Key Questions You Need to Ask Your Wedding Caterer

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Featured Photographer: Charley Storey Photography

Food and drink will take up the largest portion of your wedding budget, so you’ll want to select the right caterer for your wedding day. Prior to signing a contract, make sure you ask tons of questions. Here is a complete list of all the key questions you should ask to make sure all of your needs are met.

Expert Advice: Print this list and carry it along with you to meetings with the caterer!

Background Information

1. Does the caterer have a valid license with health permits and liability insurance? Does the caterer have a license to serve alcohol?

Why you need to know: If the answer is “yes,” this means the caterer meets local health department standards and carries liability insurance, which many venues will require of participating vendors. Just make sure the caterer also has a liquor license if you’re going to serve alcohol.

2. Does the caterer have liquor liability insurance (if serving alcohol)?

Why you need to know: This type of insurance is required of anyone who serves alcohol, and that includes your wedding caterer. If your guests leave your wedding after living it up at the open bar, and injure themselves, a third party or damage the property, you could be held responsible. Liquor liability insurance will minimize how much you’ll have to pay if something goes awry.

3. Has the company catered events at your wedding venue before?

Why you need to know: If you’re having an off-site reception, find out how familiar your caterer is with the venue and what he needs to know if he’s never been there (the kitchen situation, setup and cleanup schedule etc.). Once you’ve chosen a caterer, connect him/her with the venue’s manager so they can sort out logistics and details without making you the middleman.

4. Can the caterer provide references from past clients?

Why you need to know: References can tell you information you may not gather from speaking to the caterer alone (e.g., what it’s like to work with the company or an individual). Ask for at least two references from previous clients who had a similar wedding size and reception menu style.

5. Additional background questions to ask the caterer:

  • Will I need any special permits for my event? If so, will you take the lead on getting them?
  • Will you assign a banquet manager to coordinate the meal service or an on-site coordinator who can facilitate the entire event? If so, will we be able to meet the person before the wedding?
Catering Packages and Payment

1. Does the catered meal come full service?

Why you need to know: This just means the caterer will handle everything including food preparation, table settings, bar service, and cleanup. What’s included depends on the catering company and the packages they provide. If it isn’t full service, you’ll have to find additional staff and cover the extra cost.

2. What’s the average price range, and does the caterer offer packages? How many appetizer and entrée choices are included in the package? Are costs itemized based on the foods selected, or does the caterer extend an all-inclusive rate?

Why you need to know: Catering will take up a good amount of your budget, so take some time to carefully consider the pros and cons with selecting a caterer. Wedding packages can save you a ton of money, especially if you’re having a big wedding. Most catering packages include appetizers, salad, entrée, and dessert (or cake), plus coffee service and, in some instances, wine. If your caterer offers multiple packages, ask to review sample menus to decide which one suits your needs.

3. Will the caterer include tables, chairs, plates, napkins, silverware etc.? Will these items cost extra?

Why you need to know: If neither your caterer nor venue provides these necessary items, you’ll have to rent them on your own, which can quickly add up. Even if a caterer will provide these items, ask to see them first to make sure they’re up to par.

4. Will the caterer provide a wait staff? How many waiters are included in the package, and what’s the charge for additional waiters?

Why you need to know: Some of the best caterers often use their own serving staff, even if the venue has available personnel. They know the intricate details of the company’s operations procedures, so they’re better equipped to provide flawless service. Ideally, you’ll want about three waiters for every six tables for a seated meal.

5. Will the caterer set out the wedding place cards and menus we provided?

Why you need to know: If the caterer won’t take care of this task, you’ll need to get help from your wedding planner, a friend, or relative to handle these wedding details. No matter who gets it done, provide clear instructions (and a photo) of how you want them arranged at the wedding reception.

6. Does the caterer have extra charges, such as a security deposit, sales tax or service fees? What are the expected gratuities, if any?

Why you need to know: Additional charges from the caterer are going to affect your budget, so it’s best to know in advance and plan for it.

7. When can you arrange a tasting? Does the caterer offer tastings before being hired?

Why you need to know: It’s one thing to read online reviews about the caterer’s food quality, but you should actually taste the food for yourself to be certain. It’s better to have the tasting before hiring the caterer so you can make an informed decision and avoid committing to a subpar caterer.

