You've chosen a date, a beautiful gown, the perfect wedding rings, and have finalized the ceremony and reception decorations. Now comes choosing a competent caterer who will be in charge of creating and serving the menu of your dreams. Start your search for the ideal caterer by talking to everyone you know about their experiences with local catering companies; friends, family, hair dressers, gown shops, your officiant, or the reception hall. Of course, don't forget to take advantage of the many sites on the Web that list catering services (The Knot and the Wedding Channel are both reputable starting points). Take these referrals and cross-check them -- and any others you may have come across yourself -- with the Better Business Bureau just to make sure that everything seems legit and that the companies in question are in good standing. You may also want to consider inquiring at your favorite local restaurants to see if they cater.
!Once you have narrowed down your search to the top caterers that you are interested in, you must meet in person with them to choose one that works with your schedule, budget, and other needs. Always verify first thing that the caterer will be free the date of the wedding. You might also want to know whether the caterer will be working any other weddings on that day or at the specific time of your wedding (more work for them means less time dedicated to you and your services).
Style and Menu
One of the key issues that you need to discuss with the caterer has to do with the style of the reception you want to have.
* Cocktails and horsspellerr d'oeuvres passing can be simple and inexpensive regardless of the formality of it. Teas and dessert receptions are also less expensive.
* Lunches and brunches will cost significantly less than dinners.
* Buffets may or may not be less expensive than a sit-down meal.
* Buffet styles include an informal self-serve style buffet or stations, and a formal served buffet.
* Family style meals will cost less than formally served meals.
* Always warn guests ahead of time in the case that a full meal won't be provided.
* Talk to your potential caterer about the options, pricing, and other issues that might be of concern.
Discuss menu options with the caterer as well as any specialties that the caterer can provide. Maybe you want something traditional or perhaps you'd like more exotic cuisine. Often the caterer will be able to give you a list of food options and menu possibilities. Use that as a starting point, but also ask for tastings, photos of previous weddings catered (to see what the presentation is like), and any of the rental items that you might be interested in (to check the quality of the caterer's china, tablecloths, napkins). Be sure to inquire about the caterer's flexibility in the case that you'll need some special dinners (halal, kosher, vegan, gluten-free) or if you want any special dishes prepared (such as a family recipe). Always verify that the products that the caterer uses are fresh! Lastly, check to see what the caterer's policies are about leftovers. You may want to take things home or donate them to a charity, shelter, or soup kitchen.
On the Menu
* Have waiters pass appetizers instead of having appetizer stations. Not only will people east less so that they can enjoy the main meal, but you can also control portions and costs.
* If appetizers seem to be costing a bundle, cut the number of choices. Usually four is sufficient.
* Instead of filet mignon, lobster, and exotic greens for the main course opt for having these delicacies served as appetizers only and choose a less expensive option for the entree. If you are really short on cash, don't serve delicacies such as caviar, oysters, or shrimp.
* Cut the options. Having chicken, beef, and fish to choose from significantly increases costs.
* Farm-raised fish is cheaper and easier to get.
* Reduce the number of courses from five to three and make them more spectacular than if you had five ordinary courses.
* Choose the courses wisely. How important is it to have both soup and salad if what you really love are sweets?
* Watch the extras! Make sure sauces, dips, and other condiments are included on the bill for buffet-style receptions.
* Stay seasonal and regional. If you are having a wedding on the coast take advantage of fish, but enjoy beef in the Mid West.
* Enjoy foreign cuisine, especially Chinese, which tends to be inexpensive. Italian, Mexican, and Indian also happen to cost less.
* Serve cold dishes versus warm ones. Less hot foods to be prepared and served means less staff is needed since foods can be set out before the guests arrives. The same goes with serving simpler versus more complicated dishes. The less work that the caterer has to do, the less costly the food.
* If you are having an informal wedding, especially one that you are hosting at home, inquire about whether you can provide your own appetizers and if there will be a fee to do so.
* Have a formal sit-down dinner for your closest friends and family, but have an informal reception with drinks and dancing for everyone else.
