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Bring the flavor! Here’s how to pick a wedding caterer

It’s time to talk food! A lot of venues will refer or provide their own catering, which can make the booking process a lot easier. However, getting to choose your own catering company comes with its own perks too because you actually have the freedom to pick one that best aligns to your values, food preferences and budget.

With any catering option, try to research the company online to see what other couples or guests have said about the quality of their food. Plus, if your catering company runs a restaurant or a bar nearby, grab a bite to eat there to see what the food and service is like. Although the catering menu is certainly different, it can be helpful to know what their food style is like before you do a formal tasting. Some venues with a full restaurant inside may even provide you a meal on the house to help you make a booking decision.

wedding menu at table setting green
Photo Credit: Ariel Perry Photography

What questions to ask a caterer for a wedding? Make a list!

If your caterer is separate from your venue, the first thing you’ll have to do is ensure their availability on your wedding day. Come prepared with questions written down before you meet with a potential catering partner. The more you know, the more informed of a decision you can make. Here’s the main questions you can ask:

  • How many weddings will you cater on my wedding day?
  • Per year, how many weddings do you cater?
  • Have you done catering at my wedding venue before?
  • Do you have liability insurance and health permits?
  • Are you licensed to serve alcohol?
  • Can we provide our own alcohol? If so, do you charge a corkage fee to serve?
  • Are drinks charged per consumption or per person? 
  • Who will be managing the food service staff? Can we meet them ahead of time?
  • How much are children’s meals and vendor meals?
  • Do you have a signature dish or culinary style?
  • Is the menu customizable?
  • Based off of my budget and guest size, what food menu do you recommend?
  • If we bring in food from another vendor like cake or a late-night snack, will you serve it? If so, do you charge a fee to serve?
  • Is there a cake cutting or serving fee? What about a champagne toast fee?
  • Are there dietary or cultural food accommodations?
  • Where is the food made prior to being served?
  • Where do your ingredients come from? Are they sustainably sourced?
  • What do your servers wear?
  • Is there an extra charge for the menu tasting?
  • Do you provide linens and table settings? If so, what types?
Photo Credit: Jessica Strickland Photography

How should you serve the food?

You’ll likely need to determine how you want the food to be served, and this can affect budget. Plated meals require more staffing costs; however, with a buffet option, you’ll have to pay for more food because guests are serving themselves. Either way, you can always offset the price by choosing more affordable proteins like chicken or vegetables. Some venues might let you do family-style sharing, but be sure to check on how the food is warmed or cooled if its stays in the middle of each table. Food trucks are another great option if you’ve got a favorite restaurant and want to create a more casual vibe. 

How should you serve the drinks?

There are actually quite a few ways to you can run the bar at your wedding. Open bar all night long is great for guests, but it’s not your only option. You can also do a limited open bar; meaning beer, wine and usually one type of hard alcohol (perhaps a signature cocktail) are served, with additional drinks available for purchase. This is a great option especially if your wedding guests aren’t big drinkers. 

You can also choose to close the bar at certain points in the evening, like during dinner or the last hour of the night. Maybe the last hour moves to cash bar, or you just make sure everyone knows to pour up before it closes. Pro tip: You can even decide when certain wines or champagnes are served to provide a wonderful variety of drinks. We recommend serving your best champagne during the champagne toast, nice wines during dinner (when waiters are controlling how much is poured) and then budget-friendly options once the full bar is open for business!

cocktails and wine at wedding cocktail hour
Photo Credit: Angelika Johns Photography

How to Save on Catering for a Wedding

Finding affordable catering for a wedding can really cut down costs. Consider looking at a few different catering packages and seeing where you can make changes. Here are some tips:

  1. Opt for a company or venue that lets you bring your own booze, so you can avoid the cost of premiums. Ask around to see if any liquor or grocery stores offer bulk discounts. You’ll also be able to control how much and what types of drinks are served this way too.
  2. If you have to go with your venue’s drink package, ask if you can choose the types of liquor served. There might be another package option with cheaper booze.
  3. Avoid serving expensive dishes like seafood, steak and other high-end foods. 
  4. Serve less passed appetizer options or only do cold appetizers. 
  5. Skip passed apps all together and hand out a simple pre-packaged or local snack instead! Bonus: It doubles as a party favor!
  6. Attend wedding expos to unlock special rates you can’t find online. Many catering companies will give a discount for booking on the spot, but make sure you feel confident in the service and food before you do this!
  7. Opt for a buffet-style food service.
  8. Consider a non-traditional wedding meal. It’s your day; have your favorite foods! If you have the freedom to do so, think about bringing in a restaurant you love to cater a meal instead of doing a three-course meal. Pizza, tacos or fried chicken are all easily catered and easily enjoyed.
  9. Provide your own silverware and table settings. Sometimes the venue or caterer’s default options are more expensive than what you can find on your own. Using a local event rental company can be even more economical. Another option: disposable (and ideally biodegradable) silverware.
  10. Negotiate the terms! Read line-by-line through your catering contract for extra fees. Things like serving cake or champagne can cost more and you might be able to work with your caterer to cut or reduce fees. 

What about the wedding dessert?

Some venues do have an in-house bakery for wedding cakes and will offer you cake at a great price. If you’re a cake fan, go for it! You can also get simpler cakes and decorate them yourself, or go all out on something you love from a local bakery. That said, other kinds of desserts are totally acceptable too. (As is a cheese wheel…just saying.)

Want to do a combination of sweets? You can always get a small cake for cutting — and let’s be real… pictures — and sheet cake or other desserts for everyone else. There a lots of great dessert options out there, like donuts, cookies, mini cupcakes, churros or even an ice cream bar. Some couples even order a dessert food truck to show up part way through the night. Whatever you choose, remember that guests are often preoccupied with dancing and conversing, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself! Are you feeling hungry yet?

wedding desserts cookie bar
Photo Credit: Allison Mish Photography

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