Food & Presentation

1. Does the caterer specialize in certain food types (e.g., organic, locally sourced, ethnic or gluten-free) or services? Does the caterer cook with fresh food (not frozen)?

Why you need to know: Use a caterer who specializes in the particular type of cuisine you envision. This way the caterer will have all the right resources and will know just how to prepare the food with best results. The truth is: asking an Italian-cooking chef to prepare Mexican cuisine might not turn out well.

2. Will the caterer provide special meals for kids and vendors, and what is the fee for each? Can the caterer prepare vegetarian, kosher or halal meals for a small amount of guests, and is there an extra charge?

Why you need to know: Though a caterer may be willing to work with special dietary restrictions and needs, it could cost extra. If the caterer’s fees are too expensive, but offering special meals to certain guests is important to you, you may have to make budget cuts in other areas of the wedding or find another caterer.

3. Where will the caterer prepare the food? Will the caterer use on-site facilities, or make additional arrangements with the wedding venue?

Why you need to know: If the caterer needs to bring in equipment, there may be an additional charge. So before you select a company, find out what type of facilities your wedding venue offers and any possible challenges this could create for the caterer.

4. How does the caterer arrange the food on the plate or buffet? Can you view photos of previous food presentations from the caterer?

Why you need to know: Presentation is key, and even the most delicious dish can seem unpleasing if improperly presented by the caterer. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into all of your other wedding details— the food display is no exception.

Drinks

1. Will the caterer also provide a bar, and what packages do they offer? How do they charge (by consumption amount or per guest)?

Why you need to know: Having a bar can be a huge cost, so give it some extra thought. There are typically two ways caterers (or wedding venues) charge for bars: by set charge per guest or by the amount of alcohol consumed. If they go the latter route, your bartender will count all the used and partially used bottles of wine and beer (and sometimes by the glass for mixed drinks) and ring up your bill at the end of the night.

2. Will the caterer supply alcohol, or do you need to deal with the bar separately? Can you bring in your own alcohol and does the caterer charge for that?

Why you need to know: Most catering companies provide the bar and alcohol, but you may save money by supplying it yourself. If you want to go with the latter option, speak with the caterer or wedding venue first to find out if they charge a corkage fee for every bottle opened, which could counter any savings.

3. How many bartenders are included in the caterer’s package? What’s the caterer’s fee to hire additional bartenders?

Why you need to know: Ideally, four cocktail waiters are needed for every 100 people and one bartender for every 50 people to avoid having guests standing around with empty glasses. Extra staff will cost additional money, so factor in that expense.

Logistics

1. What is the plan for delivery, setup, and breakdown? What tasks will the caterer do, and is there an additional fee? How much time will the caterer need to set up? When will the caterer need access to the wedding site?

Why you need to know: These details will help you coordinate with the venue and decide a time when the caterer can begin setting up. You should also know how much time the caterer needs for clean-up, as some venues may have a restriction on how late staff can stay. Not all companies will include setup and breakdown in their pricing, which meaning you’ll have to pay the wedding venue or caterer extra, or hire a third party to do it for you.

2. Who will oversee the event on the wedding day? Will the same caterer who helped you plan also manage meal service on the actual day? What is the backup plan if this person is sick or unable to be there on the wedding day?

Why you need to know: Ideally, the wedding day contact person will be the person you worked with throughout the planning process (the person who best understands your needs). If this person is unavailable, they should have a proper replacement in mind from the catering company (ask to meet this person as well).

3. When does the caterer need all finalized decisions?

Why you need to know: In order to have all the ingredients prepared for the wedding day, your caterer will need to know your menu choices by a certain date. Your final RSVP date should be based on when your caterer needs a final headcount.

4. How will you manage last-minute requests?

Why you need to know: In the event an entire family who didn’t RSVP shows up at the wedding anyway, you want to have a plan of action in place. (It happens to the most careful couples!) Or on the other hand, you may be faced with several guests who don’t show up at all. Find out if your caterer will be prepared to adjust the food and table setup accordingly.

5. What is the attire for the caterer and their staff?

Why you need to know: The catering staff should dress properly for the style of your wedding—If you’re having a black tie wedding, you might not want servers in khakis.

 

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