Photo courtesy of Feather and Twine Photography
Choosing a caterer is tricky business. There are lots of bits and bobs to consider! If your venue does not require you to use a specific caterer, check out our thoughts below to help you through the search and contracting process.
Finding the Right Price Range
First things first. How much are you looking to spend – or, from another perspective, does what you’ve budgeted match your needs? We highly recommend reading about A Practical Wedding’s Olive Garden Rule to help you out on this. Once you know what you’re thinking you’ll spend per head and what that includes beyond food and beverage (china? silver? tables and chairs?), multiply that number by your estimated guest count, followed by 30% to cover the cost of staffing and tax. That should be your catering and bar budget, if you’re sticking with your original plan. Now you have a rough idea of not only what you’re going to spend, but what cost level you should be looking at when searching for catering options.
Do You Like the Food?
One very difficult aspect of the wedding catering world is tastings. All caterers will include some sort of tasting – it’s the timing that varies. Some caterers allow you to taste the food before signing a contract. Others may charge you a fee for doing so. Others may only offer monthly, quarterly, or annual group tastings – which may be open to all or limited to booked clients. Some vendors may only offer a tasting after being booked and close to the wedding date. It’s up to you to decide what you are comfortable with in this area. Tip – keep an eye out for wedding open houses and other events where your potential caterer might be serving to get a free taste. Also, if your caterer is affiliated with a restaurant, dinner out may tell you what you need to know!
Head Counts, Minimums, and Contracts
You’ve heard it a million times, we know – ALWAYS read your contracts before signing. In the case of catering, this can be extremely important! Your catering contract will describe for you if the quoted amount is:
a) a minimum, meaning that you will need to reach this number (usually pre-service charge and tax, which is that 30% from above) at a minimum. If you go above this number, you will owe that additional amount as well.
b) a guarantee, meaning that you will be paying for at least the number of guests listed on the contract. If this is your caterer, aim low on your head count so that you don’t end up paying for food that won’t be served! Do not contract for the total number of people being invited!
c) a placeholder, meaning that the final amount will vary depending on your final guest count, which could go up or down from the quoted amount. Most final guest counts will be due 7-14 days prior to you wedding, which is also when your balance is due!
Judy Wilson says
Hiring a caterer at the right price range seems like a very important detail that customers should consider when hosting an event. It seems like every event has a budget that the organizers have to abide by. Looking into the rates that different caterers will charge for the approximate number of people at an event seems important for organizers to know whether they can afford to pay for a catering service. Thanks for posting this!
Tobias Armstrong says
I really like that the first thing you mention is the price range. It really does play a huge part in what your caterer is going to be able to do for you. Second to that, whether or not you like the food is also important, for obvious reasons as well. Thanks for the awesome tips though.
Derek Mcdoogle says
Your tip about keeping an eye out for wedding open houses and other events where your potential caterer might be serving to get a free taste was very insightful. Do most caterers have different themes that they offer for certain types of events? My best friend is finally getting married to the woman of his dreams and they have put me in charge of the food. Finding a reputable caterer might be our best option.
Brooke Millis says
Many caterers do have different themes / types of food, such as Mexican, barbecue, or a more standard “American” fare. We find that the larger (by volume) OR the more foodie a caterer, the more creative you can get with your menu.