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Choosing the Caterer

Caterers can be a valuable resource for planning your wedding reception. They can provide some obvious ideas for the food but can also provide ideas from other weddings they have experienced for decorations, music, special events, hall rental and...

Caterers can be a valuable resource for planning your wedding reception. They can provide some obvious ideas for the food but can also provide ideas from other weddings they have experienced for decorations, music, special events, hall rental and best resources for some of the vendors you will have to work with. The right caterer can be one of your most valuable resources to assist you in planning your wedding reception.

While a good caterer can be valuable, hiring the wrong caterer can be a disaster. Be sure you clearly identify all the details so they can be prepared to host your reception. It is best to plan your reception with the caterer and identify the details in a contract. This should be completed 6 to 8 months prior to the wedding date. Following are some tips in choosing the right caterer for your wedding reception.

* Have you catered a wedding reception this size before? This is important if you have a large guest list. A caterer who has only done small wedding receptions may not have the equipment or staff it takes to serve a large group.

* Do you have a recommended main dish to serve a group this size? Some caterers have a specialty they do best. They may have had positive comments from a previous wedding reception that guests raved about.

* What is your best value for a group this size? Don't plan on serving prime rib and shrimp on a chicken breast budget. Find out the cost early in your planning to save disappointment later.


* What is the standard number of courses you recommend? Are you planning on dessert or serving the wedding cake after dinner? You may be able to save the cost of dessert if your cake is large enough.

* What can we serve as a special dish? Ask for something out of the ordinary that your guests will enjoy and talk about as a fond memory of your wedding reception. Ask the caterer to be creative.

* Will you serve plate dinners or will it be buffet style? This will make a difference in the number of people needed as wait staff. Serving plate dinners require twice the wait staff. Generally, good wait staff should handle two tables of 8 to 10 people. If they are stretched more than that some guests will be waiting for their food while others are completing their meal.

* Do you provide plates, silverware and napkins? Most banquet halls will provide these things. If they don't be sure to ask the caterer. It would be embarrassing to have the food and nothing to eat it with.

* Can you accommodate special orders? Many people are on special diets that require low fat, low cholesterol, no salt, no wheat products or they are vegetarian. Can your caterer accommodate these people or should they eat before they arrive? You need to find out. You don't want to serve someone meatballs and potato chips who has heart disease.

* Who will be the on-site supervisor the day of the wedding? Probably the owner won't be there. You should spend a little time with the supervisor of the day of your wedding. Let them know your expectations and who to see if a problem arises. You should introduce the catering supervisor to the reception host/hostess so they can recognize them at the reception.

* Have you worked with this rental hall before? The caterer has probably worked with the operators of the reception hall before but if they haven't you will need to get the contact names for them to make arrangements for set up and to see the facilities.

* How much time do you need to set up before the event? If you provide the caterer with the contact name of the reception hall you should be fine but you need to make sure they have access to the hall to set up. Make sure they contact the operator of the hall and have access to set up.


* Will the caterer prepare the food on site or off site? The reception hall may have an additional charge for using their kitchen for food preparation.

* How is the alcohol served? If your reception hall is serving the drinks you need to ask them this question. Will the wait staff be taking orders and serving or will it be an open bar where guests get their own drinks. You may find less consumption with the wait staff serving. This should also cost less (if you are paying for the drinks). You may want to offer a cash bar with free soft drinks and one wine or champagne bottle at each table.

* How will the wait staff be dressed? It seems like a no brainer that the staff would be dressed appropriately but just to be safe, ask.

* What is the charge for overtime? If your reception lasts longer than planned is there an option to extend the hours? How much will this cost? Identify these charges and include them in the contract.

* Can you provide me with a copy of your liability insurance policy? Ask to see the document. You should keep this with the catering contract in case someone becomes ill as a result of the meal. When food sits out you run the risk of it becoming tainted.

* What are the terms of payment? Be sure the amounts are clearly defined for both the deposit and the balance and when payment is due.

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