When you’re choosing wedding vendors, you want to gather all the information you need to make an informed decision and choose the best vendor for your cocktail hour, reception, and any other wedding-related events—and that means asking the right questions.
But when it comes to hiring a wedding caterer, what, exactly, are the “right” questions?
Let’s take a look at what to ask a wedding caterer to ensure you get all your catering needs met for your big day:
The very first question you want to ask when interviewing caterers is if they are available on your wedding day. The last thing you want to do is go through the entire interview process and feel like you’ve found the perfect caterer, only to find out that they’re not actually free to cater your wedding.
Not all caterers are created equal—and just because a caterer can come up with a to-die-for menu or throw a killer dinner party doesn’t mean they’re the right person to cater your wedding. Catering a large-scale event like a wedding requires a very specific set of skills, talent, and experience. When you’re interviewing a potential caterer, ask about their background catering for weddings specifically—and make sure you hire someone who has an extensive resume.
If you have an idea of what kind of food you want to serve at your wedding, plan to ask your caterer what type of food or cuisine, if any, they specialize in. While most caterers are versatile and will work with you on a menu that suits your needs, if you have something extremely specific in mind, you want to make sure that dish or food genre is in their wheelhouse.
If you’ve already chosen a wedding venue, ask your caterer if they’ve ever done a wedding there. If your caterer has experience working events at your venue, there will be fewer surprises on their end, which can translate to a smoother experience on your end.
Some caterers book multiple weddings or events per day (for example, they might cater a wedding brunch and then cater another wedding in the evening). Depending on their staff size and the size of the weddings, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a deal breaker, but if your caterer is going to be working multiple events on your wedding day, that’s definitely something you want to know in advance.
Every caterer structures their wedding packages differently. For example, some caterers might include appetizers, a full bar, and dessert as part of their standard package, while others might only include dinner service. Make sure to ask your catering company for the specific details of their wedding catering package—and if there’s something you know you want for your wedding that isn’t included in their standard package (for example, tea and coffee service), make sure to ask how much it costs to add it on.
Again, every catering company offers different services. Some will set up serving stations, serve their food, and then clean everything up at the end of the event, while others focus on providing the food, and leave it up to the venue to set up, serve, and break down. Make sure you get clarity on which umbrella your caterer falls under (and if they strictly provide the food, make sure to follow up with your venue to see if they offer setup, serving, and breakdown services).
You want to get an idea of what your caterer can deliver within your wedding budget, so ask them to walk you through a sample menu that aligns with how much you’ve set aside for food and beverage.
Some caterers run their business as a one-person show, while others show up with wait staff, bartenders, and a cleaning crew. Make sure to ask what staff your caterer can/will provide for day-of support at your wedding—and how much each of those staff members will increase your budget.
Most caterers have a uniform or dress code to ensure they blend in at your wedding, but it’s worth asking what the uniform or dress code actually entails. This way, there won’t be any attire surprises on your big day.
Obviously, you want a caterer who can create amazing dishes for your wedding, but you also want a caterer who can display those dishes in a beautiful way. Ask your caterer to see photos of their previous wedding displays, so you can get an idea of how they’ll plate, arrange, and display food on your big day.
In addition to food service, some—but not all—caterers also offer bar service. Ask your caterer if they offer bar services and, if so, what that includes. For example, what does their full bar service entail? Do they provide bartenders? Can you buy your own alcohol for the reception, or will they purchase it for you?
Many couples opt to get their wedding cake (or other wedding desserts) from a bakery. But if you want your caterer to handle all things food for your wedding, ask if they have dessert options—and, if so, what those options are and how much they cost.
In addition to catering services, some caterers offer wedding rentals (like linens, place settings, or wine glasses). If you’re interested in renting items from your caterer, ask them if they offer rentals—and if they do, ask them what types of rentals they have available and how those rentals will impact your total costs.
You want to make sure your caterer has any and all licenses (for example, liability insurance or a license to serve liquor) they’ll need to legally work at your event. Confirm with your venue what licenses your caterer will need—and then ask your caterer for copies to review.
Some caterers coordinate menu tastings, so you can taste their food before you make a decision. Other wedding caterers won’t move forward with a menu tasting until you’ve signed a contract and hired them for your wedding. Make sure to ask your caterer for their policy on menu tastings and when you’ll be able to schedule a tasting.
You may have meals that fall outside of your standard per person pricing—like special meals for guests with dietary restrictions (gluten-free or vegan options, for example), vendor meals, or children’s meals. Ask your caterer how much they charge for each of these meals.
At some point during the wedding planning process, you’ll need to finalize your menu with your caterer—and, at another point, you’ll need to finalize the number of guests you’ll be having at your wedding. Make sure to ask your caterer when you’ll need to finalize your menu and wedding headcount, how much notice they’ll need, and what happens if your headcount changes (for example, if someone RSVPs at the last minute).
You want to be crystal clear on when—and how—you have to pay your wedding caterer. Make sure to ask about their payment policy, what forms of payment they accept, and what their payment schedule is for weddings. (For example, do they require a 50 percent deposit when you sign the contract—and can you use a credit card to pay that deposit, or just cash?)
Once you’ve agreed to work with a catering service, the last thing you want is to be slapped with a bill full of unexpected charges. Before you sign a contract, ask your caterer if there are any additional fees or charges that you haven’t reviewed together—and if so, what (and how much) they’ll be.
Even if a catering service sounds perfect, you should always ask to speak to references. Talking with couples who used the caterer for their wedding can give you insights into what it will be like to work with them—and can help you avoid hiring the wrong caterer.