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 Apr 23, 2024

Of course, weddings are all about celebrating your love—but there's no denying food plays a major role in the celebration. After your ceremony, your guests will likely be hungry (hopefully not hangry!), so delicious food is essential. Wondering how to find a wedding caterer? The Knot Vendor Marketplace is the best place to start. Our pros will assemble 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, so start your search right now after you read the below.

In this article: When to Book | What to Look For | Find a Caterer Near You | Tips | How to Coordinate

When to Book a Wedding Caterer

"The ideal timing for hiring a wedding caterer can depend on several factors, including the size of your wedding, the popularity of your chosen caterer and whether you're working with an outside caterer or an in-house one," says Matilda Kuenster, the associate director of catering at the Liberty Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. But as a rule of thumb, it's always smart to book wedding vendors asap. When it comes to when to book a caterer for a wedding, you can't go wrong with signing the contract as soon as you have your date and venue, especially if you're getting hitched during peak wedding season.

Kuenster recommends beginning your initial research and consultations around nine months to one year ahead of your wedding date. If you're using an outside caterer, you should aim to make a final decision and sign a contract about six to nine months before your wedding, says the pro. An in-house caterer from your venue will give you more wiggle room, though it's still wise to confirm your catering details around four to six months before your wedding. "This ensures that you have enough time to finalize menu selections and any specific arrangements," says Kuenster. "However, with an in-house caterer, you have much more flexibility to not have selections until the month before the wedding."

What to Look for in a Wedding Caterer

Ready to find your wedding catering company? Find a step-by-step guide on how to find a wedding caterer (and how to know you've found the one) below.

1. Consider Their Details of Their Food Offerings

This one might seem obvious, but the nuts and bolts of a catering company's offerings will help you decide if they're right for you. For example, if you're interested in customizing any of the dishes, ensure that option is available. Maybe you want to give your guests a longer slate of entrée options than the typical "chicken or fish" choice—ensure they have the capability to do so.

2. Note Their Culinary Ethos

If things like local ingredient sourcing, organic ingredients or sustainably made dishes are important to you as a couple as you search for wedding catering services, then use the presence of these practices to help narrow down your list of caterers.

Find all the vendors you need

Meet every kind of expert from bakers to bartenders and more.

3. Inquire About Their Bar Services

Will they be able to provide alcohol or will you need to hire an additional bar service team? Can you bring your own alcohol and, if so, will they charge a corkage fee? Get these details down before you move forward.

4. Understand Any Included (or Additional Cost) Extras

If you're hoping to save time procuring linens and place settings, make sure your caterer will provide these elements. Also, some catering companies might add a predetermined percentage to your total as a tip, so make sure you know if that's their method of choice to abide by proper tipping etiquette.

5. Ask How They'll Accommodate Dietary Restrictions

See how much flexibility you'll have in the dishes you can serve to guests with dietary restrictions. For example, you might have vegetarian and gluten-free guests, but it's nice to make sure your catering company feels comfortable and capable of creating unique dishes all guests can enjoy.

How to Find a Wedding Caterer Near You

Before you Google "wedding caterers near me," take a look at these steps to structure your search.

1. Read Reviews on The Knot Vendor Marketplace

The Knot Marketplace is a goldmine of stellar caterers and helpful search filters. Once you filter by your wedding location, you can refine your search by price, catering features (buffet, family style, food truck wedding catering, servers etc.), cuisine (African, BBQ, Chinese, Eastern European, French etc.), dietary options (dairy free, gluten free etc.) and more. Then read reviews to find the right fit.

2. Ask Your Venue

If your wedding venue doesn't 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. It's much better than relying on the "caterer near me for a wedding" search results.

4. Ask Recently-Married Friends and Family Members

If you've recently attended a wedding with great food, ask the couple for their caterer's information. It's a good idea to find out their specific specs, like headcount and menu items, the food's taste, presentation and preparation as well as the quality and efficiency of the waitstaff and whether or not the menu and bill met expectations.

5. Consider Restaurants Too

While catering companies are the go-to for weddings and private events, some restaurants also have their own catering businesses, so don't forget them in your search for caterers for weddings near you. 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 voice all of the important questions to ask a wedding caterer, 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 catering contract. If it's possible to taste a caterer's food before booking, that's preferable—though note that it may up your wedding catering cost to do a tasting pre-booking (that charge is often applied to your final bill).

At your interview, ask each caterer to draw up a rough outline including details like cost per person, menu options including entrée prices, 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 and any info that might change how to tip your wedding caterer. When you feel comfortable with the proposal and contract, sign away and get ready for one of the most exciting meals of your life!

How to Coordinate With Your Caterer After Booking

"Once you've chosen a caterer, schedule menu tastings and finalize all details, including the number of guests, dietary preferences, serving styles and any special requests," says Kuenster. "Aim to complete these steps at least three to four months before your wedding." As you complete these tasks, there are a few ways to coordinate with your caterer:

Via The Knot Vendor Marketplace

The Knot Vendor Marketplace has a user-friendly messaging function where you can chat with caterers and keep your correspondence in one spot. You'll find all of your conversations located in your Vendor Inbox.

Via Email

Email is the most popular way to chat with vendors and, most likely, a preferred method of communication for your caterer. Just keep all of your message threads filed in a folder in your inbox to stay organized.

Via Phone

If you have any quick questions or confirmations you need to make, a phone call will suffice. But written correspondence is the best way to keep track of details.

Cathryn Haight contributed to the reporting of this article.

Up Next
  • Wedding catering meal
    40 Crucial Questions to Ask a Wedding Caterer