On the Drinks
Not only can you keep opened bottles if you supply your own alcohol, but you can be picky about what's served and where you buy it from (think buying bulk from a wholesale club, for example). Keeping a limited stock means that you can curtail your costs before they start to soar. Plus, you can hire your own bartender, which will usually cost much less than the one supplied by your caterer. One warning though about BYOB weddings. Some reception halls charge a "corkage fee". Always double check on their rules beforehand.
* Choose a theme: a Mexican wedding and serve only Coronas, tequila, and margaritas; a beach barbecue means buckets of beer and sangria are the options; Italian thoroughfare is strictly kept to wine and after-dinner liquors; or, make the wedding Asian themed and only serve sake.
* Serve the pricey bubbly for the toast only. You can also swap out expensive champagne for prosecco or cava.
* Check out these two articles from USA Brides about stocking your own bar and liquor guidelines.
* Limit the choices and close the bar early (one hour prior to the end of the wedding can save money and give people a chance to sober up a little before driving).
The first issue that you should tackle when talking to a caterer is what services can be provided.
* Does the caterer provide tables, chairs, linens, dinnerware, glassware, silverware, and other items or must you rent them? If you must rent them, does the caterer provide the rental service? If not, can you either provide your own or can the caterer recommend someone with whom he or she has worked with in the past? If the caterer provides these items for you, make sure to get a look at them before settling. You want to make sure that the quality is adequate for the reception style that you're having. If you are not satisfied, don't hesitate to discuss this with the caterer to find alternative solutions.
* Will the caterer set up the dining area? And, how long in advance will the caterer need access to the site in order to do so?
* Will the caterer set up the place settings, including putting out place cards and favors?
* Is the caterer flexible about timing? Will he or she make sure that the food will come out at the appropriate time -- neither too rushed so that the guests feel rushed, nor too slow so that the meal drags? Ask for an estimated time table of how quickly meals can be prepared and cleared.
* What is the size of the wait staff needed for the number of guests you expect? Usually there is one waiter to every eight to ten people.
* Does the catering company have its own staff or does it use outside help (say, from the reception site)? Typically, it's best to hire a catering hall that uses its own staff.
* What types of facilities will the caterer need to carry out the services? Is the reception location you choose suitable? If not, can the caterer bring in cooking apparatuses as needed? Will this cost more to do?
* Does the caterer also provide alcohol and a bartender? May you provide your own alcohol and bartender if desired?
* Can the caterer make a wedding cake? If you want to hire your own cake maker, will there be an additional fee?
This brings us to money and budgeting. It is very important to tell the caterer roughly how many people you expect to have so he or she can give you a ''detailed'' and ''itemized'' estimate of what the services will run you. This includes the cost of the food per person or per item, the service costs for a certain number of hours (whether this includes setup and cleanup as well), the costs for the wait staff, rentals (such as linens, dinnerware, tables, etc.), any miscellaneous fees (corkage, cake cutting, etc.), and gratuity. Never leave an interview without this estimate.
When you finally choose which caterer you wish to hire, you'll need to sign a formal contract which includes the following information:
* Both yours and the caterer's contact information (name, address, phone numbers, etc.).
* The exact date, time, and length of the reception and/or cocktail hour.
* The precise location and how long in advance the caterer will need to arrive at the reception site so that this can be coordinated well in advance.
* An estimated guest count and when the number needs to be finalized.
* How many people will be on the wait staff and how many bartenders will be provided.
* A detailed menu (as close to what you want as possible), the cake specifics, and details about which alcohol will be served.
* The type of service that will be provided (cocktails, buffet, stations, desserts, sit-down meal, etc.).
* Total cost, which should include a detailed listing of the following:
** Costs for the food, beverages, cake, and services. Cost per head if needed, or the pricing details for the services you are requesting.
** Costs for rentals and what is and is not included.
** Extra fees.
** How much the deposit is and when the remaining amount needs to be paid in full.
* A copy of the caterer's license.
* Refund policy in case you cancel and any liability insurance you need in case the caterer is unable to provide the services which were agreed upon come the day of the reception.
* Both yours and the caterer's signatures.
Ask the caterer to give you at least two reference to check with before signing anything. And, if possible, see if you can attend an event which the caterer will be planning to get a better idea of what to expect.