10 Questions to Ask Your Caterer
Who, what, where, when and why—and these are only the beginning. Aside from deciding whether to give a big yes to that guy on bended knee, choosing a caterer could be the most important decision you make concerning your wedding—and the most expensive. Indeed, all that food and drink you and your guests consume on your way to being merry will likely eat up close to 50 percent of your wedding budget—so you’d better make sure you pick the right person for the job.
These 10 questions should get you started.
1) Can I have all details concerning payment in writing?
It’s all about the money, honey. You need to know when that money is due, how much and what happens in case your wedding is postponed or even cancelled. Also be sure to ask about any extras. Are tax and gratuity included? How about linens, silverware, tables and chairs? Do they charge a corkage fee if you bring in your own champagne? A cutting fee if you provide the cake? Will they guarantee the price in writing? Get it all in black-and-white.
2) Have you catered a wedding at my venue before?
This is an especially important question if you’re bringing in an outside caterer to a facility that you’ve rented. A caterer who is used to the comforts of his or her own kitchen may not be prepared for the challenges of life on the road. Ask exactly where they will prepare your food. How will they keep it hot? How will they keep it cold? And which dishes lend themselves to this sort of preparation?
3) Do you carry liability insurance?
A nitty-gritty I-don’t-feel-like-dealing-with-this-kind-of-stuff question but one whose answer you should be sure is in the affirmative. You should also ascertain that the liability coverage includes liquor liability.
4) What are some ways that I can cut costs but still have a memorable meal?
Sure, it’d be nice to be able to afford filet mignon and lobster all around but that’s not always realistic—or necessary. There was filet on the menu of a wedding we recently attended but it wasn’t the focus of attention. Instead everyone was commenting on the salad, of all things—a knock-your-socks-off leafy concoction accented with dried cherries, frizzled leeks and an awesome vinaigrette. So there you go: Wow ’em with the little things. Your caterer should be willing to help.
5) Can I have a bite?
You should be able to arrange a tasting so that you can sample the foods you’re considering. This is big money you’re spending and faith only goes so far.
6) Will you be the one overseeing everything on my wedding day?
If not, you need to request a meeting (preferably several) with the person who will be. Don’t make the mistake of trusting that the fine-tuned details you’ve been discussing will be properly passed along. A lot can be lost in translation.
7) How is your waitstaff dressed?
If you’re planning a champagne-wishes-and-caviar-dreams wedding and the waiters are all dressed in polo shirts, this is going to be a problem. On the other hand, tuxedoed waiters will look entirely out of place at a low-key luau. Know where you stand ahead of time and make sure the caterer’s way of doing things is aligned with the tone you want your wedding to take on.
8) How long does it typically take for all courses to be served?
An average reception lasts five hours, one of which is reserved for cocktail hour. If it’s going to take another three hours before the entire meal has been served (and we’ve all been at weddings like this), that means that the party portion of the evening will be over just as everyone is getting started. If you’re a dancing queen, you might want to reconsider whether this is the caterer for you—or opt for dancing in between courses. Either way, it’s a decision you should make ahead of time.
9) What is the guaranteed number of guests you require?
Watch out: The price you’ve been quoted may be for 100 guests and up. If only 80 accept, you’ll be stuck paying for 20 extra meals. Also find out when the caterer needs a final guest count. The closer to the wedding day, the better.
10) Can you provide me with references?
And make sure you follow up by calling them. Even if these former clients had picture-perfect days, there are bound to have been a few glitches. If you ask about them, perhaps you can prevent them from interfering with your day of days.