Your wedding reception is the biggest party you will host and for most, choosing a caterer is a stressful experience as food and drinks are likely to be the largest portion of your wedding budget. If you approach it the right way, it can be a lot of fun. Consider these tips in finding a wedding caterer that’s right for you.
Questions to ask yourself and your potential caterer
- When should I start looking for a caterer?
We suggest that you ideally start meeting with caterers at least 12 months before your wedding as the best caterers are often booked up to a year in advance.
- Is your preferred caterer reliable and trusted?
Look for top caterers with experience in delivering exceptional and inspiring weddings and events. Use social media and websites to see what jobs they have recently worked on and their presence in the catering industry.
Read client reviews to find out quality of food, attention to detail and service of the wait staff. Ask your caterer to provide references from previous clients who had a similar number of wedding guests and menu style as references can tell you what you may not find out just by interviewing the caterer.
- Are they available on your wedding date?
Check if your caterer is available on your wedding date.
- Does the caterer have extra charges, such as service fees?
Any extra charges from the caterer are going to affect your bottom line, so it’s best to find out in advance.
- Does your wedding venue provide on-site catering?
If your wedding venue provides on-site catering, you will save lots of time finding your own caterer. Wedding venues normally have a list of in-house caterers, and if they don’t, they will have a list of preferred wedding vendors for you to choose from.
- Are tables, chairs, linens, and dinnerware included? At what cost?
Some caterers may not include tableware and linen hire within their quotes. If your venue’s caterers do not provide them, find out if your caterers do. If none of them do, you will have to rent them yourself.
Ask to see a presentation portfolio of the dishes.
Presentation is everything, even the most delectable dish can seem unappetizing if poorly presented. You have put a lot of time and effort into your other wedding details, this should be reflected in the food as well.
- Can you create a custom menu, or is there a basic menu to make changes to?
Most caterers will have the option to create a custom menu for your special day, but it best to know in advance.
- Do you cater to dietary preferences and allergies?
Take into account your guests’ dietary preferences or food allergies they may have. Common meal choices include chicken, fish, vegetarian, vegan, dairy, gluten and/or nut free.
- Request for a few proposals
It is important you get a few proposals from companies so you can compare cost and menu options. Consider what is and what isn’t included in the price as this can vary from one caterer to the next. Ask for sample menus to determine which one works best for you. If you are on a limited budget tell your caterer what it is – ideally they should be able to provide a package to suit your needs. Also if price is the concern, consider the time of day to hold your reception. Breakfast or Brunch would be the least expensive, followed by Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Cocktail Reception then Dinner costing the most. Take note that Buffets cost less than plated dinners.
- How do you present the wedding cake?
When ordering your wedding cake, ask to see a portfolio of their work. If you’re less than impressed, you might want to hire a separate wedding cake baker
- Do you have a liquor license?
Ask to see your caterer’s liquor license and liability insurance if you’re going to be serving alcohol. If your wedding guests injure themselves, a third party or damage property, you could be held responsible.
- Do you allow newlyweds to provide their own alcohol? Do you charge corking fees?
Most caterers provide the bar and alcohol, but supplying it yourself can save you money. If you want to take the latter route, check with the caterer or wedding venue first—they might charge a corkage fee for every bottle opened, which could slash any savings.
- Do you provide bartenders and servers?
Many caterers allow you to buy your own alcohol, and still provide a bartender. Discuss how many bartenders will be working, for how many hours, and at what cost. Ideally, you should have four cocktail waiters for every 100 wedding guests and one bartender for every 50 wedding guests to make sure your guests aren’t waiting for their glasses to be filled.
- How does the Bar operate?
You may want to let your caterer know how you want your bar to operate, for instance you may put in an instruction for the bar to be open until a predetermined budget is matched. If not, bars can be open all-night, for cocktail hour only, open for signature drinks only or open for all drinks.
- Do you provide food tastings? At what charge?
Reading reviews of a wedding caterer is one thing, but you’ll need to taste the food yourself to be sure. Schedule tastings early as it prevents you from getting locked in with a second-rate caterer. If you changed your mind about a menu item, replace it and re-taste the new item before your cut-off date.
Food tastings allow you to understand the quality, style and presentation of the meal and gives you the opportunity to tweak what’s going to be served. Explore how your own ideas can be worked into the existing menus.
Usually, there’s no tasting until you have signed on the dotted line. Most caterers charge $40-$50 per person to try 3-5 dishes.
- Will you be decorating the reception tables according to the theme of the wedding? If yes, ask to see their portfolio.
If you do not have a wedding planner, your caterer would be the last vendor to dress your tables before the celebrations begin. The theme you choose for your wedding – Christmas, bohemian, garden, rustic, elegant, barn etc should be reflected in the decor of the reception tables. The decor, including the flowers, table centerpieces and candles should look perfect next to your tableware.
- Does the catered meal come full service? Does cost-per-plate cover food only, or are charges such as staff and rentals included?
Ask if your caterer, in addition to food preparation, will handle everything from table settings to bar service to break-down service. Not all companies will include setup and breakdown in their pricing, meaning you will have to pay the wedding venue or caterer extra. Ask your caterer to include details like cost per person, menu options, and what the fee includes (alcohol, rentals, break-down service, tips). Sign the contract after creating a finalised proposal.
- When does the caterer need final guest count and menu choice?
Your caterer needs to know your guest count and menu choices by a certain date. Decide your RSVP date based on when your caterer needs this information.
- Will the caterer provide special “kid’s meals” for children and other wedding pros, and are these meals discounted?
You will need to feed your wedding pros who’ll be there at your reception, like your photographer and wedding planner. Depending on the caterer, some could charge you half of the normal guest meal cost while others could have you paying full price.
- What will the caterer and their staff wear?
You want to make sure the wait staff dresses appropriately for the tone and style of your wedding. Find out what they will be wearing during the wedding.
- Will a manager be there to oversee meal service and supervise wait staff on the day? Who will it be?
Usually the same person you worked with from the caterer throughout the planning process will be overseeing the meal service on your wedding day. If not, find out who will be supervising and ask to meet with this person.