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As soon as you’ve got your wedding venue booked, it’s a good idea to lock down your caterer as well. Some venues provide catering in-house, in which case you’ll work directly with the venue coordinator and caterer to select your menu and organize tastings. However, if you’re in charge of finding a caterer on your own, there’s a few things you need to know that will help you make sure that your wedding guests are all well-fed.
Like with everything else in your wedding, you need to establish a budget for your catering. Typically, couples tend to offer snacks and hors d’oeuvres as well as a full meal during the reception. Depending on your estimated or final guest count, you should have an idea of how much you can budget for catering. There is no set rule for how much of your total budget you need to spend on catering, so the amount you allocate will largely depend on your personal preference. If you’re a total gourmet foodie, expect to spend more on catering and allocate less to something like flowers or décor. If you’re skipping the three course meal and serving hors d’oeuvres and drinks only, be sure to specify on your invitations. Remember that catering usually doesn’t include your wedding cake or dessert table, so keep that separate!
Photo Credit: Weddings By Lilly
Wedding Themes and Menus
What is the overall theme and feel you’re going for? Rustic charm? Vintage glam? Boho chic? Classic romance? You’ve probably already decided on a few bits and pieces of how you want your wedding to look and feel, and your menu for the night has to match in order to achieve the right tone. For example, mini sliders and French fries don’t exactly fit the traditional classic ballroom wedding. There are a few different options for menu types: plated multi-course, buffet style and family style are all classic choices. Late night snacks and food trucks are trendy this year and give a more casual feel. When choosing your menu style and selections, think about whether or not they’ll fit in with the theme you’re aiming for.
Photo Credit: Michelle Lindsay Photography
Choosing the Right Wedding Caterer
Every single one of your wedding vendors should be a good fit for your wedding, your budget and your personality. The same goes for your wedding caterer. Not only do you want to ensure that they fit those base criteria, but you want to make sure that they are qualified and professional as well. Check to see that all the food and ingredients they use are fresh and not cooked from frozen. Ask when and where they’ll prepare your food for your wedding – will they do it the morning of, at the venue or the day beforehand? You want your caterer to produce the freshest and best food for you possible. Finally, another thing to consider is the presentation of the food. Even if you aren’t going for the most gourmet fine dining experience, you still want the food to be presentable and look good.
Photo Credit: Best Wedding Invitations
Alcohol, Beer and Wine
Wedding alcohol deserves its own discussion, but many caterers offer to serve your booze with a corkage fee. If you’ve already checked with your venue to see if you’re allowed to bring your own alcohol, check with your caterer to see if they have a corkage fee and how much it is. If you aren’t interested in providing your own alcohol, ask your caterer if they can run a bar and provide bar staff. Remember to check with your venue regarding alcohol licenses -some only allow beer and wine, while others will allow liquor as well.
Photo Credit: Lauren Brooks Photography
Equipment and Staff
In addition to the food itself, caterers also usually provide equipment and staff. Equipment might include tables, chairs, plates, linens, silverware, glasses and cooking appliances. If they do provide any of their own equipment, ask to see samples to verify the quality. If they require space in the venue to cook or reheat food, coordinate with the venue to ensure everything will be taken care of. Whether you choose to have a plated dinner or a buffet-style meal, the catering company will still have to provide staff members. Ask to see photos of their staff that might be working your wedding so that you can ensure they look professional and neat. When you have a final head count, confirm with the company that they will have sufficient staff to accommodate all of your guests. A good rule of thumb is to have one staff person per table for a sit down meal.
Photo Credit: Pardini’s Catering
Contracts and Invoices
Before you sign a binding contract with a caterer, you want to be sure that this is a vendor you feel comfortable working with. Is your point of contact responsive via email and phone? Is the company working more than just your event that weekend? How flexible will they be in terms of changes and fees? Once you have decided that this is the caterer you want to work with, read through the contract and invoices very carefully. Make sure that anything that was discussed verbally is reflected in the written contract. Ask your caterer to provide an itemized invoice so that you can see exactly what you are being charged for. Finally, be sure to clarify what the payment schedule is and whether or not there are any post-event charges, such as gratuities or take down charges. This way you won’t be surprised by any additional fees after the fact.
Photo Credit: Eco Caters
Choosing the right caterer for your wedding can really set the entire tone for the entire day. The reception generally revolves around the meal you serve, so you want to make sure that the food you select accurately creates the setting you want. Be clear with your caterer about your needs and ask them to be as transparent as possible with contracts and invoices so that you can have a positive relationship. Finally, enjoy the tastings and your wedding meal!