How to Start Your Search for a Wedding Caterer

Because food will make or break your big day.
kim forrest the knot
Kim Forrest
kim forrest the knot
Kim Forrest
Senior Editor
  • Kim writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in etiquette and planning advice
  • Kim manages freelance writers for The Knot Worldwide
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Kim was Associate Bridal Editor at Washingtonian magazine and Associate Fashion Editor at Conde Nast’s Brides Local magazines
Updated May 03, 2022

Of course, weddings are all about celebrating your love—but food plays a major role in the big day, too! After your ceremony, your guests will likely be hungry (hopefully not hangry!), so delicious food is essential. That's where your wedding caterer comes in. They'll make sure that your wedding reception features a menu of everything from hors d'oeuvres to entrées, drinks, desserts and more, all beautifully presented to your guests. Hiring a catering company is one of the first steps of wedding planning and should be tackled as soon as possible—the best caterers are often booked over a year in advance. Here's exactly where to begin your search.

Do I Need to Hire a Wedding Caterer?

According to The Knot Real Wedding Study, 85% of couples hired a wedding caterer. But before you can start your caterer search, you'll need to book your wedding venue. Some special-event venues are considered all-inclusive, meaning that catering is handled in house (often along with other services like rentals, event design and more), and you won't have to hire a separate wedding catering company. However, if your wedding venue does not include catering, you'll need to hire an outside caterer.

How Much Does a Wedding Caterer Cost?

A major portion of your wedding budget will go to your venue and catering. In fact, you can expect to spend about $75 per guest on catering, according to the Real Wedding Study—and that adds up quickly! The more guests you invite, the more you'll spend on food and beverage, but there are a few ways to save money on catering:

  • Alcohol is expensive! To save money, limit your bar service to beer and wine (and maybe a cocktail or two).
  • Host a morning or early afternoon wedding—a brunch or luncheon menu tends to cost less than dinner.
  • Limit your passed hors d'oeuvres and go heavy on the stationary appetizers.
  • Serve a single entrée choice (with options for those with dietary restrictions), rather than providing multiple menu options.

Where to Start Finding Wedding Catering Services

Ready to find your wedding catering company? Here's a step-by-step guide to finding the best wedding caterer for your big day:

1. Read reviews on The Knot Marketplace.

Scroll through The Knot Marketplace to read reviews of full-service catering companies in your wedding location. You can also narrow your search by type of cuisine, pricing, dietary options and more.

2. Ask your venue.

If your wedding venue does not have an in-house caterer, ask your venue coordinator for recommendations for catering companies they frequently work with. Your venue may have an approved or preferred vendor list that you must use when selecting your pros, or they may allow you to choose any caterer you'd like.

3. Ask your other wedding vendors.

While your caterer is one of the first pros you'll hire, if you've already hired other vendors, ask them to recommend reputable caterers they've heard of through the industry grapevine or know personally. In particular, your wedding planner can be very helpful here.

4. Ask recently-married friends and/or family members.

If you've recently attended a wedding with great food, ask the couple for their caterer's information. When discussing a caterer with a former client, it's a good idea to find out several things to make your search more helpful: one, the customer's head count, venue and menu items; two, the food's taste, presentation and preparation; three, the quality and efficiency of the waitstaff; and, four, whether or not the menu and bill met expectations.

5. Consider full-service catering companies and restaurants.

While catering companies are the go-to for weddings and private events, some restaurants also have their own catering business. If you have a favorite restaurant in your wedding location, find out if they can cater your big day. You already know you'll love the food!

Tips for Making Appointments with Wedding Caterers

Once you've narrowed down the list of caterers to a few favorites, reach out to ask about their availability on your wedding day. Then, you can set up interviews to ask several questions, including:

  • Tell us about your event catering experience.
  • What's included in your packages?
  • Are menus preset or can we create a custom menu?
  • Do you provide rentals, such as linens, glassware, etc.?
  • Can you provide a wedding cake?
  • Can you work with certain dietary restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.)?
  • Are you licensed to serve alcohol or will we need to hire separate bartenders?
  • Do you offer menu tastings and if so, how do they work?

The last question is particularly important. Some caterers will schedule menu tastings before you book, while others wait until after you've signed the contract. If it's possible to taste a caterer's food before booking, that's preferable—though note that it may cost money to do a tasting pre-booking (that charge is often applied to your final bill, though).

At your interview, ask each caterer to draw up a rough outline including details like cost per person, menu options, exactly what the fee includes (alcohol, rentals, tips), service and presentation style, and less expensive alternatives. This proposal will be helpful as you compare wedding caterers.

Once you've decided on the catering company you'd like to hire for your wedding day, ask for a contract and be sure to read it carefully. Don't hesitate to ask any questions, and make sure to pay special attention to the payment schedule so you know when fees are due. When you feel comfortable with the proposal and contract, sign away and get ready for one of the most exciting meals of your life!

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