The largest expense of your entire wedding budget will be the reception and your choice of a caterer is of utmost importance in keeping this part under control.
First you need to decide on a site for your reception, whether it is a reception center, a hotel or wedding hall, your home or an outdoor venue, the choice should reflect what image you want to project and what is affordable.
Next, You'll want to research local caterers through referrals from friends, relatives, local advertising and Internet searches. Other venues like fire halls, may give you a choice of caterers from an approved list. If the location for your reception is “all-inclusive”, that is everything such as hall rental, catering, decorating, etc. is included, you will need to work with the staff of your venue to work out specific details of your special day. Always check them out with the information here before making your decision.
If you are holding your reception in a hall, private residence or where food is not provided, you need to contact caterers in your area who specialize in on-site catering. When you first contact your prospects, have the following information ready:
Date of your Wedding
Approximate number of guests
Service preferences, such as Buffet, Sit Down, Family Style, etc.
After verifying that your wedding date is open in the caterer's schedule, try to collect as much initial information from the caterer that you can on this first call. Then request any written information they might be able to send you. Ask if the caterer has a web site available for viewing and if they have their menus on it. Some caterers will offer a “tasting” meeting, for you to sample some of their food. If they do, jump at it.
Before you make your first call to a caterer, have the following list of questions in front of you. Ask the same questions of each caterer you call so that you can make an informed decision. Write their answers down so you don't forget what each one tells you.
Does the caterer have access/permission to cater at your reception site?
Does the caterer assist in setting up guest tables, head table, etc?
Does the caterer cover guest tables, linen skirt head table, gift table, cake table, etc.?
What decorating does caterer provide?
What types of menus are available? Can menu choices vary?
Are hors d' oeuvres available?
Can “special diet” requirements be met?
What types of dinnerware, tableware and glassware are available?
Are there extra charges for china and linen service?
Is the wedding party served at the head table? Is there an extra charge?
Will the wedding cake be served and/or boxed? Is there an extra charge?
Will cookies be displayed? Is there an extra charge?
Are servers professionally attired?
Is there bar service provided? Bartenders? Cups and supplies?
Is extra food packaged for take home?
Is hall clean up included?
Do they offer a contract with all promised items listed?
Is there a deposit required to hold wedding date?
When is full payment required?
How soon in advance does caterer need menu and final count of guests?
After you have all of these questions answered, you should be able to make an informed decision as to which caterer will fill your needs. Do not to choose your caterer based solely on his price per person, but consider what is included in the per person price before making your final decision. You do not want to be “sadly” surprised on your wedding day when your expectations of exceptional service are not met.
While the food IS a major part of why you hire a caterer, the presentation of that food is part of their image and yours. Make sure the caterer you are thinking about hiring is one who will work WITH you and not tell you what you want. As with every aspect of planning a wedding, this should be team-work to accomplish the end result---your perfect wedding day!
Our Thanks to Chris Vaccaro & Suzie Fidanzato of Costas' Catering by Vaccaro for this article. Costas' Catering has been serving SouthWestern Pennsylvania for over 40 years with fine food and service..