There’s a lot of pressure to have the perfect wedding reception, and a lot of that pressure comes from choosing the perfect caterer. Your wedding caterer is largely responsible for yours and your guest’s experience during the reception and will likely be your biggest expense in your wedding budget so you don’t want to take this decision lightly. But with the myriad of wedding caterers out there, how do you navigate finding the right one for you and how do you know what to look for? To help guide you through the process, we’ve put together a few key things to know before signing on the dotted line.
First things first, they are quite a few available options for caterers. If your wedding location doesn’t have on-site catering, you now have to add caterer to your list of vendors to find. First and most common is a full-service caterer. They will cover everything from tableware to wait staff and food prep. You shouldn’t have to worry about a thing when hiring them, as they will also take care of most of the logistics at your reception. Most weddings tend to go this route as it will take almost all of the pressure off the couple and let the caterer do what they do best.
Traditional catering is a bit different in that they will not do most of the logistics and will just provide the food. Think of traditional catering as just having a restaurant cater food for your office event. They will prep and provide the food, but you are the one executing everything else from hiring people to serve, coordinating linens, and keeping guests happy.
Another option for wedding catering is to have a restaurant wedding. This is more of an “all inclusive” option as you would host your reception inside the restaurant. If big enough, most restaurants are open to hosting weddings, but you can always think outside the box and ask for a quote to rent out your favorite restaurant for your reception. At least you know you’ll love the food!
Lastly, and becoming more popular, are food trucks. These are a super fun way to add personality to your reception, but will require some work on your end. The food truck vendor will provide the kitchen and serve the guests right from the truck, but the rest will be up to you to work out.
Know Your Guest List, Budget, and Vision
Now that you have a grasp on the different types of caterers available and what each will require of you, let’s move on to the next step: knowing your guest list, budget, and vision.
Before you reach out to any caterers, it is super important to have an idea of your guest list. This is because caterers communicate pricing in a “per-person” charge. If you don’t know how many guests you will be expecting, it will be impossible to discuss your vision because you won’t know how much you can afford. The “per-person” charge will not include everything you will need so make sure you don’t allocate your whole catering budget just based on that. Tax, gratuity, service charges, setup fees, and sometimes drink or hors d’oeuvres cost extra and will add to your total bill. Knowing your guest list and budget ahead of time will give you a much better idea of what you can work with.
Another thing to give thought to before reaching out to caterers is your vision for your wedding. Think back to the different catering options laid out at the beginning of this post. Which fits with the style of your wedding best? What type of cuisine do you want? What kind of meal do you want: seated, buffet, family-style, brunch, appetizers? Which caterer aligns with how much work you are willing to do? Knowing your vision and what’s important to you will help you make decisions, not only when it comes to choosing a caterer, but with all aspects of your wedding as well.
It’s time to do your research. Ask your ceremony or reception location if they have a list of recommended or preferred caterers and start from there. If you’ve hired a day of coordinator or a wedding planner for your big day, also reach out to them for suggestions. Chances are, they’ve worked with a lot of caterers and can tell you their favorites and who to steer clear from. You can also use resources like The Knot and Weddingwire for trusted recommendations and honest reviews. And like always, Google is your friend. Search for wedding caterers in your area to find ones that may not be on The Knot or Wedding Wire. You’ll definitely want to pay close attention to reviews and make sure to read the ones that have a low rating so you know what to ask about if you do decide to pursue that caterer. Also try to find pictures of their food presentation and events they have catered in the past. Once you’ve felt like you’ve narrowed it down to a solid list of caterers you are satisfied with, it’s finally time to reach out.
Reach Out + Get Proposals
With all your prep work and due diligence done, it’s time to start the fun stuff and reach out to caterers. First, you will want to make sure that they have your date available before you move forward. Chat with them about your ideas and share your vision for your big day and see what they offer. They will likely suggest options they think would be best based on your guest count, budget, and preferred style. Get proposals from each of your list so you can compare them all side by side.
Know What Is Included
You will need to understand the specifics of each proposal before moving forward so don’t feel silly asking questions. It’s better to know what you’re getting into than find out about a surprise expense later on. Here are some key questions you’ll want to know the answers to before moving forward:
How many staff will be involved on wedding day?
Is alcohol included and/or will you need to hire an outside bartender?
Is tableware and serve ware included?
How do they handle surprise guests?
What additional fees should I expect?
Communication Is Key
Throughout the whole process from reaching out to potential caterers to answering all your questions, be aware of their communication. If you get an “off” feeling or feel like your questions annoy them, it’s an indication of how the service will be and you should move on. They should respond to you in a timely manner, answer your questions with ease, and pay attention to details. At the end of the day, you are the client and they should do everything they can to make you feel comfortable and excited to move forward with them.
The part we’ve all been waiting for: the tastings! Once you’ve narrowed down your list further and settled on one or two caterers, it’s time to put the food to the test. Some caterers will let
you schedule a tasting free of charge, others will charge a tasting fee, and some won’t provide tastings at all, but I would really suggest that you taste the food before signing any contract. If caterers don’t provide tastings, ask about any open house events or wedding expos they might be at where you can sample their food.
Trust Yourself, Select Menu, and Finalize
Throughout this whole process, trust your gut. You should find a caterer that understands your vision and cares about your concerns. After all, you are spending quite a bit of money with them so you should have top-notch service from the moment you reach out to your wedding day.
Once you’ve selected the caterer you would like to move forward with, finalize your menu. Review their adjusted proposal to make sure nothing is left out. Now all that’s left to do is sign the contract and pay the deposit.