How to Choose a Wedding Caterer (Updated for 2020)
How to Choose a Wedding Caterer
Your wedding reception is a major part of your wedding. It’s the “social” part of the day, and your guests will be looking forward to the food, alcohol, and dancing. That is why choosing the right wedding caterer is so important. There are two things your guests will remember: the quality of the food and the service. You want both to be impeccable at a catering price that fits your budget.
A good and experienced wedding caterers can ensure that everyone has the best possible time at your wedding reception. And you want to get the most for your money. When you find a wedding caterer with whom you “click,” the event is bound to be a huge success.
When hiring your wedding caterer, channel your inner Trump and negotiate yourself the best possible deal. Remember that you are doing the hiring and you are the boss.
For ideas how to plan the perfect wedding reception, check out these wedding food ideas.
Here are some of the things to look for in a wedding catering service that can assure a successful event.
Wedding Venue Package Deal
If your wedding venue provides a caterer in its wedding package deal, you have less room for negotiation. Nevertheless, you still have some bargaining power. Remember, there is always room to negotiate.
While your wedding reception may be a package deal, it never hurts to ask for a discount if you pay in cash. Cash is beloved by all, and your wedding venue might be open to providing a nice discount or some valuable “extras.”
Politely ask the wedding venue caterer what extras might be included in the deal. Can he or she provide a signature cocktail? Extra hors d'oeuvres? Negotiate with the attitude, “It never hurts to ask.”
If your wedding venue does not include catering, you will have more choices. However, don’t hesitate to ask the wedding venue for catering recommendations. You can take comfort in knowing that a wedding venue has dealt with certain wedding vendors in the past and have been satisfied with the level of service.
Don’t even consider interviewing a wedding caterer before you have your budget and guest list in place. This will allow your candidates to offer you a number of per-plate options within your price range. You should also know the type of wedding catering you need. Seated versus buffet will affect the price of the meal.
If you are unsure, the caterer can provide options for both. Discuss your dream wedding and see what suggestions he or she is able to make. A good wedding caterer will know how to best turn your random thoughts into a dream event.
Shop and Compare
Every wedding caterer will promise the best food. While you will be judging the food at a tasting before making a final hire, there are other things to look for in a catering company. Regardless of how well-recommended the wedding caterer, or how beautiful their website, you should interview at least three to four candidates. Be very sure to compare specifics.
The easiest way to start your research is, of course, online. Start by scrolling through the list of top local wedding caterers:
As you scroll through the list, look at the information about each wedding catering company - specifically seek out past experience, examples of weddings catered to in the past and photographs of past events. Read through the details to determine what each potential wedding caterer has to offer you specifically
There are several important pieces of information you need to look for online when narrowing down your list of wedding catering candidates to contact:
How experienced is this particular wedding caterer? How long have they been in business? Do they have a specialty? If you have your heart set on a barbeque, and a particular wedding caterer is well-known for its French cuisine, the quality of the food really won’t matter. This wedding caterer probably won’t be able to fulfill your vision. You can get a sense of all of this even before you contact him or her. Many wedding caterers have an “About me” or an FAQ section as part of their online profiles. For example, compare individual profiles of these local wedding caterers and see what they have to offer.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. You can tell a lot by reviewing the photos from past weddings that the caterer has uploaded. Click through the photographs to see the catering staff wearing their uniforms. You want well-groomed professionals servicing your reception. When you do contact the catering company and meet the staff later, ask about their experience and how long they have been employed by the wedding caterer.
How much staff will be involved? The number of bartenders and wait staff can make a huge difference between smooth service and guests having to wait 15 to 20 minutes for a drink or their food.
Communication is Everything
Once you have identified a list of candidates, the next step is to contact them for a specific quote. For comparison purposes, you should get a large number of quotes. This helps to both compare prices for your specific wedding AND helps you negotiate the price down during the next step in the process. Those wedding caterers who are within your price range can then reply with more information.
Click the link above, fill in the information, including your wedding date and budget in the form presented – the automated quote request will go out to all the local wedding caterers in your area. Those who are interested and available will then bid against others and send you a quote. The best part is that your own contact information is kept confidential and you won’t be annoyed by solicitation calls later. After all, you will want to compare quite a few options (in terms of pricing, catering services, availability, etc.) and you don’t want the wedding caterers you do not choose to continue following up with you via phone.
After you receive multiple quotes from local catering companies, save these and bring these quotes with you when you are ready to meet some of the caterers in-person to help negotiate the price down.
Take note of how each catering candidate responds to your requests and messages. If they do not return your messages promptly, how much of a priority are you to them?
A good wedding caterer is focused on you. He or she should listen carefully to your ideas. Then he or she should ask the right questions to get a full understanding of the big picture and the type of wedding you have in mind. If the caterer is too busy expounded his or her vision for your wedding reception, this wedding caterer has less interest in what you want than in getting a job.
Taste the Food Before You Sign a Contract
Not all wedding catering companies provide food tasting prior to having a signed contract. The question is, how can you sign a contract before you’ve tasted what they are offering? Pretty pictures aren’t enough.
If you really love a particular catering company and their menu, all hope may not be lost. Wedding caterers frequently serve samples at bridal expos or hold regular dinners to entice prospective customers. Get your caterer’s event schedule and attend one or two of their events. It will be worth the cost of admission.
If the company doesn’t host events and you still love the menu, sign a contract BUT insist on a clause that allows you to cancel if the tasting doesn’t live up to your expectations. If the wedding caterer still won’t agree to your terms, it might be best to move on to the next candidate.
Another clause you should carefully negotiate is a cancellation clause. It’s not about you and your fiancé breaking up, it that life can throw you a curve and force you to postpone the initial date. Unless you get a guarantee of at least a 50 percent refund if you cancel within 30 days of the wedding, perhaps you should consider not signing the contract. However, in such an event, you probably will forfeit your deposit.
Understand the Cost Per Person
Price will be one of the most important elements of your discussion with a wedding caterer. Caterers usually talk in terms of “cost per person.” However, it isn’t always clear what is and is not included in the stated price. Ask the right questions to get everything spelled out. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised at the final bill.
What you need to clarify:
- Is gratuity included in the number given?
- Is there a charge for having the appetizers passed around?
- Is there an added charge for cake cutting and corking per bottle?
- How do they handle unexpected and extra guests?
- What are the charges for set-up and clean-up?
- Is soda, coffee and tea included in the per person price?
While price is an important factor, it doesn’t have to be your final determinant when selecting a wedding caterer. There are ways of reducing the cost of a meal. If you like the caterer but can’t deal with the $80.00 per plate for a steak pricetag, discuss doing gourmet hamburgers instead. Guests will notice presentation and service more than the specific type of food being served.
Before making your final decision, ask the final two contenders for at least three references. When calling the references, be sure to ask what the wedding caterer could have done differently to improve the event.
Also, ask for one reference where the wedding caterer encountered unexpected problems. Ask the caterer and the reference how the problem was solved (You may not get the same answers from both parties).
The Art of the Deal
Negotiate like a boss. Once you have all the information you need, narrow your selection to the final two. Why? Because you’re a boss, and if you don’t like a particular deal, you want to be able to walk away with a smile. You will be able to negotiate more confidently when you know you have another option in the background.
Remember, no price is set in stone. Start with a low number, which the wedding caterer will raise, until you compromise on a final price. Never, ever, accept the initial price set by the caterer. If they want your business, they will be flexible as long as you remain reasonable.
A caterer can add so much to your dream wedding, you want to make sure you hire the right person for the job. You will be glad you made the effort.