spacer graphic
A La Carte Ideas

Choosing a caterer is a subjective process. You must feel comfortable with them. You must trust them. And you must let them help you with their experience and years of knowledge.

Most caterers have pre-printed sample party menus that give you an idea of their style and price range. You can use these to narrow down your many choices.

First, choose two or three favorites and make appointments to see them in person. Your caterer is mostly known by reputation, so check references or get recommendations from friends. Remember, you don't have to hire a temperamental caterer. Life is too short and your event too important to work with a prima donna - no matter if they're genius.

Also, remember that big caterers don't always have big prices. They may be well-known because they're personable and have great taste and creativity. These are the ones you want.

Some caterers will break out individual costs, others provide package and per-person prices. What you're buying is three things:

1) Food - All ingredients along with purchase, transportation and preparation of the meal.

2) Equipment - Such as plates, glassware, flatware, linens, serving pieces, tables and chairs. Most caterers will tell you before you purchase a bite of food that you need to pay a minimum cost for equipment, depending on how elaborate you want things. Others will include equipment charges in the overall cost.

3) Service - The wait staff, kitchen help and other servers. Don't skimp on this area! Whether it's a lavish buffet or casual picnic, appearance and timing are everything.

Prices may differ dramatically, but probably not. Caterers are a competitive business and all price out their services somewhat the same. Your choice should consider style. Make sure your caterer is someone you feel comfortable with and trust. You need to share their taste and style.

Questions and Helpful Hints
The room
  • In a catering hall, exactly which rooms will be used?
  • Is the caterer familiar with the kitchen facilities and the reception room you have chosen? Food preparation is much easier in a familiar location.
  • Can the caterer show you samples of table settings?
  • For an informal wedding, what items will the caterer provide (e.g., chairs, tables, flatware, dishes, glasses, linens)?
The menu
  • What kinds of hors d'oeuvres will be served?
  • Will there be a choice of entrees?
  • Is there a child's menu and/or associated reduced fee? What is the age cut off?
  • What about menu substitutions? Will there be a vegetarian/fish alternative?
  • Can you make arrangements to taste some of the food?
The cost
  • Are gratuities included? Try to find a caterer who doesn't include gratuities in the per person price. This allows you to tip as you feel appropriate.
  • How are no show's handled, and unexpected guests who show up?
  • Does the price include the wedding cake?
  • How many servers will be required per each number of guests, and at what cost?
  • Are parking attendants included?
  • Is the maitre D's tip included?
  • Are guests expected to tip?
  • Are taxes included on food and liquor, and are there bar charges (i.e., bartender)?
  • Are the entertainers, photographers, etc. in the head count, and where do they eat?
  • Is the price fixed or subject to change?
  • Any overtime charges for staff? Assign a friend to let you know when you're a half hour to closing, before overtime charges start to accrue.
  • How much of a deposit is required?
  • Are there cancellation fees? When, and how much?
  • How much are the service fees, sales tax, and/or hotel tax?
Miscellaneous items
  • Does the caterer have liability insurance?
  • Can the caterer recommend other professionals in wedding- related services, and are there any discounts for packages? Professionals who have worked together before will be more familiar with one another's quirks.
  • Consider hiring a baby sitter for the reception and/or ceremony.
spacer graphic
spacer graphic