Wedding Planning - Complete Guide To Hiring A Caterer
A multitude of on-going tasks are inherent when planning for a wedding. Of course, you've probably already figured this out and will hardly be surprised when we tell you among the most significant of these pre-wedding duties is hunting down a good, reputable caterer. Reserving your available wedding date with that caterer before another eager bride beats you to it is even more important. Indeed, this undertaking can seem especially overwhelming. After all, whether you have 20 guests--or 300 guests-- it all boils down to one thing: finding a caterer that knows how to please all those palates. You may be wondering where to begin or how this pursuit for the perfect meal can be accomplished. Don't fret. Your answer lies in the hands of a caterer with the know-how and background experience it takes to make your reception meal a delectable one. And before venturing out with the avid hopes of finding a caterer matching our aforementioned description, read the following guide for our advice and tips on the very subject.
We've all been a wedding guest, either recently or sometime in the past. The details that seem to remain in our recollection are the beautiful bride, the stunning decorations and—of course—the food. Since the reception meal will be one aspect you can usually count on your guests remembering long after the wedding day, it’s important to go about this decision carefully. And it’s every bride’s hope that the lasting impression comes from having a reception meal that tasted outstanding, rather than bland or mediocre. Finding a good caterer is paramount. Don’t procrastinate and try to scout out a caterer at the last minute. Heed our advice: plan early. Book a caterer at least 10-12 months before the wedding date if the engagement period permits. Depending on your geographical location and/or the date of your wedding, it may be a good idea to book a caterer more than 12 months beforehand.
On-site and Off-premise Caterers
There are two types of caterers: on-site (in-house) caterers and off-premise caterers. On-site caterers work within a particular facility and provide all catering services if you book your event with that facility. You will typically find on-site caterers at hotels, banquet halls and country clubs. Off-premise caterers provide mobile catering services for events held at nearly any location, indoors or outdoors. If you find a desirable reception facility with on-site catering service, be certain not to base your decision on location alone, as a beautiful locale will not be as fondly remembered if the food wasn’t tasty. Always sample the catering menu.
Where To Begin
Start by asking friends, family, recent brides and other wedding vendors for their recommendations. Speak with several caterers over the phone before setting up any person-to-person interviews. When calling each caterer, be prepared to give him or her some key details: your wedding date and the time of day your reception will be held, the style and formality of your reception event, an estimate number of guests and the location of your reception (if hiring an off-premise caterer). This will also be the best time to request sample menus and pricing information, which they can usually send to you through the mail. You will find that rates are typically charged on a per person basis.
When speaking with the caterer over the phone and after reviewing the brochures they send to you in the mail, you will probably be presented with at least several options for the way your reception meal can be served. The following will give you a brief description of each:
- Buffet- the meal is set out on long tables (usually covered in linens to match your color scheme and adorned with flowers or other decorations), which are located in a designated area of the reception room. Guests serve themselves when the meal is a buffet. Buffets are quite popular and are great for offering a variety of food options for the guests to choose from.
- Sit-down dinner- sit-down-dinners are typically more expensive than buffets. Wait staff serves each course of the meal and guests will usually have at least two meals to choose from.
- Food stations- a variety of foods are set out on tables which have been dispersed throughout designated areas of the reception room. Guests serve themselves. Each station can have its own theme or menu (i.e. ethnic food station, carving station, dessert station, etc.)
- Hors d'oeuvres- hors d'oeuvres can either be passed around to the guests or set at tables throughout the reception room for guests to serve themselves.
When meeting with the caterer you’ll be able to go over each option and discuss which would best fit the style and formality of your reception.
Time To Interview
After calling several caterers you should begin setting up the initial interviews. It’s a good idea to interview at least 2-3 caterers before making a final decision in order to compare prices, services and menu varieties. Find a caterer that is willing to incorporate your individual tastes and style into your reception menu. They should also be able to offer up their own unique suggestions so that you can draw from a variety of ideas in order to create your own ‘one-of-a-kind’ menu. If the caterer doesn’t express an accommodating attitude to any of your wishes, it’s probably best to keep looking. There are plenty of caterers willing to work with you and your ideas. Find the one who will fit your needs and give attention to your own suggestions.
A reputable, established caterer should be able to offer you a portfolio of past weddings and other events they have catered. Ask to view their portfolio. This will allow you to visually discover the caterer’s style, work and talents.
Be sure to go over all of the following details when you begin the interviewing process. Don’t be hesitant to ask your own questions as well. Bring a notebook along with you on each interview to jot down important notes.
- Find out how long they have been in business. Are wedding events their specialty?
- What are the menu options? Are they willing to incorporate your own unique suggestions or a family recipe if needed?
- Do they offer taste testing? (This is a must before hiring a caterer. They probably have specific dates in which the menu sampling occurs. Inquire about these times when you will be able to sample their menu fare.)
- Have they catered a past wedding event at the reception facility you have chosen? Are they familiar with the facility?
- Do they carry a health permit?
- Do they serve liquor and/or other beverages as well? If yes, do they have a liquor license?
- Is the wedding cake included or may you bring one in from an outside source? Is there a cake-cutting fee?
- Is there a corkage fee?
- Are linens, china, stemware, utensils, barware, tables and chairs provided? Are they an additional fee?
- Do they provide special menu options for guests with dietary restrictions, if needed?
- Is a children’s menu available? (A wise choice if you are inviting children. The children’s menu prices are often a fraction of the regular price, therefore offering up a savings for you.)
- Do they offer ‘vendor meals’, if needed? (For the photographer, videographer, etc.)
- Does the price include the service of the wait staff? How much wait staff would be needed for your event?
- How will the staff be attired on your wedding day?
- What kind of deposit is required to reserve their services?
- When is the balance due?
- When is the final head count required?
- What is their cancellation policy?
- Are there overtime or travel fees?
- Is there a separate set-up and clean-up fee?
- Are there any other fees that are not included?
Make sure the caterer is licensed and carries a county health certificate/permit. They should also be able to provide you with references. Always call the references when you return home. For even more assurance, make an inquiry about the caterer with the Better Business Bureau.
After you and your fiancé have interviewed several caterers, sit down together and compare notes on each of the caterers. Which caterer offered the most quality services for your dollar? Which did you both feel comfortable expressing your ideas to? Which one was attentive to your wants and responded most professionally to your needs? When you’ve finally made your decision, be sure to set up another meeting with the chosen caterer and discuss every detail of your reception meal. Keep in mind that there will be a 15-20% gratuity added to the final tab and should also be listed on the contract. All important, agreed-upon details, such as the wedding date, reception location, set-up time, menu selections, fees, gratuity percentage, number of wait staff, service times, etc., should be listed within the contract. Read through the entire contract and go over it with your caterer. Make sure you receive a copy and keep it for your records.
In no time you will have accomplished one of your most important wedding planning tasks. And, your meticulous searching will be rewarded on your wedding day when hear the guests commenting on your wonderful reception meal.