Photo Credit: Sean True Photography
Selecting the caterer for your wedding or event is one of the most important elements of planning, second only to booking your venue. Food is what brings us together in everyday life, and although it may not be the reason for your event, it’s a central focus of hosting. When guests leave an event, they remember the overall feeling, whether or not they had fun, and if they enjoyed the food – so let’s make sure the food is worth talking about!
Where to Start
In some cases, the venue you’ve selected will have an in-house caterer or a short list of caterers you’re required to work with; for hosts who want the flexibility to bring in their own vendors, this may not be a welcome option, but for others, consider it one less vendor to research and stress about.
If you will be selecting your own caterer, the most important elements to consider are your wedding theme, preferred style of food, and your catering budget. Often, hosts underestimate the cost of catering when initially drafting their overall budget, so consider doing research specific to your area and food style preferences before locking down the budget. Be sure to factor in the service fees and taxes, rather than just the food cost, as these fees and add-ons can add up. Once you’ve determined your general budget, you can start searching for caterers in your area who will accommodate your guest list within your budget.
Choosing a Theme and Menu
Choosing a wedding theme has become a standard part of wedding planning, and it helps a host organize and decide on the details of the big day so that everything is tied together beautifully. This careful consideration should extend to your food, so that they entire event feels seamless. While it isn’t required that every rustic chic wedding has pulled pork, you may not want to serve lobster tail when the décor includes burlap and lace. Similarly, the elegant ballroom wedding may feel a bit disconnected if guests are served tacos or barbecue chicken.
Whatever the theme, the food choice should reflect the couples style and preferences. The couple on a budget may choose a simple menu with one of their favorite dishes, the well-traveled couple may choose to set up a food stations representing different cultures, and the foodies may choose to challenge their guests’ palates.
Hiring the Right Caterer
Every vendor should feel like a perfect fit for your event, and selecting a caterer is about more than just selecting a menu and price point. You want a caterer who comes with great recommendations, is able to develop a menu based on your requests, uses only fresh ingredients, and is able to present and serve your food well. As you chat with your potential caterers via email and during any meetings or tastings, you want to make sure that they are professional and enjoyable to be around, as they – or their team – will have direct contact with your wedding guests. We suggest narrowing your list of potential caterers to your favorite two options and asking both to do a tasting with you. Being able to directly compare the quality of food with similar menu options will allow you to be sure you’ve picked the best option for your wedding or event. And as with every vendor, make sure you will receive a contract that outlines all the responsibilities and included fees.
Additional Factors to Consider
Hiring a vendor who can handle multiple aspects of your wedding or event can be a huge benefit, as this often leads to lower prices, fewer deposits and contracts, and the assurance that everyone is on the same page. One of the primary aspects that caterers often include is equipment and staff, but this isn’t a guarantee, and it’s important to verify this is included if you want them to provide this service. Many caterers will also include buffet table décor, plates, silverware and glasses for guests, and any serving dishes necessary, but this can come at an additional cost. Ask your caterer exactly what is included in your service package before you sign any contracts.
Caterers may also have the option to add on bar services and desserts. While some will provide the bar staff and ask that the hosts bring their own alcohol, some catering services offer turn-key bar services that come fully stocked. Desserts through caterers can include everything from a wedding cake to doughnut bars to dessert buffet tables. They may be able to provide suggestions that will complement the main entree if you haven’t yet decided on your dessert of choice. When a caterer provides the wedding cake, they may even remove the cake cutting cost that many caterers charge.