For most weddings, your caterer is the one who will be getting most of your budget so careful selection is critical. The food will always be what satisfies and delights your guests (or not) and will be remembered accordingly. With thoughtful preparation, selection and timing, you can ensure you get the maximum culinary and aesthetic pleasure for your day at minimal cost.
Wedding catering companies book up very quickly, particularly during the peak months of May to September. Before initiating any deeper research or meetings, check the availability of companies you are vaguely interested in - at least nine months prior to your wedding day.
CHECK YOUR BUDGET
Ensure you are the one setting the limit to this. Remember, catering quotations do not include tips, the service charge, taxes, overheads, overtime,, possibly extra staff...so set your limit at least a thousand dollars below what your real budget is to allow for this. Remember the 20% service charge generally just pays for overheads, wear and tear, fuel and not the staff; it is traditional that the bride hands over 15-20% of the catering quote in cash to the maitre d’or for distribution amongst the catering staff and waiters.Ask the catering company from the start what options are available so that they can get a package together to meet your needs. Also, check the payment process. Do they ask for a 50% down payment and the balance on delivery? Do they just hand you an astronomical bill at the end?
TRY TO CHOOSE A SEASONAL MENU
That way you are more guaranteed the quality of produce and its local sourcing. If this is particularly important to you, ask for specifics.
GET RECOMMENDATIONS AND REVIEWS
Ask couples you know or people who go to many weddings; what did they enjoy and who do they recommend? If they have similar tastes and values to you, chances are it will be a good fit for you both as well. Check out reviews and the experience of such catering companies - how much experience have they got, what is their wedding turnover rate, how reliable are they, any comments about quality or service?
ATTEND WEDDING VENDOR TRADE SHOWS
Sample their wares, get business cards, observe their professionalism.
SET UP A TASTING SESSION AND FACE-TO-FACE DISCUSSION
If all the above has been checked off, draw up a short list of 6-8 vendors and attend 4-5 tasting sessions with a meeting . Arrive equipped with a list of all the questions you need answering: how will they accommodate those with specific dietary needs, what is their waitstaff-to-table ratio (any less than 1 per table and it is going to be a long, drawn out affair with lots of impatient and dissatisfied guests), how will they excel beyond your expectations? What is their speciality? What catering supplies do they use (e.g. tableware, glassware, linens, china)? How long will it take to serve the meal and clear away?
ASK FOR A TOUR OF THE KITCHEN
If it is the venue that is supplying the catering, ask for a tour of the kitchen. A pristine kitchen means everything is shipshape; cracks, spillages, signs of wear and tear and general sloppiness is a very bad sign and carries a high risk for you and your guests. If the catering company is independent, ensure they do get to check out the facilities and have direct contact with the site manager. If the company is bringing its own mobile kitchen, again ask to see it and also check on the power supply available at the venue.
CHILDREN’S MEALS AND VENDORS’ MEALS
You may have to provide children’s meals and certainly food for the vendors, entertainers etc. Do ensure the caterer knows in advance how many to expect and what you would like to provide. Both meals should be at least half the price of your guest meal. Make sure all staff know who is due a vendor’s/children’s meal and who a guest meal.
ASK TO SEE THE BANQUET EVENT ORDER
This should itemize everything ordered - from the tables to the cutlery to the quantities of food, gluten free ingredients, drink...This way you can check everything is in order and you won’t have any additional expenses or the separate table you asked for the children has been omitted.
ASK ABOUT TAKE-HOME BOXES OR WHAT TO DO ABOUT LEFTOVER FOOD
A lot of catering companies are not able to allow food to leave the premises. You may have arranged your wedding cake or dessert to be part of a wedding favor or gift for your guests. Maybe there is the option, instead of wasting leftovers, for it to be donated to a local soup kitchen?
GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING!
Make sure your contract is waterproof and inclusive of all eventualities and possible costs; it is very unpleasant to have your memory of your wedding blighted by an exorbitant, unexpected bill or to have guests go without food.