1. Above all, be clear about your budget. Most caterers are happy to work within any budget, but they do need to know what it is! Even low-balling is better than making a caterer run back and forth to rental companies trying to figure out your magic number. That said, if you know the kind of menu you want, don’t be shy about going to two or more caterers to ask for bids.
2. Choose the caterer who feels right to you. He or she should click with your personality and understand your needs. Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut as well as your taste buds.
3. Trust your caterer to do a good job. Caterers get into the business in the first place because they love to throw good parties, and they get most of their business by word of mouth. They want your event to go well as much as you do. Your caterer has also been to more wedding receptions than you’ll see in your lifetime. It’s a good idea to take his or her advice on, for example, whether your venue is better suited to table service or a buffet.
4. Don’t value the table settings over the dining experience. When it’s all over, your guests will remember the quality of the service and the food. If you must cut corners, compromise on linen rentals rather than the menu.
5. Make sure everybody’s role is clear. Is the florist expecting to do the centerpieces for the tables and flowers for the buffet? If you’re having a bar, are you expecting the caterer to provide bartenders and liquor, or are you using another company? Are you using a separate bakery for the cake? If you’re using a wedding planner, what role do you expect him or her to play?
6. It’s all in the timing. Talk to the photographer and get a good estimate for how long the photos after the ceremony may take. Remember that while the wedding party is being photographed, your guests are milling around getting hungry – and your chicken may be getting rubbery if your caterer thought you’d be serving it 45 minutes ago. Make sure your guests have something to snack on, and do some serious thinking about whether you want alcohol to be available during that time.
7. Be aware that most caterers will ask for a down payment of at least 50% up front. Your caterer needs it to buy food and arrange for rentals. Also check in with your caterer about when he or she will expect the balance – it’s not uncommon to ask for it on the night of the event.
8. Talk to your caterer early on about any guests who have special dietary needs. Most caterers will be used to providing vegetarian and kosher options. If you have kids coming to your reception, you may want to think about which non-alcoholic drink options you want to have available. If the kids are drinking sugary, caffeinated sodas all night long, you’re going to have some adorable little time bombs on your hands.
9. Is a family member baking a groom’s cake or whipping up the family punch recipe? Talk to your caterer about your space needs and (again) the timing for bringing everything out.
10. Don’t forget to enjoy your own party! Your caterer wants you to relax and have fun – and that’s the best piece of advice in this whole list.
Special thanks to Nancy Peters, formerly of Landsdowne Catering, and EJ Peters of Esta-Joy's kitchen
Catering & Consulting