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How to choose the perfect wedding caterer

Updated on May 14, 2013

Finding a wedding caterer will ensure that you and your guests eat great and delicious food. Here are some tips on how to find the perfect caterer for your wedding reception and some questions to ask them. You can further read on how to save money on your wedding day with 5 Extras you can skip and still have a great wedding.

Establish a Budget

Before finding a caterer, establish a budget that you are comfortable with. Budget considerations are variable because caterers tend to price per head. For example, a certain menu might be $34.95 per head. You'll have to know beforehand how many guests you intend to invite. The count of your guests will determine your budget. Now, if you want more extravagant food, and it costs more, you may have to cut down your guest list to stay within your budget. If you have a fairly inexpensive menu, then you could potentially invite more guests to align with your budget. See how it's variable? Always establish a budget FIRST.

Have a reception site already secured

Before choosing your caterer, you should already have booked and secured the reception site. It's common sense, but often skipped. This will secure the date and time of your reception. And by doing so, will narrow down the choices you have of caterers slightly. Because if the caterer has a reception to already do that day that you chose, you'll have to move on to another one on your list.....which brings us to the next tip.

Consider an "all-in-one" venue

If you're getting married at a hotel or a convention hall, there are sometimes strict stipulations that you will have to use their caterer (which is usually the hotel's catering department). This is beyond your control, though it might be better and less of a headache when it comes down to planning. If you secure the date and venue at the hotel, you will be guaranteed to secure catering because it's the obligation of the hotel.

Have at least 5 caterers lines up

Why? Because you'll never know if they are available for your date and if their pricing aligns to your budget. Choose at least 5 of them. And when you choose, look at all of what they have to offer.

Attend a wedding expo

It's very smart to attend a wedding expo because you'll see all of the potential caterers all in one location. Much, much easier than calling on the phone and doing the homework yourself. AT the expo, you'll get to speak with representatives of the company and maybe even try out some sample food they have. They'll show you in pictures of video the work that they've done. Expos are a great way to narrow down your choices and to get that first impression.

Which questions to ask, and why

Here are some questions to ask the caterer, and why you may want to ask them this:

1. Do you offer special menu options for guests with certain diet restrictions? Some guests may be allergic to MSG, have a gluten sensitivity, are lactose intolerant, or have a peanut allergy. What about people who are vegetarian or vegan? You want to ensure that your guests will be able to eat without worry. It's an extra step, but well worth it to find this information out beforehand.

2. (If you are having the catering portion separate from the wedding venue) How much time is needed to set up and break down? This is important because times will need to be coordinated at your reception site to be sure it's opened and logistics are taken care of.

3. Do you provide liquor? Is there a cost per drink/bottle fee? Are you allowed to BYOB, and if so, is there an corkage fee? I've always been a strict advocate of not having liquor at a wedding reception because of guests who cannot handle their liquor and with the possibility of things going awry and being said. But, it's your choice to have liquor and alcoholic beverages at your reception. Just keep in mind extra fees that you could incur. Having an open bar is one of the best ways that caterers make money. Ask if there is a bartender and the fee if you go this route.

4. Who will oversee & manage the catering staff? It's important to know who will be there should something go wrong. If something is not to your liking or not per your contract, you'll need to know who is in charge so they can make things right.

5. How many servers will be at my event? You'll need to know how much staff will be there. You will want to be sure there is adequate coverage for servers.

6. Do you provide a wedding cake? If so, how creative can I get with my options? And if not, do you work with a cake vendor? Some caterers do it all. They do cakes and make great food. However, there is usually a "generic" cake that they provide for a price. I personally would skip on this and go with your own cake vendor to avoid hassle. If you do go with your own cake vendor, you'll still want to ask if your caterer will charge you to assist in cutting the cake and serving. You will want to be sure of this before you are shocked with the bill.

7. What is your minimum & maximum number of guests? This number will determine your budget. By knowing your minimum, you'll know the amount...at it's minimum that you will have to pay for catering.

8. What is your refund/cancellation policy? Very important! Every single contract you sign should disclose what refund or cancellations are in effect.

9. When is the final head count expected? Do your caterer a favor and give them an accurate count of guests you'll be expecting. Include everyone that will be eating. This includes you, your fiancee, wedding party, and other people you invite.

10. Are gratuities already figured in to the price? What percentage? This is needed to know beforehand so it aligns with you budget.

11. Do you offer menu tastings? This is a touchy one. I know it's a good practice to "test" the taste of the food to be sure, but menu tastings often require you to pay a fee just to taste. Also, they may only offer this AFTER you have paid a deposit to them and booked a date.

12. Will they provide tables, chairs, plates, linens, silverware, etc.? Seems like a no-brainer, right? NO. Some caterers only offer cooking of food. You'd be surprised just how much (or little) they provide in terms of bringing items. You will need to know this because if they do not provide tables, chairs, etc., you'll need to find a rental place who will provide these to you. Or, you could ask the caterer if they work with someone who can offer rentals to you.

13. Do they handle all table settings? Will they put out the centerpieces and favors along with guest cards on the table for you?

14. Is their food fresh & where is the food prepared? You'd be surprised with some answers you get!


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