What to Look for in a Wedding Caterer?

what to look for in a wedding caterer

The food at your reception is something your wedding guests will look forward to the most (aside from celebrating your marriage, of course)! It is a chance to enjoy your big day and indulge, so choosing the right caterer is essential if you want a reception to remember. Here are some helpful tips to help you pick the perfect caterer. Looking for a Wedding Event Planner? Look no further, Vines of the Yarra Valley have you covered.

How to Choose a Wedding Caterer

Your wedding reception is a significant part of your wedding. It’s the “social” part of the day, and your guests will be looking forward to the food, alcohol, and dancing. That is why choosing the right wedding caterer is so important. There are two things your guests will remember: the quality of the food and the service. You want both to be impeccable at a catering price that fits your budget.

A good and experienced wedding caterer can ensure that everyone has the best possible time at your wedding reception. And you want to get the most for your money. When you find a wedding caterer with whom you “click,” the event is bound to be a huge success.

When hiring your wedding caterer, channel your inner Trump and negotiate the best possible deal. Remember that you are doing the hiring, and you are the boss.

Hiring a wedding caterer can be pretty complicated, especially as you’re trying to figure out the budget, guest count, and menu. But the good news is that hiring the right wedding caterer will help you figure out all of these things.

Tips for Hiring a Wedding Caterer

Here, find our tips for hiring the right wedding caterer for you.

Shop and Compare

Every wedding caterer will promise the best food. While you will be judging the food at a tasting before making a final hire, there are other things to look for in a catering company; regardless of how well-recommended the wedding caterer or how beautiful their website, you should interview at least three to four candidates. Be very sure to compare specifics.

The easiest way to start your research is, of course, online. Start by scrolling through the list of top local wedding caterers and use filters to narrow down these wedding caterers by the wedding catering services provided.

As you scroll through the list, look at the information about each wedding catering company – specifically seek out experience, examples of weddings catered to in the past and photographs of past events. Read through the details to determine what each potential wedding caterer has to offer you specifically.

Booking early is essential.

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If your wedding venue doesn’t have in-house caterers or a list of preferred vendors, start the search by narrowing down a list of caterers you love. Once you settle on a few options, strike while the iron is hot and set up appointments.

Search on social media.

When you start your search for a wedding caterer, look at Instagram for food inspiration or check with a restaurant you already frequent to see if they have a special events department. You can also ask your friends or even your wedding photographer or DJ if they have a suggestion from a previous wedding.

Consider the logistics.

Typically, couples will choose a venue and then try to accommodate catering within that space. Think about your vision, work backward, and consider logistics. Working on the venue and catering needs at the same time will help to eliminate compromises later on.

Establish your budget.

As you’re thinking through catering options, come up with a comfortable budget from the get-go. It’s essential to know what kind of food you want and a rough idea of your budget. Caterers work to craft a meal that is very specific to the wants and needs of their clients. They don’t have cookie-cutter menus because they want our service to match the people they are serving. Without an idea of budget, they don’t know whether to craft a menu for sandwiches or lobster.

Don’t even consider interviewing a wedding caterer before you have your budget and guest list in place. This will allow your candidates to offer you several per-plate options within your price range. You should also know the type of wedding catering you need. Seated versus buffet will affect the price of the meal.

If you are unsure, the caterer can provide options for both. Discuss your dream wedding and see what suggestions he or she can make. A good wedding caterer will know how best to turn your random thoughts into a dream event.

Communication is Everything

Once you have identified a list of candidates, the next step is to contact them for a specific quote. For comparison purposes, you should get a large number of sections. This helps to compare prices for your particular wedding and enables you to negotiate the price down during the next step in the process. Those wedding caterers who are within your price range can then reply with more information.

After you receive multiple quotes from local catering companies, save these and bring these quotes with you when you are ready to meet some of the caterers in person to help negotiate the price down.

Take note of how each catering candidate responds to your requests and messages. If they do not return your messages promptly, how much of a priority are you to them?

