Michael Evans, owner of Helga's Caterers, offers some of the best planning advice for wedding receptions. He is a regular Guest Writer for both our blog and planning guide. Read on to learn what questions you should ask your caterer ...
Food and catering typically comprise one of the largest portions of a wedding budget. When it comes to finding a caterer for your reception, as with all wedding vendors, it is important to make sure that the company is a good match for you and the type of event you are hosting.
Whether it's a local vendor who provides cuisine specific to your wedding theme (think Hawaiian luau or backyard wedding barbecue) or a full-service caterer equipped to help make your day seamless, asking the following questions can help to ensure your wedding food and reception will be unforgettable for you and your guests:
1. Do you specialize in a certain type of food or serving style? Whether you’re looking for a certain serving style, or a specific cuisine to coordinate with your wedding theme, it’s important to find out how your caterer typically handles receptions. Now would also be a great time to ask if the menu proposals they provide are set or if there’s the option for customization.
2. Can you make a family favorite recipe for our reception? Have your heart set on serving Grandma’s famous dish at your wedding? Some caterers are willing and able to recreate the dish on a large scale for all of your wedding guests if you provide them with the recipe.
3. How are you able to accommodate for food allergies and/or religious preferences? If you (or your guests) have food allergies, are vegetarian or have specific religious food preferences, be sure to check with the caterer to see how they can meet your specific menu needs.
4. Have you previously worked at our wedding venue? Many venues provide a list of preferred or exclusive caterers to choose from due to their familiarity with the location and its amenities. However, other locations may not have any restrictions, which can allow you to bring in whichever caterer you choose. Just make sure they have at least done a walk-through at the site to know how the kitchen is set up, where their staging area will be, and how the reception will be laid out, so there are no questions on the big day.
Alternatively, if you’re still on the hunt for the perfect wedding venue, your caterer may be able to point you in the direction of a location they have previously worked that can accommodate your guest list and wedding theme.
5. Are you licensed and insured in the state of ___? Some venues will require proof of insurance for outside vendors and/or a liquor license if there is going to be a bar. You will want to make note of this early and discuss this requirement with your caterer prior to booking.
6. Will someone be there to oversee the event? On the day of the wedding it will be important that someone experienced is there to coordinate the event from set up to break down to ensure that everything runs as planned.
7. Can you break down the anticipated costs of our reception? Though this question may be obvious, it’s a big one. It is crucial to determine what is included in the cost per person, any staffing and/or set up expenses, and whether or not equipment rentals are included. When discussing rentals, be sure to inquire about color options for linens and place settings to customize your event and match your color scheme.
8. What are your payment policies for deposits, cancellations, overtime, and gratuity? Figuring out the company’s payment methods and policies will help to make sure you’re both on the same page when it comes to securing your wedding date, as well as the financial expectations on or before the big day.
9. Do you provide any additional services to help coordinate on the day of the wedding? Catering companies vary greatly in terms of their additional services. Some are associated with restaurants and/or specific cuisines and provide food service only. Others may act as full-service caterers who provide optional services such as event coordination and/or design, as well as assist with finding and booking other vendors, such as florists, DJ’s or bands, and novelty vendors such as photo booths or chocolate fountains.
10. Can we provide our own alcohol? Is there a corking fee? While everyone wants to have the perfect wedding reception with great food and drink, it is also normal to be budget conscious. If your venue and/or caterer allow you to provide your own alcohol, stocking your own bar can be a great cost-saving solution. Just make sure to ask about any fees that may drive up the cost.
11. Is the wedding cake included in our package? Can we provide our own? Is there a cake cutting fee? Some catering companies provide beautiful and delicious wedding cakes that are perfect for couples who appreciate a good “one-stop shop.” Or you may have a specific baker in mind, so be sure to address this early in the planning. If you are providing your own cake, ask about a cake cutting fee, so there are no last minute surprises.
12. What is the usual ratio of staff to guests? The answer to this question will likely vary among caterers as staffing depends on the size of the event, serving style, menu demands, and equipment needs. However, by asking up front you'll have an idea of what to expect and understand how the caterer works to ensure a smooth dining experience for all of your guests.
13. Is it possible to set up a tasting? Most catering companies provide some sort of tasting experience for their clients either prior to booking or before the event to finalize your menu choices. When arranging your tasting session, inquire how many food options will be available, if there are any associated costs, and how many guests can participate.
14. When do you need a final head count? This will help you to determine when you need your RSVP’s so you have time to contact any stragglers, and submit your final numbers to the caterer in time for preparation for your event.
15. What happens to the leftovers? Unfortunately many couples do not get the opportunity to enjoy as much of the delicious food they planned with their caterer because they’re so busy mingling with their guests. Having the catering team package any leftovers for you and your new spouse is a great way to make sure you get to have your cake and eat it too!
As always, great advice Michael! Are you looking for a caterer for your wedding reception, rehearsal dinner or guest departure brunch? Helga's Caterers provides full-service catering and wedding planning services with creative solutions for every budget. To schedule your consultation, call 703.556.0780 or email Michael.