11 Useful Tips for Picking the Perfect Wedding Caterer

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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 important if you want a reception to remember. Here are some helpful tips to help you pick the perfect caterer:

Food Inspiration via Peter Callahan Catering

  1. Know your budget. When it comes to wedding expenses, catering is often the largest expense (45-50% of most wedding budgets go towards catering and the reception). Caterers vary in type of food and style, so carefully select your caterer. Discuss your budget, the style of reception you would like (i.e. buffet, food stations, sit-down dinner, or cocktail reception), and the types of food that you want to serve.
  2. Be a taste tester. You should always schedule a “tasting” with a caterer to sample their culinary skills and take note on the presentation of the food as well. This will familiarize you with their style before committing to them as your caterer for your big day!
  3. 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. Don’t be shy, remember: it is another chance for you to talk about your wedding!
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t forget about dinnerware or china! Be sure to look into the dinnerware and china when hiring your caterer. Some caterers include the dinnerware in their price, but this may mean that it isn’t of the best quality—it could be damaged, scratched, or worn out. So it is good to ask to see samples to make sure that the place settings meet your standards and match the rest of your décor.
  6. Service is an important factor when choosing your caterer. Be sure to ask about the ratio of servers to guests. Obviously, 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.
  7. Feed your vendors. Once you determine a final head count 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 actually want a meal before you include them in your head count. Also, make sure to keep them separate from your guest head count—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.
  8. 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 wonderful food. Even if you’re leaving the next day for your honeymoon, a leftover basket makes for a great late night snack.
  9. 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 centerpiece decorations. As you get a better idea of your wedding theme and style, talk to your caterer about your color concept so that all their decorations and floral arrangements will coordinate with your vision.
  10. 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 elegantly display the names and descriptions of your entrée items. Incorporate your theme onto the menu board, making it fun and eye-catching to guests as they fill their plates!
  11. Don’t overdo it on the number of hors d’oeuvre options. Do you really 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.

Helpful hint: Make sure to consider your guests’ food preferences when choosing your caterer. For example, if you have some vegetarian friends, request meat-free options from your caterer.