How to Choose the Right Caterer

Written by    Last updated: February 12, 2012

Choosing the right caterer to manage your wedding food is one of the most important decisions in your wedding planning.

The Stratford Manor Catering Options

Photo courtesy of The Stratford Manor

Food glorious food… the wedding meal is an important part of your wedding day, and something you and your guests will remember. The key is to find the caterer who will create the perfect menu, at the right price for you.

Do I need a caterer?

You need to seriously consider a professional caterer if your guest list exceeds 20. You might not enjoy yourself if you’re running around worrying about dirty dishes and whether or not everyone has had enough to eat. If you look after the catering yourself, hire staff to serve and clear up. It’s money well spent. It’s probably best not to accept invited guests’ offers to help. They are meant to be celebrating with you. Ask friends for recommendations of someone who will suit your needs and your pocket.

What type of catering do I need?

The catering and refreshments will very much depend on the venue and type of reception you’ve decided on. Many venues recommend caterers, or may even insist that you use a particular one. However, for the marquee in the garden local restaurants, bakers, off-licences and even supermarkets will be more than willing to quote.

Once you’ve found your ideal venue, the couple and/or the bride’s parents, should make an appointment with the person in charge to discuss dates, times, the number of guests and the exact prices of things – specifically the cost of the meal, which is usually the biggest expense in the budget.

Your caterer will need to know the date, time of reception, number of guests, level of hospitality you wish to provide and your limit on charges per head to supply you with ideas and quotations. Costs are usually quoted per ‘head’ (guest). Always ask for quotes and confirmation of everything in writing – and file your copies carefully.

It’s important to give yourself enough time to get estimates and compare catering services, facilities and costs if necessary. Remember that caterers tend to get booked up months in advance.

Word of mouth

A personal recommendation, or your own experience of a caterer’s work is always the best guide. If the caterer runs a restaurant or hotel, sample a meal on the premises before making your decision. Many hotels will let you sample their suggested wedding menus, for free or at a reduced price, once you’ve booked with them.

Doing the paperwork

Once you’ve decided on a caterer, it’s time to confirm dates, times and details with a written contract. Include a breakdown of charges for food, drinks, corkage, staff, delivery, travel expenses, equipment hire, service charges, etc. Insurance is also important.

Getting the staff

Avoid having to pay for wasted meals by finalising numbers with the caterers just before the wedding, especially if there are late cancellations.

Bear in mind that, as well as the catering staff, you may also need someone to open the door and take coats, people to look after the coats, a toastmaster to announce guests and run the proceedings, waiters and waitresses to hand round food and drink, and someone to help with any young guests.

Catering checklist

When interviewing caterers you need to ask:

Selection

  • What packages do they offer? What is included? Are the menus flexible? Is there a vegetarian alternative? Can they accommodate special dietary requirements?
  • Can they accommodate children?
  • How soon can you have a menu tasting?
  • What kind of kitchen facilities will they need?
  • Are they able to work creatively within your budget?

Staff and resource

  • Are the serving staff included in the price?
  • What is the ratio of staff to guests?
  • What will the staff wear?
  • Have they catered a wedding at your venue before?
  • How many other bookings do they have for the same day?
  • Will your contact be at the reception to oversee the event?
  • Can they staff a cloakroom? Can they hand out favours? Can they place name cards for seating arrangements?

Equipment and cake

  • Do they provide all necessary china, glassware and utensils?
  • If rental equipment is necessary, who is responsible for its delivery, cleaning and return?
  • When is the final guest count due? Can they accommodate unexpected guests? What is the additional charge?
  • Will they supply the cake stand and knife?
  • Discuss table layout, seating arrangements and the position of the cake table.

Drink

  • What brands of beverages will be served?
  • Can you supply your own alcohol? Is there a corkage fee?
  • Until what time the bar will be open?
  • Will they supply extra bar stock like ice, fresh lemons/limes etc, and refrigeration equipment?
  • Do they have the correct glassware for the beverages you will be serving?

Booking and payment

  • Is a service charge included or are gratuities optional? Is there a charge for breakage?
  • What is the cancellation/postponement policy?
  • How far in advance are bookings required?
  • How much is the deposit to secure the date and when is it due?
  • How soon after the event is the balance due?
  • Is VAT included in the final price?

Find the cake, catering, food and drink for your wedding on Confetti!

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