After 10 years of wedding planning, I've run into something new recently—brides and grooms who want to do multiple consultations and multiple tastings with their wedding caterers.
Just to be clear, let me explain how a couple's relationship usually proceeds with a caterer:
- Couple contacts the caterer to check availability and pricing, and request menus, if they're not posted on the caterer's website. If they're seriously considering this caterer, it's a good time to schedule a consultation.
- Potential clients do a consultation on their menu with the caterer, in person or via telephone, depending on what's most convenient. During this call or meeting, clients should request a tasting if they want one.
- Couple does a tasting with the caterer (may be a group tasting or a private tasting). Post-tasting, the couple should give their "dream menu" to the caterer for a bid.
- Caterer sends the couple a bid to consider.
- Couple responds with changes to the menu, and a request for a revised bid, or they accept the proposed bid, and request a contract for their wedding event.
Every caterer, and every couple, is a little bit different, but that's about how much time you should expect a caterer to put into actually booking the contract for your wedding. It's not a six-month process involving six different menus bids, three different tastings, and generally torturing the caterer until they won't be making any money off your wedding if they deduct the lost time of trying to actually close the contract.
No matter how far ahead you start planning your wedding, you're only going to do a certain number of consultations with each wedding vendor. Planning everything early simply means that you've got all the bones in place for your wedding, so you can focus on bridal homework like planning your vows, your music, and where you're going to seat your fiancé's obnoxious aunt.
If you decide to use a wedding planner, they'll guide you through consultations with other vendors, as needed. You won't have to talk to everybody if they plan lots of events in the area where you're getting married. For example, if you want a DJ, and they have one to recommend, there's no consultation necessary. You hired your wedding planner to help you bypass the laborious process of contacting every wedding vendor for details like pricing and availability.
A wedding planner will set up your tastings for wedding cake and reception catering. They'll hook you up with demo music from the bands you're considering, guide you through the floral and décor decisions, and exchange countless messages with you discussing the nitty gritty details of each decision—if that's what you need. But at the end of the day, your planner will streamline your decision-making process so that it makes sense, and you only spend time with vendors when absolutely necessary.
If you're planning your own wedding, and contacting all of the vendors yourself, you'll have to do a little more independent research in choosing your vendors. Do that research before you request a consultation with a caterer, pastry chef, photographer, or musician. Check out their ratings and reviews from their previous clients on Wedding Wire. Google them and see what's out there—you'd be surprised how much other brides and grooms share when they're thrilled, or furious, with their wedding vendors.
Some caterers include a free tasting AFTER you've signed an initial agreement with them, and paid a deposit. Others charge a fee. Some offer open tastings to potential clients for free, once a month. Caterers who charge a fee ask anything from $50 to $500, depending on what you're requesting they make for your review. Be sure to ask what each caterer's policy is when you do your initial consultation.
Most bakeries and pastry chefs will do a cake tasting for free, unless you have very specific requests they have to prepare especially for your tasting purposes.
Take detailed notes when you talk to your vendors AND when you go for the tasting. There's nothing more painful than spending a couple of hours with a couple, and then getting an email an hour later re-asking all of the questions we just finished answering.
Tastings are usually presented as small bites of many different things you may choose from for your wedding menu. There is a significant fee if you want the caterer to prepare everything in actual portion sizes, and plate it as it will be presented at your wedding reception.
Don't expect a caterer to continue to indulge your questions, suggestions, and changes if you haven't actually signed a contract, and made a deposit. While it may be fun for you to play with your wedding menu, all of those requests take up a lot of the caterer's time. And time is money. It's your wedding, but it's still business for your vendors.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.