Unfortunately, there are plenty of pitfalls when it comes to choosing a caterer. Some are issues related to the quality of the caterer; others are simple misunderstandings. Through proper planning and attention to detail, most negative issues can be avoided.
The following ten tips will go a long way in helping you secure a top quality caterer and ensuring they provide you with exactly what you are looking for regarding food quality and quality of their service.
1. Set up appointments with at least three different caterers
As you are setting up appointments, be sure to make a note of how quickly your phone call or email is returned. You should expect to be contacted back within the same business day. If it takes more than a full working day, don’t bother scheduling an appointment. What if you call them in the days leading up to your wedding with an important question or information and they don’t get back with you right away? No thanks. Before you set up your three meetings, be sure that you and your spouse to discuss your catering likes and dislikes.
2. Get photos from each caterer of previous work they’ve done
Don’t be fooled into thinking they don’t have any pictures. They will. When they provide them to you, look for things like the presentation of food. Is it creative? Is it colorful? Are the hors d’oeuvres arranged nicely with garnishes and flowers, or are they just piled up on a tray?
3. Ask for sample menus
Menus will likely show a range of sit-down options as well as hors d’oeuvres. If prices aren’t listed, be sure to ask for them as you’ll need to know what choices fit into your budget. It’s true that most caterers will be happy to customize menus for each reception, they certainly should be willing to give you basic cost parameters for individual items.
4. Be honest and upfront about your budget
Hopefully, you’ve mapped out your budget before you meet with caterers. But if you haven’t, give each caterer a range per guest that you are comfortable with. Caterers can vary wildly. What one will provide for $30 a person can be significantly different than what another may offer. Be sure that you are specific with your menu likes and dislikes and if there will be any dietary restrictions.
5. Ask for a proposal with several menu options
You’ll also want to be sure the plan clearly outlines costs for liquor, any rentals you’ll require and labor costs. If you don’t understand any part of the plan, a particular caterer gives you, get back in touch with them to clarify the part you don’t understand. And don’t make any assumptions that the proposal will include things like china, linens, glassware. You’ll have to confirm details like this with each caterer to ensure you are comparing apples to apples. Steer clear from caterers that tell you they will send you a proposal and then fail to deliver one.
6. Be sure to confirm any minimums
Some caterers will require to you guarantee a certain minimum amount of food, generally noted as a set number of meals or total dollars. This means you could end up having to pay for 150 meals, even though only 100 people show up. Some caterers will negotiate this number with you, if one of the three caterers you speak with has a minimum that you won’t possibly meet, go a different route. See if the wedding cake will count as part of the $$ minimum required. In some cases, that’ll put things over the top, or at least into easy reach. Be sure to ask about the opposite situation – what happens when more guest show up than are expected. Most caterers will make 5-10% more food than is ordered, but check to be sure.
7. Pick the proposal you like the most and visit one of their weddings
Ask them if you can visit a marriage of theirs before you finalize things. Visit during the setup and observe how organized the operation is and how the staff is dressed.
8. Arrange for a taste test
You will likely be spending several thousands of dollars on food. Arranging a taste test is something that any solid caterer should be willing to do. You may find that the best way to do this would be to combine it with a visit to a wedding as discussed in #7. When you are at the tasting, take some photos of the food. Hold on to these pictures until your wedding in case the catering manager changes before your big day. If this happens, show the staff the photos, so they know what you expect.
9. Get everything in writing
Once you have decided on a caterer, get every – and I mean every – detail in writing. All details regarding food, labor, liquor, non-alcoholic beverages, and rentals need to be clearly spelled out in a written contract. Be sure that you clearly understand any price escalation clauses that may be in place and be sure to get any price guarantees offered in writing as well. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to also request a drawing of the actual layout of the room so that you’ll know where the tables, dance floor, buffet table, etc. will go.
10. Read the contract before signing
Before you sign the contract, take it home and go over it with your spouse to be with a fine tooth comb and magnifying glass if necessary. Be sure you are aware of the refund policy, cancellation policy/fees. Just because a caterer has a standard contract, this doesn’t mean that things aren’t negotiable. If you aren’t comfortable with a particular clause, have it changed and get it initialed by the caterer.