Catering Picture

Selecting Your Caterer

A wedding caterer is fundamentally important to your entire event. A good caterer will work with your coordinator to ensure that the flow of the dinner and the timing of service match your needs, and may also take care of other items including glass/flatware, bar stocking, clean up, and even the wedding cake or desserts. Below is a list of questions you may want to ask.

Before You Start Calling

Does the venue have a preferred vendor list?

Some venues have a preferred or even required vendor list. If your selected venue has a list, you will want to make sure the caterer you contact is on the list and acceptable to your venue. If you have a caterer you really want to use that isn't on the venue's list, ask your venue coordinator what it would take to get them on the list before you reserve the venue!

What reviews and ratings does the caterer have?

Do some internet research to see how others rated their experience with that business. Most caterers with any history will have several feedback posts on Facebook, Yelp and Travelocity. If you do not find a number of reviews, you may want to ask for specific references from individuals who have hosted similar events. You may also want to look for photos online to get an idea what their buffet line setup is like.

First Calls

Does the caterer have insurance and a license?

As the hosts of the party, you share some of the liability for what occurs. Making sure the caterer has a license and liability insurance means they are approved by the health department and are covered in the (unlikely) event anything goes wrong. If the caterer is providing alcohol, you will want to make sure they have the appropriate liquor license as well.

Does the caterer have the date available?

Especially during busy weekends many caterers will have several events the same day. This is good as it means your potential caterer is popular, but can impact the level of service and staffing for your event. Make sure they have the resources to give your event the attention it deserves.

What type of menu does the caterer specialize in?

This is especially important if you have a specific menu in mind. You don't want to contact a Mexican restaurant if your preferred menu is Asian food. Make sure the caterer you are contacting is able to prepare your desired menu well!

Does the caterer accommodate special dietary restrictions?

If you have the need for some special preparation (gluten free, allergy, etc), make sure the caterer is able to take care of them. Normally this is not an issue for any established caterer, but sometimes there is an extra cost if it applies only to a few plates rather than entire dishes

What price point does the caterer offer per person?

Many caterers have a tiered pricing structure based on services offered and number of guests attending. Make sure your caterer has a price range which matches your budget. Next to the venue and perhaps the alcohol service, catering is most likely your largest individual budget item so make sure you're on target!

Does the caterer offer tastings?

Many caterers have fully functional restaurants as well. Find out if they offer tastings of their catering menu items and, if so, whether there is a cost for them. While some caterers may not offer tastings, it is always a good idea to arrange one if possible so you can make sure your meal will be all you desire.

What services does your caterer offer?

Full service will typically include set up, service, plate clearing and break down as well as packaging of any leftover food for transport. Exactly what is offered by the caterer may vary and your venue may have specific requirements as to what services are needed for an event there. If your caterer has never worked with the venue you selected, you may wish to contact the venue manager to ensure all service points are included prior to booking the caterer.

Does your caterer offer plated service?

Most weddings have buffet-style service for the reception dinner, but a plated dinner with tableside service can add a touch of elegance to any event. If you are interested in having tableside (or plated) service, see if your caterer offers it and what the cost is. Normally there is an additional charge per person for this type of service as it requires significant additional staff. If your caterer does offer plated service, request photos of their presentation so you can see what it will look like as it arrives at the table.

Final Details

What is your deadline for final choices and counts?

Your caterer may require final choices and headcounts anywhere from a week to 45 days before an event. Make certain your RSVPs are returned early enough to get the information to your caterer on time so they can order and have the food on hand in the correct quantity.

Does the caterer provide their own service staff?

Most reputable caterers will insist on providing their own staff for setup, service and cleanup. If they do not, keep in mind you may need to find and hire additional staff for your event. If the caterer uses their own staff, find out what they will be wearing and make sure it will match with the type of event you are planning. If you want to avoid having a five star venue and décor with your caterers in t-shirt and blue jeans, make certain you ask.

Does the caterer provide bar service and/or wedding cakes?

Some caterers may offer a full range of services in addition to food service. If so, please refer to the "Questions to ask my cake maker" and "Questions to ask my bar service" articles for more details.

Does the caterer require any facilities for on-site food preparation?

Some venues may have facilities on-site and be willing to let the caterer use them. They may also allow the caterer to bring some equipment to the site for certain types of events. If so, check with both your caterer and your venue as there may be an additional fees from either or both.

How long will it take for the setup and breakdown?

You or your coordinator will need to make clear arrangements with both the caterer and venue to ensure the access needed to be ready on time. Make sure you know who is handling these arrangements and, if it's you, make certain you have spoken to both the venue and the caterer about timing. Also check to see if there is any additional delivery or setup fee before finalizing your arrangements.

Will there be any extra fees in the final bill?

Most wedding service companies have a gratuity added to the final bill. In addition there may be sales tax, service fees or delivery fees. Make certain you are aware of what they may be prior to finalizing your order. These can add up quickly and be a nasty surprise if you don't expect them.

Selecting a caterer can be fun, and if you use the general guidelines above, it can also help ensure that the event you have envisioned is the one you actually have!

PLEASE NOTE: Any recommendation regarding licensure, insurance or permit for a wedding professional is a general guideline for events nationwide and not specific to a particular state, county or city. Please verify with local agencies if you have any questions regarding a specific vendor's ability to work with you on your event.