Selecting the Right Caterer for your Wedding

Selecting the Right Caterer for your Wedding

Selecting the Right Caterer for your wedding

Doesn’t sound easy, does it? Often an initial phone call is enough to decide whether or not to meet someone. Ultimately meeting tells you more about the specific abilities of the caterer you are interviewing – but you need to know what the right questions to ask are!

Most caterers are divided into three different categories – full service (usually capable of more formal events), BBQ (more casual service) and just a drop off. Even within these categories there can be a lot of differences in what each company can offer. Knowing what you want is key and reading the caterer you are interviewing will often tell you how comfortable they are with what you are looking for.

Arguably every company has its specialties. What they are comfortable and capable of doing well will make your wedding either a smashing success or a potential disaster with plenty of headaches for you and yours in the coming months of planning and preparing. Never hesitate to ask what the company you are interviewing thinks they are good at. If you are looking for a served sit-down dinner and they are most comfortable with cocktail receptions or a buffet, you need to move on as asking someone to do something that they are not comfortable with tends to lead to disappointment and undo stress.

When meeting with a potential caterer about your wedding planning you should first consider asking some or all of the following questions…

The Basics

  • Do you have my date open?
  • How many weddings do you do per year, and how long have you been in business?
  • Have you done events at my location? TIP: If you haven’t chosen your location yet, ask the caterer if they can help you select one.
  • Are you licensed by the state of Pennsylvania? Are you licensed to serve alcohol?
  • Will I need any permits for my event? If so, will you handle obtaining them?
  • Will you provide a banquet manager to coordinate the meal service or an on-site coordinator who will run the entire event?
  • Can you assist with other aspects of the wedding like selecting other vendors, event design (e.g.
  • specialty lighting, elaborate décor, theme events, etc.)?

Food & Presentation

  • Given my budget, guest count and event style, what food choices would you recommend? Do you specialize in certain cuisines?
  • Do we have to work off a preset menu or can you create a custom menu for our event? If I have a special dish I’d like served, would you accommodate that?
  • Do you offer event packages or is everything à la carte? What exactly do your packages include?
  • Do you use all fresh produce, meat, fish, etc.? Can you source organic or sustainably farmed ingredients if we are interested in that?
  • Can you accommodate dietary restrictions, such as kosher, vegan, gluten free, etc.?
  • What décor do you provide for appetizer stations or buffet tables?
  • Do you offer package upgrades such as chocolate fountains, ice sculptures, cappuccino machines or specialty displays?
  • Can you do theme menus (e.g. barbecue, luau, etc.)? Would you also provide the décor?
  • What’s the difference in cost between passed appetizers and appetizer stations? What’s the price difference between a buffet and a sit-down meal? If we have a buffet, are there any stations that cost extra, like a carving station? NOTE: Don’t automatically assume that a buffet is going to be the less expensive option. Ask your caterer which type of service is more affordable for you, given the menu you’re planning.
  • How much do you charge for children’s meals?
  • How much do you charge for vendor meals?
  • Do you do wedding cakes? If so, is this included in the per-person meal price or is it extra?
  • Can you show me photos of cakes you’ve done in the past?
  • If I decide not to serve cake, can you provide a dessert display instead?
  • If we use an outside cake designer, do you charge a cake-cutting fee?
  • Do you do food tastings and is there an extra charge for this?
  • Do you handle rental equipment such as tables, chairs, etc.?
  • What types of linens, glassware, plates and flatware do you provide? NOTE: Some low-budget caterers have basic packages that use disposable dinnerware instead of the real thing, so make sure you know exactly what you’ll be getting.
  • Can you provide presentation upgrades such as chair covers, lounge furniture, Chiavari chairs, etc.? What would be the additional fees?
  • What is your policy on cleanup? TIP: Be very clear about what “cleanup” means and who’s responsible for handling it—and be sure to get it in writing. We’ve heard many tales about caterers that left dirty dishes, trash and uneaten food behind. In most cases, when you rent a location it will be YOUR responsibility to leave the place in acceptable condition. You want to spend your wedding night with your honey, not picking up empty bottles from the lawn!
  • If there is leftover food from my event, can we have it wrapped up for us to take home or have it delivered to a local shelter?


  • Do you provide alcoholic beverages and bartenders? Can you accommodate specialty cocktails?
  • Can we provide the alcohol and do you provide the bar labor?
  • Do you charge a corkage fee if we provide our own wine or champagne?
  • How do you charge for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages? Per consumption or per person? Which is more cost-effective?
  • Is the champagne toast after the ceremony included in your meal packages or is it extra?
  • Will your staff serve the wine with dinner?
  • How long will alcohol be served?
  • Is coffee and tea service included with the per-person meal charge? What brands of each do you offer and do they include decaf and herbal tea options?

