As you’re starting to get into the wedding planning groove, one of the early and most important decisions you’ll make is to select the perfect caterer. After you have your date and venue selected, a target budget set, and a basic timeline structure built out for the day, you have the basics for what you need to get started on talks with caterers!
When it comes to catering companies, there’s a huge variation in food style, service level, and pricing structure. Most caters tend to have fairly similar branding with the same keywords like “full service” and “top caterer in Austin.” So with all this- how in the world are you supposed to select the perfect caterer for your unique wedding?
The short version: do the leg work and ask the right questions.
Your relationship with your catering coordinator is going to be one of the most important relationships you make with your vendors (besides with your planner of course ;). This is the person that is going to be in charge of the largest staffing team executing your wedding vision, so having a trusting and confident relationship with them is imperative.
Now, let’s dive into the 4 tips that will ensure you select the perfect caterer for your wedding:
Tip 1: Gather Quotes To Compare
Whether you start with caterers off of your venue’s recommended vendor list or those suggested by your planner, we recommend gathering three catering quotes to get a good feel for the caterers in your area.
It can be difficult to gauge the level of cost from caterer to caterer just from their beautiful photos online. The best way to compare apples to apples is to reach out to each company that interests you, give them the same parameters to build a quote off of (aka: 1 appetizer station + 2 passed apps for 150 people, a buffet with 2 proteins and a vegetarian option, and one late night snack, etc), and compare pricing.
Each caterer will break down pricing in a slightly different way and all three quotes likely won’t include all the same things, so it’s really important to carefully review each quote to ensure you’re truly comparing ‘like’ proposals.
Pro Tip: Key things to keep an eye out for are additional rental costs (what china/glassware/flatware do they include vs. charge extra for), labor costs for things like setting up your dining tables, chairs & linens, and fees for things like having a Chef on-site and hauling trash at the end of the event.
Once you compare the quotes, pick your top one or two that you feel best aline with your budget. Now it’s time to start scheduling the most delicious meetings of all- Tastings!
Tip 2: Ask Lots Of Questions
When you’re at your tasting, this is the time to take advantage of being face to face with the catering coordinator and ask all the detail questions like:
- What would it look like if we needed to add on another hour to our event timeline?
- Does this pricing include all of the staffing needed for our wedding? Do you anticipate needing to add any more?
- How long will dinner service take with my guest count?
When you come prepared with questions tailored for your event, you’ll get a better grasp on how well the caterer can handle your event and get a feel for how knowledgeable that caterer is. If your coordinator has trouble answering your questions, the style of meal service you’re planning may not be what they have experience in.
Pro Tip: Ask your planner for a list of interview questions to ask the catering coordinator during the tasting. We’ve come up with a thorough list that will ensure you leave the meeting well informed and able to move forward with making an educated decision.
Tip 3: Make Sure They Understand Your Vision (And Care About It)
This tip is one of the most important for the overall success of your event and one that applies to all your vendors, not just catering. When you have initial consultations with potential vendors, they need to be able to share your vision and get as excited about it as you do, but also help guide you with tips and suggestions to make your dinner service flow well and taste great.
The vendors that understand and love your ideas will be those that can execute them the best. Catering teams especially do a lot of the legwork on the wedding day so it’s important that they have a true love for what they do, and that will shine through on your wedding day.
Our friend and trusted catering coordinator, Rebekah at SoHo Catering, definitely agrees:
“Find a caterer who listens to you and believes in your overall vision. Find someone that you trust and who offers flexibility and customization to bring your goal to life. Your caterer has one of the largest teams present onsite. It is important that you feel comfortable and trust the company you have selected to help execute your vision!”
Pro Tip: Ask your catering coordinator for their recommendations. They’ve seen what works well and what doesn’t, and what their Chef does an incredible job with. Trust their judgement!
Tip 4: Consider How Food Service Incorporates Into Your Design Vision
It’s not news that we’re really into design around here. One aspect of design that can get easily overlooked, is how your menu and service style meshes with the overall feel of the event. Selecting the perfect caterer definitely involves finding someone who has the ability to pull this off.
Our friend Rebekah, over at SoHo Catering says this about food and event design:
“People spend a lot of time and money on the design aspect and feel of the wedding, and sometimes they forget how important food is to the overall event. Feeding your guests is a large part of the day, and it should match the design you want to convey to your guests. Think about how the service style you select makes your guests feel. Think about the presentation of the food, whether it’s in the form of a buffet, stations, family-style, or plated. Ask your florist to bring extra flowers or an arrangement to help with the food presentation and tying in all design aspects. If done right, people should leave talking about the food!”
Plated meals go wonderfully with a traditional, formal wedding while family style pairs wonderfully with a more laid-back, relaxed event. If your vision includes a big, fun party, try a sprinkle of appetizer stations throughout the reception hall. Add in some beautiful menu signage and pops of floral, and your food becomes an intentional part of your overall event design rather than just an afterthought with a means to an end.
When it comes down to it, your planner and your caterer work together very closely on your wedding day to execute your wedding vision. Choosing the right team is crucial to ensure your wedding day runs smoothly on your wedding day. We hope these tips help you select the perfect caterer for you!
Does this all sound too overwhelming, and like you’re biting off more than you can chew? (see what we did there 😉 Then our Partial or Full Service Planning may be a better fit for you. We will guide you through the process of selecting the best caterer, and help you each step of the way. Contact us today to get more information.