Your caterer is one of the most essential vendors for a stress-free wedding day. Whether you’re doing a sit-down dinner or a buffet, you want your meal to go smoothly and transition into a reception your guests will remember fondly (if they can remember it at all). So when you’re interviewing potential caterers, it’s a good idea to be as thorough as possible. Here is a sampling of questions that should be answered to your satisfaction before you hire a caterer for your big day.
Is my date available? If you’ve already nailed down the wedding venue, this one’s pretty non-negotiable.
Are you doing other weddings that day? You deserve to know if you will get a dedicated team, or if they will have other time commitments on the day.
Do you have discounts for off-peak days? A lot of the time, couples miss out on discounts because they simply don’t ask for them. If you’re getting married in the off-season (November, January-March) or an off-day (any day other than Saturday), don’t be shy about asking for discounts.
Do you have experience with this venue? It’s worth picking a caterer who is already familiar with the venue, so they know what equipment they’ll need to bring and how to work in the space.
Do you have health permits and liability insurance? This is kind of a minimum requirement: is your caterer legally equipped to cater the event?
Do I need any special permits for the venue? If so, will you handle them? Some venues will require extra equipment or considerations that require special permission from the local government. You need to know if you’ll be responsible for pulling those permits. For instance, perhaps your wedding cake is going to be decorated with sparklers. Using wedding sparklers is generally regarded as okay in most states, but sometimes you need special permits. You almost always need a permit if you plan to use unusual like 36 inch wedding sparklers since they are extremely large compared to all other types of sparklers you would normally see during a reception. If you wanted to use them inside, you typically need a special permit as well. If your caterer is in charge of getting the permits, you won’t need to worry.
Will food be prepared onsite or brought in? If your venue has a kitchen, it’s preferable for the food to be prepared fresh on site.
How will you handle allergies and dietary restrictions? Ideally, the caterer will have alternate menu items for allergies and vegan/vegetarian/kosher guests.
What are your specialties? If you’re looking for a spaghetti dinner and your caterer specializes in gyros, you might not get what you’re after.
Do you have a menu I must choose from? If I want something off-menu, can you accommodate that? Make sure the caterer is ready and willing to meet your needs, rather than you adjusting your expectations to meet theirs.
What is the ratio of servers to guests? To keep your guests from waiting overly long for food, there should be one server for every 20 guests minimum.
How much time do you need to set up? Make sure you will be able to get into the venue early enough to enable the caterer to set up.
Will you handle setting the tables? Some caterers will handle setting the tables with centerpieces and silverware, while some will expect another party to handle the decor.
What is the price per guest and what does that price include? Don’t assume that something is included in the price of the meal (like a bread basket, or multiple entree choices), ask for a specific and comprehensive list.
What do children’s meals cost? Many caterers will cut the cost of kids’ meals in half, but only if you ask.
Do you charge a cake-cutting fee? Even if the caterer doesn’t supply the cake, they’re allowed to claim exclusive rights to cutting and serving the cake (and they get to charge you extra for it).
What do you require for a deposit? When is it due? Make sure you’re clear on how much to pay and when to pay it to keep everyone happy.
Choosing a caterer is an important decision for your wedding reception. But as long as you’re thorough in your research and ask the right questions, you’ll choose a caterer who can fill up your guests without emptying your wallet.