How to Choose the Best Wedding Caterer

Caterer in commercial kitchen carrying two plates of food with his assistant still at work

Mardie Caldwell

November 1, 2022

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Once you’ve found your wedding venue, it’s time to start planning all the other details for your special day, including hiring a wedding caterer. Whether you and your fiancé have your hearts set on a lavish array of cuisine or a cozy comfort-food buffet, you’ll want to start with the right caterer, and our list of favorite vendors is a great place to begin.
We recommend booking your caterer at least one year before your wedding, as dates get filled quickly. If you have a particular caterer that you’re dying to use, contact them as soon as you book your wedding venue. The longer that you wait, the higher the chances of having to hire your second or third-choice caterer. Most caterers can only host one event per day and possibly per weekend, so it’s wise to book early!
Since food and drink play a major role in how your guests enjoy themselves at your reception (and will make up a good portion of your budget!), it’s not a decision to make lightly. To help make this a little bit simpler, we’re sharing the step-by-step process and a list of questions to ask caterers before booking one to ensure you’ve covered all bases.

Step #1:

Contact four or five caterers, max. Reaching out to any more than that will just make you lose concentration and precious time that could be spent on the other aspects of planning your wedding.
A caterer puts the finishing touches on the food at an outdoor weddingNext, have this list of initial questions handy to ask each caterer when you call:

  1. Are you available on our wedding date?
  2. Could you please share about your wedding catering experience?
  3. What types of meal service do you offer?
  4. Do you provide all of the rentals?
  5. What’s included in your package, and what costs extra?
  6. Do you offer menu tastings?
  7. Tell us about your catering staff and servers.
  8. How will the food be prepared on the wedding day?
  9. Are menus fixed, or can we create a custom menu?
  10. Can you select wines that pair well with the food you’re preparing?

With each phone call, you’ll want to share the basics: your wedding date, venue, and how many guests will attend. Be sure to allow the caterer to ask you questions, too. At the end of the call, let each caterer know you will get back to them.
Take notes during your calls, and write your reaction to each caterer because this will help refine your search. At this point, you might cross one or two caterers off your list, but make sure to send a polite e-mail sharing you have decided to go in a different direction.

Step #2:

Schedule appointments with the caterers on your shortlist so you can dive deeper into logistics and costs. During these appointments, you can find out what services are included.
Whether you want a sit-down dinner, ceremony, and brunch on site, or a causal buffet-style meal, you’ll want to find out if the caterer can include it in your celebration. Sharing your plan will help them decide on staffing and service, equipment rental, bar service, and cost.
“Once we have determined the “flavor” of your event (i.e., a casual gathering, cocktail party, formal dining), we will customize your menu to accommodate your tastes,” shares At Your Service Catering.
After each meeting, the caterer should give you an initial proposal and cost estimate. If the cost falls within or close to your budget and you feel the caterer is worth considering, your next step is to schedule a tasting. At this point, you should narrow your selections to at most three caterers. Again, sending a quick thank-you to the caterers you didn’t select is polite.

Step #3:

Now comes the fun part: the tasting! Typically, there are three styles of tasting:

  • A “backstage tasting,” where you go to an event they’re catering and sample the offerings in the kitchen
  • An open-house tasting hosted for several potential clients
  • A private tasting, which is held just for you and your fiancé.

The private tasting is the best option out of these three styles because it allows you to discuss your wedding menu and structure. Afterward, the caterer can present you with a revised proposal detailing what the caterer will be supplying. For example, Emily’s Catering shares that their services include “Providing the food, staff, set-up, break-down, and helping with the rentals to simple pick-ups and drop-offs, we can help with events of any size.”

Step #4:

After choosing your caterer, you’ll need to seal the deal. Their proposal should clarify the payment structure and usually serves as the contract, with signature areas for both parties. Of course, there’s still an opportunity to make slight and tweaks, but at this point, making your final decision should be easy.
One month before your wedding, review your contract details to be sure there are no questions and that all the details are taken care of by the caterer or yourself. For example, you will need to know:

  • When is payment due?
  • Do you need to provide single-use cups, plates, or silverware?
  • Is gratuity included?
  • What rentals are coming? Make sure to arrange delivery times with your venue.

Taking care of all these details ahead of time will ensure your guests enjoy the celebration on your big day!

Mardie Caldwell

Written by Mardie Caldwell

Mardie has been a successful businesswoman since 1981. The Rough & Ready Vineyards was created out of Mardie’s desire to contribute to the community. Mardie’s vision to serve the community is rooted in her love of Nevada County, and it provided her with the opportunity to revitalize an old Ranch property into a breathtaking wedding venue.

Her innovative mind and commitment to environmental accountability contribute in a positive way to our community and the surrounding area. With the Rough & Ready Vineyards, Mardie seeks to create the best wedding experience for our clients and their guests, creating memories that will last for generations.

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