Questions to Ask a Wedding Caterer

After finding our wedding venue, the next thorn to enter our sides was the finding-excellent-food-for-the-reception thorn.

Thankfully Falkirk Cultural Center offers BYO catering (this was one of the reasons we chose Falkirk). Falkirk gave a list of recommended caterers and Brandon and I contacted every single caterer. The caterers were either

a. booked on our wedding date or

b. too expensive

Basically, as soon as you say wedding, businesses see dollar signs. I even went so far as to contact a catering business and requested a quote for a basic party. I listed all of the items I would need, the type of food I wanted, and the number of guests attending the party. The quote sent to me was pretty reasonable. I then requested another quote from the same company (with the same specifications as the party), but then listed the event as a wedding. The price ballooned by thousands of dollars.

Brandon and I both want a reception that includes family style dining. Nearly every wedding I’ve been to uses round tables for the reception, and while that’s wonderful we don’t like round tables. We both knew off the top of our heads that round tables were not an option for us. We like the idea of having several long tables connected together to form one long table with our guests being able to sit anywhere they would like (more on that later).

I’m not particularly fond of buffet style dining (although served buffet is better than self served buffet); after watching a couple of people (in my life time) cough and sneeze over buffet food (one dude even dropped the spoon on the floor and then placed it BACK into the rice pilaf), my disdain for buffet style dining has remained on my list of do nots.

We learned that in the catering world buffet=cheapest, plated=most expensive, and family style=somewhere in the middle. However, some caterers argue that family style is the most expensive due the amount of food that must be cooked and the number of servers required to make sure all serving dishes are filled at all times.

Other things we learned? Full service caterers (supplying linens, flatware, plates, drinking glasses) are difficult to find and the ones that do offer full service catering want your first born child in addition to gobs of money.

Brandon created a Google doc spreadsheet for our wedding budget and the list of questions we asked our vendors. This list proved to be most helpful because it not only kept us sane, it guided us when we came face to face with talking to vendors in person. Most people have remarked that we have been super prepared for our meet and greets and that’s how it should be. If you’re not prepared people will run all over you and you’ll leave not knowing what questions you asked/did not ask and you might fall into a vendor’s take-them-for-all-their-money trap. As Brandon asked the questions I would write down the response and check off the question.

(Some) Questions We Asked:

1. Where is the food prepared? Our venue has a warming kitchen. The food from the caterer can only be warmed in the kitchen and small items can be prepared there. Some caterers need a large industrial kitchen.

2. Who prepares the food? Oddly enough, many of the people who have their name attached to their catering business Simple Jack’s Catering are not actually preparing the food. When we asked this questions a couple of caterers admitted that they didn’t prepare the food, but someone else would prepare the food for the wedding.

3. How many weddings/events do you cater on a given day? If you’re going to spend $$ on catering you want to make sure that your caterer is tending to your needs. One of the caterers we spoke to stated that they could have 2-5 events on any given Saturday. That didn’t sit well with me because I thought it opened the door for carelessness and mishaps. I understand that many businesses have been operating “their way” for years, but the less room for mistakes makes me a little happier.

4. If the food is prepared off site (away from the actual wedding venue), how do you make sure the food stays warm and fresh? Brandon and I have yet to have a decent wedding meal and we assumed that delicious, affordable, and wedding food couldn’t even be placed in the same sentence! Some caterers cook food hours in advance, heat it up as soon as the ceremony is over, and then serve sub-par food to wedding guests. I’m not a fan of over/undercooked anything. Brandon also found out that some caterers cook everything the night before and then transport it to the wedding the following day. One caterer said they would cook meat until it was almost done and then cook it a little bit more in the warming kitchen. Um. No. When people drive 4+ miles to attend a 30 minute ceremony the LAST thing I want is bland, dry, sorrowful wedding food.

5. Does your staff help with setup and break down of tables and chairs for items not provided by your business? If so, is there an additional fee?

6. Do you have an upĀ  to date business license and liability insurance? I talked to three caterers who did not have a business license and one caterer that did not have liability insurance.

7. Who will be supervising and troubleshooting the day of the wedding?

8. What will members of your staff wear?

9. What happens with the extra food? This was a concern for us because we are opting for family style dining; this means that we will most likely have extra food. If there is extra food I want our guests to be able to box it up and take it home. One caterer said that all extra food was thrown away. Yeah. Money. Thrown away. NO!

Brandon and I attended three tastings and we finally secured found our wedding caterer!

Check back later in the week for info about the fabulous caterer we selected.

How did you select your caterer? What was the best food you’ve ever had at a wedding?


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