Choosing a Caterer

Price and Booking

Choose your caterer very carefully. The food bill is typically the largest wedding expense. Let your caterer know your budget up front.

Be sure to ask your caterer about "guaranteed numbers". Many caterers will quote prices based upon a minimum or "guaranteed" number of guests. If your final guest count is less than the guaranteed number, there may be an additional fee. Find out if there is a price difference for children. Ask your caterer when you will need to finalise the menu by and when you need a final head count by. Ask about their cancellation policy and how much deposit is needed and when the final balance is due. When you get your quote be sure to ask if there are any additional fees, taxes or gratuities.

Food and Decorations

Don’t be shy to ask for references. Phone at least two of the people on the list. Find out how long the caterer has been in business for and where he or she obtained professional training from. Ask if he or she catered for other weddings like yours and ask if they have photos of previous functions. Ask to see a few examples of menus to help you decide on one that satisfy you.

Ask your caterer if they are catering for any other weddings on the same day as yours. Find out whether the food will be prepared on-site or be brought in already prepared. If your reception location does not have a well-equipped kitchen, will the caterer be able to bring in the necessary appliances (refrigerators, ovens, etc.) to the reception location? If your reception location doesn’t have a full bar as if your caterer will be able to supply you with one and what is the fee for the liquor is.

It would also be a good idea to ask if they specialise in any certain types of foods. Some brides have a special "family" dish or a particular type of ethnic food they'd like prepared. This is a great way to really personalise your dinner and reception. Ask if the caterer offers food for certain dietary restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, etc.) Also ask if they use fresh food produce, or do they use frozen or canned food. Find out whether they offer wedding cakes, if a wedding cake included in the price and if there is an additional cake cutting fee.

Ask your caterer to do a tasting, so that you know exactly what you are paying for. And take note that the food is attractively presented. There may be a charge allocated to this.

Find out if your caterer supplies cutlery and crockery. If they do check that the china isn’t chipped, scratched and worn-out and that it complements your décor. Ask if they supply glassware, serving pieces, tables, place settings, linens, chairs, etc. Ask if any decorations are included in the caterer’s price. Look at pictures of their table displays. Some caterers that do buffets or food stations will include floral arrangements and other decorations.

Find out if they provide food for the other vendors- the photographer, planner, videographer and band. Always confirm with these vendors that they do want a meal before hand and make sure to separate these from your guest head count because your caterer will usually charge you less for "vendor" meals. Ask your caterer where the meals will be served for them and confirm that they will be eating somewhere "out of sight" from your wedding guests.

Choosing Your Wedding Venue

If you are going to use a hotel, country club or resort for your reception find out if a caterer is included as some venues don’t allow outside caterers. If the venue is outside, make sure that the caterer has the facilities to keep the food warm. Have a look around the kitchen as this may put you off the venue or the caterer. Find out whether your venue is licensed, if they are, ask whether you need to pay a corkage fee if you serve your own wine. Find out if the rental of the site includes the time and staff to set-up and clean up.

Wait Staff

Does your caterer provide servers and barstaff? Be sure to ask about the ratio of servers to guests. One good rule of thumb is to have one server for every 8-10 guests. Also find out what the wait staff will be wearing. Ask if gratuities included in the food prices and if not, what the gratuity charge is.

Leftovers

It’s a nice idea to ask your caterer to prepare a "leftover basket" that is a sampling of all the food at your reception. It is likely that the bride and groom will not get a chance to eat at the reception. This will make for a great late night snack.

If you are having a buffet or food stations there may be food leftover. Some brides choose to have the leftover food given to a homeless shelter or similar charity organisation. Sometimes the leftovers are given to the bride or groom's parents. It's especially nice if they are entertaining any out-of-town relatives.

Serving Styles and Times

These are the most commonly used serving styles at wedding receptions:

  • Standard sit-down - the food is plated in the kitchen and it is served while the guests are sitting down.
  • Buffet/Food Station - the guests stand in a food line and choose what they would like on their plate.
  • Russian Style - the food is plattered.  The server serves each guest a portion of the food.
  • French Style - the food is plattered.  The platters are presented to the guests and they pass and serve themselves.
  • Family Style - the food is placed in bowls in the middle of the table, and each guest helps himself.

The general meal times at wedding receptions are:

  • Breakfast- 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
  • Brunch- 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Lunch- 12:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • High Tea/Snacks- 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Dinner/Cocktails- 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Dessert- 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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