Business Matters

  • What is the ratio of servers to guests?
  • How will the servers be dressed?
  • How is your pricing broken down (e.g. food, bar, cake-cutting, tax, gratuity)? NOTE: Usually tax and a service charge are tacked on to your final cost. The service charge, which can range 18–23%, is used to tip the staff. And in many states, the service charge itself is taxable.
  • How much time do you require for setting up and breaking down my event, and are there extra fees for this?
  • If my event runs longer than contracted, what are your overtime fees?
  • What is the last date by which I can give you a final guaranteed guest count?
  • What is your payment policy? Do you accept credit cards?
  • How much of a deposit is required to hold my date? When is the final payment due?
  • Are there any fees that won’t be included in the proposal that we should be aware of?
  • Once we book with you, how quickly can we expect a contract? And if we make changes to menu choices or other items, will you update us with a revised estimate and contract?
  • What is your refund or cancellation policy?
  • Can you provide a list of recent references?
Create a Unique Catered Event

Create a Unique Catered Event

Create a Unique Catered Event

Creating a unique wedding involves not only a great concept, but a caterer who can actually pull it off seemlessly!

When meeting with a caterer and picking their brain for ideas, it would be wise to ask what their comfort zone is. Asking someone to do to something they’re not good at is never a good idea. So when you’re interviewing a caterer let your own intuition guide you as the questions you ask are answered.

Trends today are leaning back toward served sit-down events with many courses, almost tapas-like in some cases.

Catered events should always provide outstanding food and service, but they also need excitement and drama. This can make a themed wedding a great option. A theme wedding can transport the attendees to another dimension, another place and time, away from the mundane and ordinary wedding everyone has attended multiple times. Themed weddings create a magical space of fantasy and fun. As a caterer we then have the opportunity to show off our creativity and expertise by developing customized menus and one-of-a-kind themed weddings for our soon to be married couples rather than cookie cutter average weddings!

A caterer should strive to involve all of the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. The key is to involve and excite the attendees. Guests like interactive events. As themes are limited only by your imagination (and sometimes by the budget), these types of events provide great opportunities to showcase your own creativity and style.

When creating a theme or style for your wedding, incorporating the elements of fun, flavor, excitement, action, color, sound, entertainment, showmanship and surprise. The more of these items you can incorporate, the more “WOW” factor you will attain in the final outcome!

Recently there has been a trend of producing themed events that focus on regional foods and seasonal approaches. Much of this stems from the green movement on utilizing local foods and sustainable practices, but this doesn’t have to be the case either. However, utilizing seasonal products while in season and selecting local flair to be a part of your cuisine helps showcase your area as well as insures better quality foods on the final plate! (think tomatoes out of season vs. in season)
Practical caterers will come up with menu’s that implement seasonal items without you even
thinking about it. It’s more cost effective to so this and it allows us to offer better quality selections and very tasty finished dishes. Asking for an off season item might be the difference between really good strawberries and not so great ones. Most caterers will lead you away from something that won’t end up complimenting your day, but it never hurts to ask anyway if there is something else that they think would make your menu better in some way! It’s not an insult to the caterer but rather a chance to make our finished creations better!

I’ve talked a lot about creativity in this article. A lot of folks probably don’t look at catered wedding food as “creative”, per se, but it should be! Designing a great menu around the right theme, served on the right plate, accompanied by the right side dishes and presented with style and form is what catering is all about! Good food, service and even creativity all costs money but also makes the difference between “WOW” and average. I use “wow” a lot because that’s what I personally believe a caterer is responsible for. We build, design and implement ways for jaw dropping moments to happen. From the presentation of a simple salad to a unique entrée presentation or the plate it’s on or the vessel it’s served in – each of the elements of the design of your theme or look will enhance the experience your guests experience and build another layer of texture in the creation you are weaving together which you will ultimately be called your own!

Trends come and trends go. Even old ideas played properly can make for a memorable wedding. Who would have ever thought that the very cupcakes we took to 1st grade for our birthday parties would be served as wedding cake when we were 30? Or the mashed potatoes we had as a side dish would find their way to a martini stem at a Smashed Potato bar at a station reception? Maybe you forgot how good pierogi’s were, but when their tiny and handmade crispy little wonderful bites and they’re presented in a bamboo cone with some tasty sea salt… now it’s a smashing hit at your wedding as the hors d’oeuvre your guests leave talking about. Bacon wrapped what? Yes, anything bacon has trended back to our palettes these days. We try not to over-create a menu so it’s foreign to your guests. Familiar foods with a creative twist in presentation, a new sauce or just a fun vessel to serve them in will be most popular and comfortable to your guests.

Know your audience! Serving sushi to a group of people is not only costly, but ineffective if only a few guests are interested in it anyway. On the other hand, if you know you’re guests tastes and you can see it as a great item to have at cocktail hour, what are we waiting for… let’s get the chopsticks and wasabi! The usefulness of being able to read your guests will be the difference between WOW and OW!

So start with a concept, a menu, a picture or a thought…. And when you meet with a few caterers, verbalize those thoughts and see what happens. With a few meetings and a better sense of direction as a result of some great creativity flowing, you will soon be able to easily make a decision on which menu and company best suits your needs, wishes and dream!

It will be a night you and you’re guests will never forget!