Wedding 101: 8 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Caterer!

March 3, 2013

8 facts that play such a role in determining the experience and culinary prowess of a caterer that bridal couples should embark upon their consultations with prospective caterers armed with this knowledge to make the narrowing down and comparison process more streamlined for them. Also, often there is a distinction that needs to be made between “catering” and “event producing,” as many of today’s more accomplished caterers participate in the production of your event on additional levels beyond just food. But…we’ll touch on that further into the facts…let’s jump in:

1. “Fresh” doesn’t always mean fresh! #1

Couples today are often food savvy. They dine out regularly at chic bistros and BYOBs rather than settling for the chain restaurants. Fresh food, creative menus and plate presentation are important to them. And these high standards get even higher on their wedding day. The thought that their wedding food may be a frozen product would send them running. Most caterers would not admit to utilizing frozen food products. Instead when asked they will say it is prepared “fresh,” and yes, it once was fresh– before it was frozen. ASK THE CATERERS YOU ARE CONSIDERING, TO BID THE EXACT SAME MENU. Then compare. Does caterer A cost a bit more because they are paying trained chefs to actually prepare your meal from scratch with fresh ingredients rather than caterer B having a body tear open boxes of frozen foods? It may seem on the surface that you’re really getting a deal but in reality you are getting what you paid for– frozen food.

2. “Fresh” doesn’t always mean fresh! #2

Served fresh means cooking on site, not cooked elsewhere and carried to your event in hotboxes. This is the difference between green beans that are bright green and snappy and green beans that are dull olive and mushy. Some caterers don’t have the trained culinary personnel or the equipment to cook at your reception. If you want fresh…cooking on site is how it must be done. LOOK FOR A CATERER WITH MOBILE COOKING CAPABILITIES IF YOUR SITE DOES NOT HAVE KITCHEN FACILITIES.

3. Service is a matter of math: the ratio of staff to guests is critical.

You’ve taken the time, allotted the budget, and selected a wonderful menu. Now you need to ask how many service staff members your caterer plans to provide to serve it. Service can make or break your reception. Lack of adequate staff is very obvious to the guests and will undo all of your careful planning. Nothing is more frustrating than having to hunt for hors d’oeuvre or sitting at your table wondering where your dinner is. Staff quality and training go hand in hand with this point as well. It is important that staff is well trained, and service-oriented to ensure that a pleasant and attentive attitude is exhibited throughout your reception. WHEN VIEWING THE REVIEWS AND THANK YOU NOTES FOR A SPECIFIC COMPANY, TAKE NOTE OF HOW OFTEN SERVICE STAFF ARE COMPLIMENTED.

4. Style is significant.

Your dinner, whether plated, buffet or cocktail station format should have eye appeal. Striking garnishes, unusual serving pieces, foods that add color and zing to a plate– these are just a few elements of style that a caterer can bring to your menu. The visual impact of your menu really does have an impact on your guests and the success of the reception. The best thing your caterer should bring to the table is sheer enthusiasm and will to create a day for you unlike any other. With the right caterer your sense of style will show in your menu and its’ presentation, as well as in the surroundings and decor. ASK TO SEE PHOTOS OR VIDEOS OF EVENTS PRODUCED BY THE CATERERS YOUR ARE CONSIDERING, AND GAUGE IF THEY HAVE A RANGE OF STYLES AND PRESENTATIONS THAT ARE NOT COOKIE CUTTER. 

5. Menu design does not involve picking your food from columns.

Now bear with us on that one. Some couples come to a caterer with definite menu ideas, but far more come wanting the planner to take the reins. And justifiably so. But this shouldn’t mean that you have to be locked into A, B or C packaged food. Your caterer’s event planners should be well versed in menu design, and should be able to guide you to consider a number of factors that will lead to a customized, seasonally and preference appropriate menu. What time of year is the reception? Are sustainability and organic foods of importance to you? What type of crowd is it?- “meat and potatoes,” or more cuisine receptive to try new things? Budget should also be considered to allow for variations. For instance, if a raw bar at cocktails is not in the budget, butlered shrimp may be a less expensive alternative. SEARCH FOR A CATERER THAT OFFERS YOU CUSTOMIZED MENU OPPORTUNITIES THAT WILL SUIT YOUR TASTES, GUESTS, BUDGET AND SEASON.

 6. Customer service counts.

How long did you wait for your information after you made your initial contact with a prospective caterer? Once received, was it the information you requested? Are your calls and emails answered in a timely manner? Do you feel important? In a time when customer service seems to be a thing of the past, the good old days really were better and it’s this old-fashioned customer service that you want from your caterer. Planning a wedding is a big job and you should have your catering planner’s attention when you need it. Additionally, feeling as if you are important to their office team as a whole, will ensure that your catering planner has a whole support system behind them that ensures a team approach to facilitate your event going without a hitch. GAUGE THE RESPONSE TIMES AND CUSTOMER SERVICE FROM YOUR INITIAL POINTS OF CONTACT WITH PROSPECTIVE CATERERS TO ENSURE YOU WILL RECEIVE THE SERVICE YOU DESIRE THROUGHOUT THE PLANNING PROCESS.

7. Your caterer should be a know-it-all.

We know that sounds obtrusive, but…being a know-it-all involves ongoing education and involvement in industry organizations that offer educational opportunities. From new food trends, menu preparation and event planning to wedding styles and vendor relationships– a good caterer never stops learning or evolving. There are numerous organizations such as NACE (National Association of Catering Executives), ICA (International Caterers Association), or ISES (International Special Events Society) that offer seminars and the benefit of the experience of industry leaders within the membership.

Hand in hand with education…is also the knowledge of your venue. When it comes to your specific venue, you will want a caterer that is familiar with the ins and outs of it. This cuts down your learning curve for what will work best there for a seamless event. You will also benefit from a caterer that has a good working relationship with the facility directors and on-site personnel at your venue. So — LOOK FOR CATERERS WITH PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS THAT SHOW THEY ARE EDUCATING THEMSELVES IN THEIR FIELD, AND THAT ARE RECOMMENDED BY YOUR VENUE.

8. Word of mouth is the best advertising.

Simply stated: What is your caterer’s reputation? Look at the list of caterers for the facilities you are considering. If you see the same names at many up market locations, chances are those caterers are doing something right. Venues have reputations to uphold so the caliber of the caterers on their list has to be high. Ask the venue directors wh
o they use for their own events. They have seen the companies perform time and time again, and thus their own choice for service providers should be very telling. Check out sites like and view the realtime responses of brides regarding the services they received from your prospective vendors. Ask your other contracted vendors– photographers, dj’s, bands. They are at many weddings and eat the food, experience the service just as a guest would. CHECK OUT THE REPUTATION OF YOUR CATERER THROUGH YOUR VENUE, OTHER VENDORS AND PAST BRIDAL CLIENTS.


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