~ CHECK WITH YOUR VENUE. There are two styles of wedding venues: All-inclusive ones with on-site caterers, and those that allow for outside vendors to handle the food. If you have your heart set on a specific independent caterer and a banquet hall that doesn't allow outside food, you've got a problem. Of course, some venues will allow couples to "buy out" the on-site catering and bring in their choice of food. If you decide to bring in an independent caterer, be sure to do your research about the venue's electrical and technological capabilities. If you have your heart set on perfectly seared steaks for 200 guests, but your venue only has one small induction burner, well, keep dreaming. The caterer will also do their own research about the space, but it's up to you to get the ball rolling.
~ FIRST IMPRESSIONS DO MATTER. You can be a good writer, and create a beautiful pamphlet describing great food, but it takes a lot more to actually cook it. What should really seal the deal is an initial meeting with the caterer. Plan on an initial 15 to 20-minute call with a potential caterer. Why is this important? It isn't until you get face (or phone) time with the caterer that you can really know what he or she is all about, and vice-versa. If your caterer doesn't offer food at the meeting, take note. This is the first opportunity for them to express their style to you, and they should make the extra effort to offer something to nibble on to break the ice. Don't allow yourself to be wooed by glossy brochures and an attractive website. What matters is how you feel when you actually speak to the caterer and eat their food!
~ BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR BUDGET. To avoid heartbreak, create and understand your budget before starting conversations with a caterer. They'll be honest with you and help you discern what's doable and what's beyond the realm of possibility. You want a caterer that's not afraid to say no. If a caterer promises the impossible for cheap, it's either going to end up a disaster…or you'll receive an unpleasant surprise when the bill arrives.
~ DISCUSS DIETARY RESTRICTIONS FROM THE START. If you have special dietary needs or restrictions, the time to let your caterer know is as soon as possible. The sooner he or she knows, the more gracefully the catering team can work around it. It can help them create a menu that's a nice reflection of you and your sweetie's personal style. However, this is not an excuse to push your beliefs or restrictions on the rest of your family and friends. The caterer's responsibility is to please the wedding couple and all of their guests. Skilled caterers will work to make the food reflective of the couples' tastes and style, while ensuring it's also widely acceptable.
~ TASTE TEST. Many caterers won't conduct a formal tasting until they've been booked and the contract is signed—this is less a chance for them to woo you than it is for you both to create the menu of your dreams. Don't be shocked if your caterer charges for the tasting. Conducting a full-scale tasting without cutting corners is one of the most important parts of the process, so both the customer and the caterer should take it seriously. Also we'd recommend conducting the tasting in or as close to the season in which the wedding will take place so you will have a good idea of the seasonal fruits or vegetables your caterer will be using.
~ DON'T SETTLE UNTIL YOU FIND THE RIGHT CATERER FOR YOU. You waited for years to find your spouse-to-be, so don't settle on the first caterer you meet (unless it's love at first sight). Sure, any caterer worth their salt will do their best to pitch you, but it should never feel forced. Although you won't be spending the rest of your life with the caterer, you will be working closely with them for months. Make sure that he or she is someone you want at your side through the good times and the bad.
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Hiring a caterer can be one of the most daunting tasks when planning a wedding. After all, people ALWAYS remember the food!