Before looking for your caterer, you should have your reception venue, date, and time already finalized. You should also know what reception rentals you need to provide, and if you can bring in your own caterer or must use someone recommended by the site. While many couples prefer the freedom of choosing their own caterer, working from a “preferred list” of vendors isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. Caterers on your site’s “list” are most likely to deliver good work, or they wouldn’t have your venue’s seal of approval. They’re also familiar with your site’s kitchen, layout, coordinator, etc. Even if your venue allows you to bring in whomever you choose, ask the site coordinator who they recommend. And of course, get suggestions from friends and family, aiming for a short list of five or six caterers who come highly recommended.
To decide your catering budget, ask yourself how important a role food and drinks play in your wedding vision. And keep in mind, there are many types of receptions to choose from. Catering costs are determined by a few factors: the number of guests you host, the number of courses and food choices you offer, the cost of ingredients, rentals, the way the food is served (buffet style, seated service or tray passed), and finally, the caterer’s level of expertise. The more flexible you are about these variables, the more wiggle room your caterer has to create the best menu for your budget.
Instead of having a face-to-face interview, get some key questions answered over the phone. First off, find out if each caterer is available on your wedding day and if they can work within your budget. Once you’ve got an idea who is available and affordable, schedule interviews with your top three picks. During these interviews, you should be able to answer each caterer’s questions about your event and be ready to ask a few of your own, like:
· What range of menu options and courses can you offer for my budget?
· Do you offer any rentals? If not, can you coordinate rentals, including pick-up and return, with a third party? Can I bring in my own rentals if the cost is less?
· How much time do you need to set up and break down?
· Do you provide liquor? What is the cost per drink/ bottle? Will you buy back unopened bottles?
· Can I bring in my own liquor, and if so, is there a corkage fee?
· Who will oversee the event and catering staff?
· How many servers will be at my event?
· Can you provide a wedding cake? Can you provide a groom’s cake?
· Will you box the cake for guests to take home? Will you box the top tier of the cake for freezing?
· Do you provide bartenders? If so, how many do I need?
· Do you charge extra to pour coffee for guests?
· Will you pack a to-go snack for the bride and groom?
· How do you handle guests who require vegetarian or special meals?
· Do you require a minimum or maximum number of guests?
· Will you provide food for the photographer, videographer, or musicians?
· What kind of deposit do you require to hold a wedding date?
· What is the payment schedule?
· What is your refund or cancellation policy?
· Are gratuities already figured into the total price? If so, what percentage is being charged? In addition to factored gratuities, will staff expect a cash tip?
· When does the menu need to be finalized? When will you provide the final per-person cost?
· When do you require the final head count?
· Do you offer menu tastings?
Caterers with storefronts will usually give clients a sampling of reception fare. Others host tastings a few times a year, feeding a number of clients at once. But some caterers only provide tastings once a contract is in place, others require that couples pay for tastings, and some don’t offer them at all. If a caterer you’re considering doesn’t offer you a tasting, taking the time to check their references becomes all the more important. You might also want to ask about paying for a sample menu for two. With so much of your wedding budget at stake, it isn’t a bad investment, and you and your fiancé can make a date of it.