Ten questions: To ask your wedding caterer
You’ve just been announced as husband and wife and are en route to your reception. Dancing with your grandma to “Brick House?” Acceptable. Uncle Ben’s unsolicited stories of you when you were younger to unsuspecting tables of guests? Embarrassing, but acceptable. Food for all of these fine folks coming up short? Absolutely less than acceptable.
Often an afterthought of a wedding, catering is actually a big part of how guests perceive the entire reception. Because food is such an integral part of our societal events and occasions, it is often most remembered. As owners of a catering company, people are always volunteering information to us about recent wedding receptions they’ve been to, and asking us why the food didn’t match the caliber of the event.
Truth is, if you don’t do the homework on choosing your caterer, people may just walk away with awesome stories of Uncle Ben, and less than awesome tastes in their mouths.
Next time you have a tasting or meeting with a potential caterer, don’t be afraid to ask the following questions:
1. What is included with my menu package?
While some caterers include china and silver, linens, servers, on-site managers and chefs, cake-cutting, and other services, some like to charge for each item separately. Therefore, if you choose one caterer because their per head charge is lower, be sure you know about all of the line items that aren’t included in that price. Watch for hidden charges, and read the fine print.
2. Where do you get your food products from and who prepares it?
You need to know what you will be paying for. Look for a caterer that has knowledge of their food and can communicate that to you with ease. Watch for red flags like frozen appetizers (if you see a mini-quiche, run!) and ask if they use fresh ingredients and no preservatives. You’ll taste the difference.
3. Do you bring all your food prepared to the reception?
Off-site caterers should still prepare most of your food items fresh and on-site right before your event. There are exceptions to the rule, like whole roasted meats and mashed potatoes. However, mixed vegetables, pastas, appetizers, salads — any cold foods — should not come to your event already prepared. If that is the case, then the quality and freshness of your food is extremely compromised.
4. What were your last two health department scores?
This is extremely important! Sanitation, transportation of food, temperatures, hand washing and cross contamination are among many other factors that will determine these scores.
5. Can I have a list of your references?
Make sure there are a wide variety of sources from wedding planners to past brides.
6. When was the last time you updated your menu?
A dynamic, changing menu shows creativity and a love for food. Being innovative in such a varietal market is important.
7. Can I meet your chef? How long have you been in business, and who were your past chefs?
Ask the chef questions about the food, where they have worked and what they love about cooking. If your caterer has had a high chef turnover, this is another red flag. Find out why.
8. How many service staff will you have present for my event?
As a rule, you want to have one server per 18-20 guests for a buffet style reception, and one server per 8-10 guests for a sit down/plated meal. Make sure you have enough kitchen staff members to execute your food properly and respectfully. This is one area where those extra charges can sneak in, so be sure to be informed on how staffing is charged in your proposal.
Also, ask about their staff. Who are they? Where do they get them? Do they use a staffing company? If serving liquor, do they have their ABC Certifications?
9. How long will the food be out for my event and will it be serviced?
Be sure that your caterer will remain at the event to get your guests served and make them feel special. You want a caterer that is with you for the whole shebang, and one that takes great care in presentation and execution. (If you see a line of hotel pans or chaffing dishes, run!) Whether feeding 50 or 500, you can easily have a beautiful and inviting culinary presentation.
10. How close to the event can I make changes?
Look for a caterer that is flexible and will make changes close to the event, like guest count changes or dietary needs. Life happens!
When you trust someone with such an important part of your day, feel good about doing due diligence and don’t worry about offending anyone. For the caterers that make the grade, these questions are normal and the caterer should offer this information up even if you don’t ask. For more info about needs for wedding catering, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Answers to these questions will help you in a delicious beginning to the rest of your lives together. Bon Appetit!
“I dreamt my whole life about being a mother,” says Heidi Jellison. “I never dreamt about a big wedding, honestly never even dreamt about the husband part.” Jellison, a 35-year-old concert harpist and harp teacher, laughs at this last bit, but then her face settles into a quiet solemnity.
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