Choosing a Wedding Caterer

Whether you’re planning a large wedding or a more intimate affair, you’re going to need to feed them. Your caterer will play a large role in setting the tone for your wedding reception, so it’s important to choose well. Before you get started, read through our tips for choosing a wedding caterer.

THE CATERER

If you selected a full-service venue or are working with a wedding planner, your catering selection may already be done(one less thing on your plate!). But if not, give a quick glance to your budget and start thinking about how you want to feed your people.

Obviously, brunch, lunch, and light bites are more affordable than serving a three course plated dinner. (Belgian waffles or gourmet doughnuts, anyone?) If you know you want to serve dinner, but you’re working with a limited budget, why not get creative? Check with a few restaurants within close distance of your venue or ask about food trucks, since both can be more affordable than stand-alone caterers.

Wedding planners are typically familiar with vendors in your area, so consulting with your planner before picking a caterer is a good idea. Jaime Dydalewicz of Coordinate This event planners advises that your wedding planner can be “as involved as you want us to be. We can help guide or we can select a few choice vendors for the clients to choose from. Ultimately, it is the clients’ decision.”

FINDING THE RIGHT CATERER

When meeting with caterers, it’s best to come armed with as much information as possible. Share your venue name and location, and provide photos of the reception space and any kitchen facilities on site. Bring a rough estimate of how many guests you’ll be serving, including the number of children and vendors (Hello Wedding breaks down your guest list so that you can easily see how many adults versus children will be attending). Be sure to communicate the style and level of formality of your event, because your caterer will want to make sure the style of food is a good compliment to the rest of the atmosphere. And be upfront about your budget.

If you’re working with a wedding planner, ask her to tag along to your tastings since catering plays such a big role in setting the tone of your reception. At the consultation, run through the questions below:

  • Is the caterer licensed and insured (some venues require proof of this in order to approve your caterer)?
  • What does their typical wedding catering service looks like? Does it include tables, chairs, and linens if need be? What about serving ware and cutlery?
  • Is there a charge per waiter, and how many waiters do they recommend for a wedding your size?
  • Can the wait staff also act as bartenders?
  • Are there any additional fees on top of waitstaff and dinner service, such as cake cutting, breakage, or overtime charges?

If you’re choosing between multiple caterers, ask for a proposal listing all of the menu items you discussed (hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, entrees, drinks, and dessert) as well as the total fees, including cost per person, tips and tax, service fees, rentals, delivery, set up, and clean up fees, and how many hours of service the quoted price includes. Compare proposals and determine which is best for you.

THE BEVERAGES

If you’re looking for your guests to eat, drink, and be merry, you’re probably setting up some type of bar. And while some experts suggest making sure you have enough alcohol to give each person one drink per hour, keep in mind it’s not your job to send them home reeling. It’s totally acceptable to provide a limited amount of alcohol or even a cash bar if you’re working with a smaller budget. Plus, cousin Sam’s less likely to get sloppy if he’s the one paying.

Usually your caterer can suggest a red and a white wine to go best with the menu. From there you can zero in on any additional mixed drinks or liquor you want to provide, what types of non-alcoholic beverages you want to make available, and if you want to offer a Champagne toast.

If your caterer is providing all beverages, find out what the cost is per bottle and what the cost difference is between house and premium brands. If you’re able to provide your own drinks you may be able to save a little money by shopping around at local wine and grocery stores, wholesale alcohol distributors or bulk stores like Costco. Proseccos, Cavas, or domestic sparkling wines make for great cheaper alternatives to Champagne. Some states prohibit alcohol sales on certain days (like Sunday), so make sure to pick things up in advance if need be.

Whether or not your caterer is providing beverages, ask the following questions.

  • Will their waitstaff serve the beverages throughout the reception?
  • Is there an extra bartending or corkage fee?
  • Can they provide all glassware for water, wine, beer, and a Champagne toast?

If the answer is yes to all of the above, you’re in good hands. If not, consider shopping around for standalone bartenders or perhaps place a bottle of wine on each table and buckets of beer, soda, and water at a side table.

Loop your planner into all of your decisions. “A planner will definitely make sure you have reliable and wonderful vendors that are not trying to rip you off,” says Lauren Sozman of Loli Events. “Planners also can come up with creative ideas to maximize your budget. Certainly your planner will tell you if it is worth it to spend an extra $5 for a table charger or if more impactful to spend it on a better band.”

SIGNING THE CATERING CONTRACT

Once you’ve met with several caterers and determined what kind of catering style is best for you, you’re ready to sign a contract. Before you sign it, review it to make sure it includes the information below.

  • Who: name and contact info (your’s and their’s)
  • What: everything they’ll be providing (hors d’oeuvres, salads, entrees, and more)
  • Where: the location of your events
  • When: dates and times of service
  • How much: cost per item, delivery, set-up, and clean-up fees
  • Receipt: the deposit paid, the balance due and due dates
  • Uh oh: cancellation policies and emergencies

After signing the catering contract, put your caterer, wedding planner, and venue manager in touch with one another to discuss logistics before your big day. File the contract in the same place as each of your additional vendor contracts so you can find it later.

Now that you’ve read through the tips, you’re ready to get started. Browse caterers in your area and make consultations with several before choosing a wedding caterer. Print out the questions to ask the and sample contract above and bring the documents to your consultation. And above all, make sure you hire a caterer that both fits the style of your wedding and fits your budget.