A good wedding caterer is focused on you. He or she should listen carefully to your ideas. Then he or she should ask the right questions to get a complete understanding of the big picture and the type of wedding you have in mind. If the caterer is too busy expounding his or her vision for your wedding reception, this wedding caterer has less interest in what you want than in getting a job.

Come to your appointments prepared.

Once you’ve figured out a budget and a few caterers you’re interested in, set up appointments for interviews, and see if you can do sampling simultaneously. Going into the first meeting with a clear idea of your vision, whether it’s laid back and fun or formal, definitely helps. Walkthrough what you want so they can see what can be done to meet you there.

Taste the Food Before You Sign a Contract

Not all wedding catering companies provide food tasting before having a signed contract. The question is, how can you sign a contract before you’ve tasted what they are offering? Pretty pictures aren’t enough.

If you love a particular catering company and their menu, all hope may not be lost. Wedding caterers frequently serve samples at bridal expos or hold regular dinners to entice prospective customers. Get your caterer’s event schedule and attend one or two of their events. It will be worth the cost of admission.

If the company doesn’t host events and still love the menu, sign a contract, but insist on a clause that allows you to cancel if the tasting doesn’t live up to your expectations. If the wedding caterer still doesn’t agree to your terms, it might be best to move on to the next candidate.

Another clause you should carefully negotiate is a cancellation clause. It’s not about you and your fiancé breaking up, and it’s that life can throw you a curve and force you to postpone the initial date. Unless you get a guarantee of at least a 50 per cent refund if you cancel within 30 days of the wedding, perhaps you should consider not signing the contract. However, in such an event, you probably will forfeit your deposit. Check out our ultimate list of Wedding Planners in Melbourne to help you organise a stress-free wedding.

Understand the Cost Per Person

Price will be one of the essential elements of your discussion with a wedding caterer. Caterers usually talk in terms of “cost per person.” However, it isn’t always clear what is and is not included in the stated price. Ask the right questions to get everything spelled out. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised at the final bill.

What you need to clarify:

  • Is gratuity included in the number given?
  • Is there a charge for having the appetisers passed around?
  • Is there an added charge for cake cutting and corking per bottle?
  • How do they handle unexpected and extra guests?
  • What are the costs for set-up and clean-up?
  • Is soda, coffee and tea included in the per person price?

While price is an essential factor, it doesn’t have to be your final determinant when selecting a wedding caterer. There are ways of reducing the cost of a meal. If you like the caterer but can’t deal with the $80.00 per plate for a steak price tag, discuss doing gourmet hamburgers instead. Guests will notice presentation and service more than the specific type of food being served.

Ask your caterer about “guaranteed numbers.” When you provide a minimum or guaranteed number of guests to your caterer, they can quote prices based upon those numbers. Find out if the caterer will base their figures on a minimum number of guests. Note: a guest count less than 100 can result in additional fees.

References

Always check references! Many brides ask for references but never actually call them. Making at least two reference calls will help you feel more confident in your decision to hire them. Please don’t be shy, remember: it is another chance for you to talk about your wedding!

Before making your final decision, ask the final two contenders for at least three references. When calling the references, be sure to ask what the wedding caterer could have done differently to improve the event.

Also, ask for one reference where the wedding caterer encountered unexpected problems. Ask the caterer and the reference how the problem was solved (You may not get the same answers from both parties).

Service is an essential factor when choosing your caterer. Be sure to ask about the ratio of servers to guests. This can vary depending on the type of reception you have (seated dinner versus a buffet). A good rule of thumb to remember is to have one server for every eight to ten guests.

Feed your vendors

Once you determine a final headcount for your caterer, you should also include a meal for your entertainer(s) (DJ or band), photographer, and wedding planner. Of course, you should confirm with your vendors that they want a meal before you include them in your headcount. Also, make sure to keep them separate from your guest headcount—your caterer will usually charge you less for “vendor” meals. Be sure to ask your caterer where the meals for your vendors will be served, and confirm that they will be eating somewhere separate from your guests.

