We love every part of weddings—from the planning to the thank you notes—but why lie? We’re especially excited about the food. Whether it’s a passed hors d’oeuvre and appetizers or a seated dinner, meal time at a wedding is a bonding time for you and your guests. So, you want to get the food right on your wedding day.
While many wedding venues require you use a specific catering service, that’s not always the case. And when it isn’t, you’re on your own. But this is food we’re talking about—caterer shopping amidst wedding planning should be fun. That said, here’s how to choose a wedding caterer.
Choosing a Wedding Caterer FAQs
1. What type of meal service do you want?
First and foremost, how do you want your food served? There are a few standard wedding dinner options. Keep your wedding venue, wedding style, and budget top of mind as you choose your service type.
Formal Sit-Down Reception Dinner
Sit-down wedding dinners are the most traditional choice. In some cases, wedding guests choose between a handful of entrée choices and submit their preference ahead of time—usually via a dinner card included in your invitation suite. Once at the reception, a professional waitstaff serves each course.
This structure can help set a schedule for the reception.
Sit-down dinners also provide an opportunity for friends and family to make speeches and toasts.
This dinner style is usually the most cost-effective option. You have a confirmed number of guests, so your caterer can prepare the exact right amount of wedding food.
There are usually limited food options. You and your partner will meet with the caterer ahead of time to choose 3-4 dishes that guests can choose from.
These dinners need more staff—both for serving and preparation. This can increase your catering bill.
If you have assigned tables, but don’t assign seats, it can be challenging to for the staff to make sure everyone receives their selected dish.
Buffet-Style Reception Dinner
Wedding buffets include a variety of menu items spread out on long self-serve tables or serving stations. This setup allows your guests to freely approach the foods of their choosing and can make accommodating special diets much simpler. It also lends a laid-back feeling to your reception with more mingling time.
You need to employ fewer servers which can minimize man-power costs. Each station or table will usually have a staff member behind it to dole out the appropriate portions (and also provide any allergy information).
Buffet-style dinners are ideal for those guests with dietary restrictions. The same goes for people with limited palettes.
Long lines may form. To keep things running smoothly, you may need to work with your caterer to strategize a layout that keeps wait time to a minimum.
Guests serve themselves and carry their own food from station to table. After a few drinks at cocktail hour, this might prove less graceful than you hoped.
Buffets require a lot of food. If you don’t have servers at every station, guests are left to their own devices and certain favorite dishes may go faster than others. You’ll need to account for popular choices to avoid disappointing guests at the end of the line.
Family-Style Reception Dinner
Picture eating dinner with your family. Large serving platters of food are brought to the table to be passed around. Guests serve themselves and waitstaff bring and clear plates, as needed.
Guests can fill their plates and eat as much as they prefer.
You need less staff, as dishes are usually brought out en masse to all tables in one swoop.
Guests are seated and serving themselves. They can mingle and you, the couple, can relax and enjoy your meal.
Consider the size of your centerpieces. Family-style dining requires a lot of room.
This style can get expensive. Your caterer will have to increase food quantities to make sure nothing runs out.
Photo Credit // Carley K Photography
2. What kind of food do you want to serve?
Now that you know how you want your food to be served, you need to decide what type of food you want to serve. We are in the camp that says you should serve the food you want to have at your wedding. However, there are some considerations to think about.
Your guests. You and your partner won’t be the only ones eating, so it’s thoughtful to consider your guests. Be mindful of general food preferences.
Your dinner style. Most food types fit with a variety of dining styles. However, it’s smart to think about who will be serving the food—staff or your guests. If you’re having an Italian feast, for example, self-serve stations may be a recipe for sauce-stained disasters.
Your theme or the season. If there’s a common thread running through the majority of your wedding—whether it be theme or seasonality—incorporate that into your food options. You want flavorful dishes that also complement your celebration.
These considerations should help you narrow down the search for your perfect catering company. Now you can seek out those caterers who specialize in the food and serving style you prefer.
3. How do I find my wedding caterer?
There are a few different ways to find your ideal caterer.
Yourwedding venue. They may not require a specific company, but they will likely have plenty of recommendations for you. They may even have relationships with catering companies that could end up in a deal for you. The same can be said for wedding planners.
Word of mouth. Ask your loved ones about caterers they enjoyed or, if you attended a wedding recently with amazing food, ask the couple who they used.
The internet. A few keywords—eg. location, service type, food genre—can connect you with plenty of reputable wedding caterers.
Whichever route you take, read recent reviews or talk to people who have used each service. Some insider intel will help you skip out on any unnecessary meetings.
Photo Credit // Andy & Carrie Photography
4 Tips for Choosing your Wedding Caterer
1. Meeting With Wedding Caterers
Here, you’re getting to know each other and figuring out if they fit into your vision. Whether this happens over video call or in person, it’s the representative’s chance to get as much information as they can to prepare a proposal. It’s also your chance to see all they have to offer.
Before you meet, gather a bit more info. Make sure you have the following prepared:
Are you licensed? Do you have liquor liability insurance?
What ‘s included in your fees? (Check for: tax, gratuities, service fees, and cake cutting fees.)
Do you offer food tastings before being hired? How do they take place and what do they cost?
3. Wedding Caterer Tastings
Once you’ve narrowed your catering choices down to two to three options, we recommend scheduling tastings. The food, after all, will speak for itself.
Not all caterers offer free conventional tastings. Some will require you to hire the company before you can taste the food. If you can’t set up a free tasting with your caterer options, there are a few ways around this. Check to see if the company takes part in expos or similar events. You’ll be paying an attendance fee, but trust us, it’s worth it. If the caterer has a restaurant, eat there. Call ahead to let management know you’re interested in catering for a wedding—the chef may send a few recommendations or dishes your way. If you really love the experience, consider holding a restaurant wedding reception there.
Otherwise, many caterers offer tastings for a fee. This goes towards ingredients, preparation, and consultation. If you’re willing to pay, you can typically discuss which dishes you’d like to try. However, if your tasting is included in the catering service, be prepared to pick from a pre-selected menu.
4. Sign on the dotted line.
You’ve memorized some wedding catering tips, decided on your caterer, gone through tastings, crafted a menu, and outlined all of the fees and services. Now you’re ready to sign a contract! Be aware of any deadlines to adjust or change menu items and your guest count. From there, bon appétit to your big day.
Find Your Perfect Match on Zola
By hiring vendors you adore, you can guarantee a wedding day filled with spirited dancing, sensational food, enchanting florals, and of course, love.
For help finding wedding caterers and other vendors in your area, use Zola’s free vendor search tool. With Zola, you can narrow down vendors based on your wedding location, style, budget, schedule, and needs. Plus, all of Zola’s vendors are pre-screened to make finding your perfect match as stress-free as possible.
For the best wedding vendors, expert advice, and all your wedding day needs, choose Zola.