How to Choose a Great Caterer

Catering banquet table

One of the biggest details that you’ll need to nail down for your reception is what people will be eating. Are you going to have a sit-down dinner or will your caterer be passing around hors d’oeuvres while your guests sip on cocktails? Will you have a mid-morning brunch or a hearty buffet dinner? While you think about these details (as well as the costs), you’re going to need an excellent caterer by your side that will help you make these decisions. But with so many catering companies out there, how do you know which one will be perfect for your big day? Here are some tips to help you choose the best person for the occasion.

1. Figure Out How Much You Want to Spend

Like any other item in the wedding budget, you’ll first need to determine how much you can actually afford to spend on food. This is often the biggest piece of the wedding budget pie, so don’t be afraid to spend a large chunk on feeding your guests. Most brides and grooms plan to spend about 40–50 percent of their wedding budget on the reception, but this will also include alcohol (if you choose to have it served), the wedding cake, and any linens or flatware that are needed. Once you get a figure in your head, only continue on with caterers that can fit within this budget so that you won’t get disappointed by the selection. In other words, don’t expect filet mignon on a pizza budget.

wedding budget sheet

2. Ask Your Venue if There Are Restrictions or Recommendations

Before you book a caterer, it’s good to check with your venue to see if they have any recommendations for reputable companies that they work with often. Some venues may also have certain restrictions on what kind of catering they will allow (often preferring to work with certain vendors), so it’s always good to look at your contract or ask the coordinator at the venue to ensure you’re going by the book. If you decide to go for another caterer that isn’t on their preferred list, there might even be additional charges per guest, so it’s really crucial to pay attention to this.

3. Interview Your Top Three or Four Contenders

After you’ve checked with your venue on their rules, you can choose your top contenders. When making a list of your favorites, think about what kind of food you want to serve and what would fit best with your wedding setup and theme. Is your wedding going to be a fancy affair with a plated dinner, or is it more of a taco truck parked outside of the venue kind of event? Once you find a few companies that fit your style, call them and set up a meeting with the catering coordinator. The coordinator will go over pricing and will likely put together a package that will work for your particular event. If your caterer doesn’t give you the packaged budget information, be sure to write everything down so that you can do a comparison between all of the catering companies you interview.

4. Find Out What the Catering Service Includes

Waiter serving drinks

In your meetings with your prospective catering companies, be sure to find out what exactly your catering service includes. For example, does your caterer typically provide servers in its package, or are you expected to find them? Do they provide linens for the tables or is that something you’re responsible for? Do they have a liquor license to serve alcohol or will you need to go with a completely separate service for that? Will they be providing plates, flatware, and glasses or is that something you need to take care of? You’ll find that every company is different so it’s important to ask these questions! One caterer may be cheaper than the rest, but if they don’t provide linens or plates, you may end up spending more money on them versus another company who does include these extras. Be sure that you’re thorough when asking about what each company offers.

5. Ask Yourself if You Really Like the Food

Though it’s important to make sure that the food fits into your budget, the most important thing to determine is whether or not you actually like what they will serve. Arrange a taste test at your final choices for a catering company so that you can make sure that you (and your guests) will actually enjoy the food. Consider booking a restaurant to cater that you and your future spouse love eating at, or maybe the restaurant where you had your first date. Remember that choosing great tasting food should always be the goal of selecting a caterer. If you’re finding that you can’t get a great tasting full meal on your budget, try to think outside of the box. For example, instead of a plated dinner or a buffet, go with heavy appetizers like mini tacos or bacon wrapped asparagus. Don’t be afraid to go with the food that you love—including ordering pizzas for an entire reception.

6. Find Out How the Caterer Would Accommodate Any Dietary Restrictions

Lastly, if you or any of your wedding guests have allergies or other dietary restrictions, be sure to ask if the caterer will be able to provide special options to accommodate these diets upon request. You can gauge by their reaction whether or not they’re going to be equipped to handle a wide variety of guests, which should help you make a final decision.

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