Request a leftover basket!

Ask your caterer to prepare a sampling of all the food at your reception. At your reception, you will likely be so busy socializing with guests, dancing, and celebrating that you may not get a chance to eat and enjoy all of the beautiful food. Even if you’re leaving the next day for your honeymoon, a leftover basket makes for a great late-night snack.

Caterers may include decorations in their price, so be sure to ask what (if any) are provided. Also, request pictures of their previous table displays. Some caterers that do buffets or food stations will include floral arrangements and other centrepiece decorations. As you get a better idea of your wedding theme and style, talk to your caterer about your colour concept so that all their decorations and floral arrangements will coordinate with your vision.

Having a menu board is a rising trend in doing buffets or food stations. Ask the caterer if you can use a framed menu board to display the names and descriptions of your entrée items elegantly. Incorporate your theme onto the menu board, making it fun and eye-catching to guests as they fill their plates!

Please don’t overdo it on the number of hors d’oeuvre options. 

Do you need eight different varieties? Too many options can sometimes be overwhelming to your guests. But surprisingly, some caterers will suggest this! If they do, explain you aren’t looking to spend money on anything extra. Four different hors d’oeuvre varieties are usually enough.

Questions to Ask Your Wedding Caterer

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To be sure you’re heading into that first meeting prepared, we’ve rounded up a list of questions to consider as you’re finding the best wedding caterer for you!

Venue & Availability

  • Do you have our wedding date available?
  • Do you have any other obligations that day?
  • How will your staff balance multiple events that day (or weekend)?
  • Have you ever catered at our venue before?
  • Can you accomplish our vision on our platform?
  • What are your specific needs to be able to cater at our venue?
  • How much space will you need at the venue?
  • How much time will you need for set-up and clean-up at our venue?

Food & Drink

  • Do you have a static menu, or can you do a custom menu?
  • What are your most popular dishes?
  • Do you charge a bulk fee or cost per person?
  • What is the difference between a plated meal, buffet, family-style, etc.?
  • Can you make kid’s meals?
  • Can you provide vendor meals?
  • Can you take care of various allergy/dietary requests?
  • Will food be made onsite or brought in?
  • When will you need the final menu choices?
  • When will you need a final headcount?
  • Where do you source your food from?
  • Can/how will you handle last-minute requests?
  • What are the portion sizes?
  • What do you do with leftovers?
  • Do you make wedding cakes as well?
  • If not, will you provide cake cutting services?
  • Do you offer other desserts?
  • Can you provide bartending services?
  • If so, will we need to provide alcohol, or can you?
  • Are any non-alcoholic beverages included in the food costs?

Logistics & Details

  • How many weddings have you done in the past?
  • Do you have photos of past events and references from past clients?
  • Do you provide linens, table settings, and accessories?
  • What colours and style options do you have for linens, table settings, and accessories?
  • If you don’t provide linens, table settings, etc., will you handle coordinating the rental?
  • Will your staff take setting place cards and menus, if desired?
  • What is your typical server to guest ratio?
  • Do you have the proper catering license requirements, as well as liability insurance?
  • Will we need any special event permits? Will you obtain those?
  • Will there be an onsite coordinator day off? Can we meet them ahead of time?
  • Can you provide a copy of your standard contract?
  • What is the deposit amount due to hold our date, and when will the remainder be owing?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • Do you offer a payment plan?

The Art of the Deal

Negotiate like a boss. Once you have all the information you need, narrow your selection to the final two. Why? Because you’re a boss, and if you don’t like a particular deal, you want to be able to walk away with a smile. You will be able to negotiate more confidently when you know you have another option in the background.

Remember, no price is set in stone. Start with a low number, which the wedding caterer will raise, until you compromise on a final price. Never, ever accept the initial price set by the caterer. If they want your business, they will be flexible as long as you remain reasonable. Need help planning your wedding? Check out our list of Wedding Event Planners here.

A caterer can add so much to your dream wedding; you want to make sure you hire the right person for the job. You will be glad you made an effort.

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