Catering
Article thanks to Kaitlin Jones Bride Online Columnist

How to: Choosing Your Wedding Caterer

Whether you have expensive palate or favour the flavour of fried foods, a catered wedding is a great way to explore a variety of delicious tastes and share them with your closest friends and family.

(Courtesy culinariafoodandwine.com)

What Do YOU Want To Eat?

With a wide variety of brides and grooms comes an even grander spread of catering options.  The first step in finding the right caterer for your reception is to sit down with your fiancé and talk about your favorite flavours.  Start by listing your favourite entrees, then favourite appetizers, side dishes, and desserts.  Then, take a look at your list through the eyes of a nutritionist – what foods groups are lacking or missing altogether?

What Kind of Wedding Have You Envisioned? 

Taking a hint from the style of wedding you’re having can make all the difference.  You wouldn’t see eating barbecue off of fine china and drinking beers out of crystal champagne flutes, but, if that’s your thing, go for it!  The same descriptors you are using for your wedding – elegant, bohemian, chic, rustic – will help you in selecting dishes for your reception, and create a cohesive feel for your entire wedding day.

Preliminary Planning

Once you have your list of favorites, and some extra options, you’ll want to start looking at local caterers.  To help your search run smoothly, get these quick decisions and concerns out of the way, to make room for tantalizing tastings and custom post-matrimony menus.

Food Location

  • Catering and reception venues go hand in hand.  We recommended that if you haven’t chosen your reception venue yet, you should have your top 3 or 4 in mind when looking at caterers.  This way, you’ll be able to grasp location, and set-up while searching for the best food options.
  • Another reason to have a few venues dreamt up, is to understand what kind of catering you will need.  Most banquets halls and event spaces that traditionally host wedding receptions have their own caterers, some may not allow outside caterers, while others will charge you a fee to bring in another company.  
  • View your venue’s catering options first if you have an outside group in mind, and remember to check on fees, set-up and break-down, and whether tables, chairs, linens, and dinnerware are included.

Guest Count and Food Allergies

  • After you’ve set your flavors or your “genre” of food, gather up your guest list and get a rough count of how many people will be attending.  Take into account any guests’ dietary preferences or food allergies. 
  • Common choices include beef, chicken, fish, vegetarian, vegan, and dairy, gluten and/or nut free.  
  • Most catering services will have options or substitutes available to make a custom menu for your special day, but laying these cards on the table in the beginning is a simple way to save stress.

Budget:

  • The time of day that you hold your reception can have a great impact on the amount of money you will spend on guests’ food and drink. 
  • The list of reception options below is in order from least to most expensive menus, and you will note that this list also runs chronologically from morning until night.  
    • Breakfast or Brunch
    • Lunch
    • Afternoon Tea
    • Champagne and Cake
    • Cocktail Reception
    • Dinner
  • Alcohol and seating are key factors in calculating catering costs.
  • Buffets are, more often than not, much less expensive than plated dinners.

Referrals and Licensing

  • The simplest way to being any search for quality products or expert services is to ask friends and relatives for their recommendations, and the same goes for catering.  Wedding reception venues also tend to have preferred catering options, so don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Making sure your catering company is up to code is not only a right, but a necessity.  If you’re having a backyard reception, checking zoning laws and liquor licensing rules may not be the most fun you’ll have planning you wedding, but come time to choose a caterer or bartender, it is vital to have that information under your belt.
  • Ask to see your caterer’s licenses, and make sure they are up-to-date.  The last thing you’ll want on your divine day is ill-prepared dishes from an unprofessional company.

Alcohol

  • When looking into caterers, it may be easy to forget about what your guests will be drinking.  Catering is often included in traditional wedding reception venues, and with catering may come bartending.  Some banquet halls may even require a certain bartending budget within the rental contract. 
  • If using an outside caterer, consider your options for bartending, and discuss how many bartenders (if any) will be working, for how many hours, and at what cost to you.
  • Bar options include:
    • All-night open bar
    • Open bar for cocktail hour only
    • Open bar for signature drinks only
    • Open bar for beer/wine only
    • Open bar until budget is matched
    • Cash bar only
    • Bring Your Own Beverages (with corking fees)

Trends in Catering

Go Local or Go Global

  • What is your regions’ specialty food or dish?  What’s your favorite takeout?  Take signature dishes that include local fare or splurge on a variety of exotic flavors from overseas to make your taste buds tingle.

Go Green or Go Healthy

  • Nobody ever said that you need to have huge containers of carb-loaded lasagna at your wedding.  Many couples are utilizing cage-free meats, organic fruits and vegetables, and other health-and-environmentally conscious treats for their catered dishes.

Family Style

  • Encourage your guests to become like family as they pass large portions of your favorite entrees and side dishes around or down the table.

Snacks and Finger Sandwiches

  • This option inspires couples to go miniature-sized with foods you would crave anywhere but at weddings.  Mini chocolate milkshakes, mini cheeseburger sliders, tiny pies, and french fries!

Honeymoon-Inspired

  • Similar to the “Go Global” option, some couples choose to shape their catering menus to reflect where they will be traveling on their honeymoon.  Taking a tropical honeymoon?  How about coconut shrimp, papays curries and pina coladas?

Questions to Ask You Potential Caterer

Basics

  • Are you licensed?
  • Are you available on the wedding date?
  • What is the deposit requirement for reserving a date?
  • How long have you catered for weddings specifically?
  • Have you catered a wedding at my location?
  • Will you provide an organizer or manager to supervise wait staff and run the event?

Food

  • Will you provide special “kids meals,” and are these meals discounted?
  • Can you create a custom menu, or is there a basic menu to make changes to?
  • How do you cater to dietary preferences and allergies?
  •  What is your specialty?  What do you recommend for my budget/style/guest count?
  • Do you use fresh produce, meats, fish?  Where do your ingredients come from?
  • Do you provide tastings?  At what charge?

Presentation

  • Do you provide bartenders and servers?
  • Do you provide tables, chairs, linens, and other rentable items?  At what cost?
  • What types of linens and dinnerware do you provide?
  • Do you offer upgrades to rentals such as crystal glasses, fine china, chair covers, etc?
  • How do you present the wedding cake?
  • If there is no wedding cake, are you able to provide a dessert spread?
  • Can leftover food be wrapped for guests, or donated to a local shelter or other charitable organization?

Beverages

  • Do you have a liquor license?
  • Do you provide alcoholic beverages and bartenders?
  • Can you provide specialty cocktails?
  • What brands of alcohol will be served?
  • How do you charge for alcoholic beverages, by consumption or by person?
  • How do you charge for water, soft drinks, and juices?
  • Do you allow newlyweds or guests to provide their own alcohol?
  • Is there a corking fee?
  • Is the champagne toast included in the dining/drink package?
  • Will coffee or tea be served?  What are the brands/options for coffees and teas?

Business & Finances

  • What is the cost-per-plate?
  • Do you charge cake-cutting or corking fees?
  • When is my final guest count due?
  • Are there a minimum number of guests we must pay for, even if less show up?
  • Is gratuity included in the bill?
  • Does cost-per-plate cover food only, or are charges such as staff and rentals included?
  • Should we include the photographer, videographer, musicians, etc. in the guest count at an extra charge?
  • When is the balance due?
  • What is the cancellation policy?

Whether you are inspired by caviar or fishsticks, tea time or cocktails, your caterer can create the menu of your dreams for your reception. Choose a variety of dishes, don’t be afraid to go bold, and consider spending a little extra on specialty displays.  Your reception is the biggest party you will host, and by utilizing referrals, and this guide, your guests will certainly thank you for serving them the best!

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