us through what you want so we can see what can be done to meet you there.”
To be sure you’re heading into that first meeting prepared, we’ve rounded up a list of questions to consider as you’re finding the best wedding caterer for you!
Venue & Availability
- Do you have our wedding date available?
- Do you have any other obligations that day?
- How will your staff balance multiple events that day (or weekend)?
- Have you ever catered at our venue before?
- Can you accomplish our vision at our venue?
- What are your specific needs to be able to cater at our venue?
- How much space will you need at the venue?
- How much time will you need for set-up and clean-up at our venue?
Food & Drink
- Do you have a static menu, or can you do a custom menu?
- What are your most popular dishes?
- Do you charge a bulk fee or cost per person?
- What is the difference between a plated meal, buffet, family-style, etc.?
- Can you make kid's meals?
- Can you provide vendor meals?
- Can you take care of various allergy/dietary requests?
- Will food be made on-site or brought in?
- When will you need final menu choices?
- When will you need a final headcount?
- Where do you source your food from?
- Can/how will you handle last-minute requests?
- What are the portion sizes like?
- What do you do with leftovers?
- Do you make wedding cakes as well?
- If not, will you provide cake cutting services?
- Do you offer other desserts?
- Can you provide bartending services?
- If so, will we need to provide alcohol, or can you?
- Are any non-alcoholic beverages included in the food costs?
Logistics & Details
- How many weddings have you done in the past?
- Do you have photos of past events and references from past clients?
- Do you provide linens, table settings, and accessories?
- What colors and style options do you have for linens, table settings, and accessories?
- If you don’t provide linens, table settings, etc., will you handle coordinating the rental?
- Will your staff handle setting place cards and menus, if desired?
- What is your typical server to guest ratio?
- Do you have the proper catering license requirements, as well as liability insurance?
- Will we need any special event permits? Will you obtain those?
- Will there be an onsite coordinator day-of? Can we meet them ahead of time?
- Can you provide a copy of your standard contract?
- What is the amount of the deposit due to hold our date, and when will the remainder be due?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- Do you offer a payment plan?