One of the most common questions I’ve been asked when working with a bride or groom at the Old Cigar Warehouse or Liquid Catering is “Who would you use if you were getting married?” It is a tough question but one I’ve always strived to answer with complete honesty based on my personal and professional opinion. Depending on the type of vendor, I might have been able to list a handful of wonderful vendors, all of whom I’d trust for my own wedding. Now that our wedding is approaching and we’ve booked all of our vendors, the question is, “Who are you using?”. While the choices we’ve made are not the ONLY great options, they are ones we’re thrilled about. I’m sharing my advice and methods for selecting vendors and planning your big day so that I might help another couple end up with the perfect team of wedding professionals to make their day unforgettable.
When you are getting ready to eat a yummy meal in a snazzy restaurant, your starting point is…the menu. If you are about to prepare a delicious home-cooked meal for friends and family, your starting point is…the recipe. You wouldn’t start either experience without reading up first so don’t you dare book a caterer for your wedding without educating yourself a bit. Bharat and I went through each of these steps prior to selecting Good Life Catering to cater our reception. So here’s your menu…or your recipe…ok here’s the deets for your eats…
10 Ingredients for picking the best caterer for your wedding:
- Is this company legit? By that, I mean, is the company operating out of a certified (by the health department) commercial kitchen with insurance and a fully trained staff? This may not be something you’ve thought of but it’s simple really. A certified kitchen means the food you’re going to enjoy is prepared in a clean and healthy environment. It also says something about the people preparing the food. You want staff who has training in safely handling food and professionally serving your guests. Insurance? We all have it: health, vehicle, home, anything of major importance, we insure it. So you’ll want to make sure that if all else fails, there is insurance in place that will take care of any major incidents. Of course you want your wedding day to be memorable, but in a good way. “Remember Kathleen and Bharat’s wedding when everyone got food poisoning?” No way! That’s not happening to us.
- Are they qualified to work YOUR WEDDING? I emphasize YOUR WEDDING for a few reasons. First of all, are they qualified to work at the venue in which you plan to host your reception? Some establishments do not allow outside catering and some have preferred or required vendors who meet specific requirements of that particular establishment. Check with your venue first! Also, ask a potential caterer if they’ve worked at your venue before. Are they familiar with the policies, the facility and the typical set-up and flow of weddings and receptions? This can be key to making your reception run smoothly. The reason I continue to emphasize weddings is because you’ll want a caterer who is experienced in working weddings specifically. I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs and probably will again. Catering a wedding is different than a corporate event, holiday party or graduation and catering itself is much, much different than serving in a restaurant. We are psyched and very much at ease to have a team who knows our wedding venue inside and out.
- Talk about options! There are several urban myths floating around out there about the cost of catering. I hear them all the time! Buffets are the cheapest; stations are the easiest; plated dinners are super pricey. The fact is, every caterer in the business prices their packages differently. Tell your potential caterer what your priorities are and ask them to tell you the best way to make that happen. Don’t be afraid to tell him or her your budget. Remember that you may need to be flexible if your wants and needs don’t match up to your budget. Ask questions! Would a buffet be the more affordable option with the type of food you’re wanting to serve or would it be more cost effective to offer a plated dinner? Remember that it takes more food and less labor to serve dinner buffet-style yet several food stations that each need to have an attendant could end up being pricier due to labor costs. There are several factors that go into a caterer’s pricing so make sure you know all your options.
- Apples to apples? No I’m not talking about the game or a trendy new dish. If you are looking at more than one catering company and trying to find the best price, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. As I mentioned, no two caterers price their packages exactly the same. Find out what is included in the estimate you’ve been given. A few examples would be: Is the cost of staff included or separate? Are there any additional service charges, taxes or gratuities you should expect to see later on down the road? What equipment is included in that price? Think linens, china, flatware, glasses. Don’t assume it is included or you’ll be in for a big last-minute expense or worse…lots of food and no way to enjoy it! If pricing looks too good to be true, it just might be, so be sure to ask about those little (but super important) details.
- Special accommodations and specialties. More and more people are learning about allergies and dietary restraints that affect them. If you, your fiancé or your guests have these things to consider, you’ll want to make sure your potential caterer can, not just “handle” them but knock them out of the park! Talk with him or her about your concerns. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that your potential caterer has a specialty that is right up your alley or a suggestion you may not have considered. Bharat and I have a guest list that will be mostly vegetarian so we wanted to make sure the vegetarian meal wasn’t just a lame option but something everyone would love. Not that our chicken dish isn’t going to be super delish, but Bharat and I (non-vegetarians) are just as excited to dig into the vegetarian lasagna. Yum!
- Test drive the taste! You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive so why buy dinner for your entire family and friends without knowing they’ll enjoy it? Ask potential caterers to set up a tasting. This experience could help you confirm that the menu you want is as good as it sounds or it could make you realize you want something completely different. If there is something you don’t like (even if it seems small or insignificant) now is the time to mention it. Don’t be afraid to get what you want. A small piece of advice: go hungry! Bharat and I went hungry but still left with enough food for both of us to have dinner too.
- Let them eat cake! Ask a potential caterer if they offer cake or other dessert options that might appeal to you and your guests. You could be pleasantly surprised with what you hear. If you plan to use a separate baker to provide a wedding cake, be sure to ask both the baker and the potential caterer if they will cut and serve the cake. Many caterers offer this service for an additional fee which can be very convenient. If that is the case, don’t forget to ask about serving pieces, cake plates and forks! You wouldn’t want both or neither of those two vendors to have the necessary equipment on hand.
- Late Night Grub. It is hard to imagine being hungry again since I feel full just writing this blog, but wedding days tend to be long though they go by in a flash. Not to mention, they are often filled with a fair amount of celebratory drinking. It has become very popular to offer a late night snack of some sort to keep guests full and happy. Ask if this is something the caterer can provide and how much it will cost. You’ll want to factor that into your budget if you’re planning a longer reception. Even better, ask what have been some of the best late night foods they have seen.
- How much and when? Ask for a timeline of what to expect. How much money do you need to reserve their services and when do you need it? When will all future payments be due? *Important: When do they need to know your final headcount? You’ll want to adjust your RSVP date accordingly and give yourself extra time. These are all reasonable questions to ask and you shouldn’t make your decision until knowing all of the answers.
- Reviews and Recommendations. Before you even meet with a potential vendor of any type, do a little research and read some of their reviews. Reviews don’t tell you everything you need to know about a wedding professional but they tell you a lot. Rave reviews are always reassuring to see and negative reviews can be just as helpful. If a vendor has mostly good reviews with a handful of negatives, read those carefully and pay attention to the details. This could point out very important questions or concerns you should have. Don’t hesitate to ask a vendor about their reviews. Odds are, they will know the situation because a great professional will have already addressed the issue, corrected it and most importantly learned from it. A red flag should be if a vendor has several negative reviews and they are all referencing the same issue which has not been corrected.
As a local wedding professional I’ve worked with Good Life Catering in multiple venues, multiple times a month for years. So I guess you could say I may have had a slight advantage in making such a huge decision. A few short cuts might have been taken in my vetting process but I assure you, the ten things above are crucial in finding a caterer who is the perfect recipe of fun, professionalism and excellence. If you have done all of these things and still don’t know if you’re making the right choice, consider asking your other vendors for recommendations. Wedding professionals are a tight knit group and enjoy working with other professionals who share their same values and desire for excellent customer service. Your venue, photographer, or officiant will only recommend someone who has provided past couples excellent customer service. You won’t be sorry if you take your time, do your research and make a great decision. Now get going on this list so you can EAT, drink and be married!