Every bride wants to be a good hostess and provide enough tasty food and drink to keep their guests in good spirits. Therefore, the most critical decision you will make for your wedding is the caterer. They can make your wedding reception a dream or a nightmare.
A good caterer can easily handle the preparation, service and clean up of the meal seamlessly. Many caterers also provide the rentals such as linens, dishes, and even tables and chairs as a service to their brides. Some even provide bartenders and cut and serve the cake. This one stop shopping experience can be valuable on saving time and money.
First, contact your venue for a list of approved caterers. Some venues require you to use one on the list. Ask who they recommend. If your venue does allow outside caterers, begin asking for recommendations from friends and family. If you use a caterer that has never worked at that venue before, request a list of the requirements they have to meet in order to work on their property.
Don’t sign on the dotted line until you have had a tasting. Once you have found one that makes your tastebuds happy, ask these 8 questions to finalize the details.
What is the ratio of servers to guests, and how will the servers be dressed?
The service and atmosphere of the dinner hour is just as important as how the food tastes. Ask your caterer about the number servers they plan to provide for for your guest list. If you are having a buffet, you need one server for approximately every 20 guests. If you are having a plated meal, you can have one server for every 15 guests. Also, be sure their attire will match your atmosphere. You may assume the servers will be in black tie only to have them show up in the company polo.
Talk cocktails and cake.
This is where you will need to do some logistical work among your venue, cake bakery and caterer. You will want to make sure you (and your vendors) are clear on who is doing what. You do not want to pay double for both vendors planning to serve cake and cocktails or worse, no vendor planning to do so. Bartending and cake service may be options your caterer provides. If you choose to utilize them, discuss each of these services and have your final decisions specified in your contract.
How is your pricing broken down (e.g. food, bar, tax, gratuity)?
A caterer should be upfront and clear about exactly what is included in their quote. If you are unsure, ask for an itemized quote. Many brides have blown their budget at the end of the wedding when they find that service and tax were not included in their pricing. For a large wedding, those two items could be several thousand dollars.
What is your payment policy?
While on the subject of pricing, discuss when and how you are to pay. Most caterers will require some sort of deposit when you sign your contract. You haven’t truly booked your caterer until this payment is received. It is also important to avoid late fees.
When is my final count date?
The final count date is the last day to tell your caterer how many to prepare for. It will save you money and stress to have this number as accurate as possible. Make sure you are clear on this day so you can give the caterer the number.
What is your cancellation policy?
There are a number of things that could come up that could cause you to cancel your caterer even if you are not calling off the wedding. Make sure you know the cancellation policy when you sign the contract. Think of it as Murphy’s Law wedding repellant.
What if my event runs over?
Have this conversation with your caterer before all your guests are stuck in traffic. Again, no one plans for their wedding to run behind and the odds are, it won’t. But, just to be safe, ask about their policy just in case. Review question #6 for further explanation.
What is your policy on cleanup?
This is probably the last thing every bride thinks of in wedding planning. First, have a discussion on exactly what is considered clean up and who will be responsible for this service. Then, clarify who will clean up and when the cleanup will occur. While you’re at it, discuss what to do with the leftovers.