We love every part of weddings—from the planning to the thank you notes—but why lie? We’re extra excited about the food. Whether it’s a passed hors d’oeuvre or a seated dinner, meal time at a wedding is also a bonding time for your guests and you. So, you want to get the food right.
While many wedding venues require that 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 should be fun. Here’s how to choose your wedding caterer.
First and foremost, decide what eating vibe you want to achieve. In other words, 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.
Sit-down wedding dinners are the most traditional choice. In some cases, 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.
Wedding buffets include a variety of menu items spread out on long self-serve tables or serving stations at 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.
Family-style dining is exactly what it sounds like—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 brings and clears plates, as needed.
Now that you know how you want your food to be served, you need to decide what kind of food you want to serve. We are in the camp that says you should serve the food you want to serve at your wedding. However, there are some considerations to think about.
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.
There are a few different ways to find your ideal caterer. First, ask your wedding venue. They may not require a specific company, but they will likely have plenty of recommendations for you. All the better if it’s a location that’s hosted many weddings. They may even have relationships with catering companies that could end up in a deal for you.
Don’t count out word of mouth either—especially if it’s coming from friends or family. Ask your loved ones about caterers they enjoyed or, if you attended a wedding recently with amazing food, ask the couple who they used.
Of course, the internet is also at your disposal. 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.
These meetings are sort of like first dates. You’re getting to know each other and figuring out if they fit into your vision. Whether this happens over the phone, through email, 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 the caterer has to offer.
Before you meet, gather a bit more info. Make sure you have the following ready ahead of your call or in-person meeting.
To make sure you’re getting the absolute most accurate and helpful information, here are some questions to guide your conversations.
This information will help you align on expectations and get accurate proposals that you can use to compare your top choices. This will also help you avoid spending too much time fielding caterers that simply don’t work with your budget and needs.
Once you narrow your catering choices down to three or four options, we recommend scheduling tastings. The food, after all, will speak for itself.
Policies differ between companies—not all caterers offer free conventional tastings. Some will actually require you to hire the company before you can taste the food. If you can’t set up a free standard 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, simply go eat there. Call ahead to let management know you’re interested in catering—the chef may send a few recommendations or dishes your way. If you really love the experience, consider holding a restaurant wedding reception there.
On the other hand, many caterers offer tastings for a fee. This charge goes towards the ingredients, preparation, and consultation needed. If you’re willing to pay, you can typically discuss which dishes (and how many) you’d like to try. However, if your tasting is included in the catering service, be prepared to pick from a pre-selected menu at first.
You’ve 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. From there, simply bon appétit.