23 Questions to Ask Your Caterer

Your wedding caterer will do far more than prepare your wedding menu; he'll help coordinate the evening, the wedding reception timeline and, in most cases, supply the bar and wedding cake. But that's not the only reason your caterer is so important – the tab for the food and drink will likely be about $66 per person (and possibly much more, depending on where you live and what type of wedding you're having). So how do you narrow down your list of potential caterers , and once you do, what questions should you ask your wedding caterer?
Wedding catering tray with hors d'oeuvres
Photo by Elisa Bricker

Does the caterer have a license?

Why you want to know: This means the caterer has met local health department standards (always good!) and carries liability insurance. Make sure the caterer also has a liquor license if you're going to be serving alcohol.

Does the caterer have liquor liability insurance (if they're providing alcohol)?

Why you want to know: Anyone serving alcohol needs to have this type of insurance, including a wedding caterer. If your wedding guests leave your party after taking advantage of the open bar and injure themselves, a third party or damage property, you could be held responsible. Liquor liability insurance will minimize how much you'll have to pay if something goes wrong.

Can the caterer provide references from previous clients?

Why you want to know: References can tell you what you may not find out just by talking to the caterer, including what it's like to work with this company or individual. Get at least two references who had a similar number of wedding guests and reception menu style.

Is the caterer working any other weddings or events on the same weekend or same day?

Why you want to know: Sometimes, caterers will stack two or more events onto the same day or weekend. This doesn't have to be a deal breaker by any means, but you want to be sure if the caterer does have other events, your wedding will get the staff and attention it deserves.

Does the caterer specialize in certain types of food, such as organic, locally sourced, ethnic or gluten-free, or services? Does the caterer work with fresh, not frozen, food?

Why you want to know: If you have a particular type of cuisine in mind, use a caterer who specializes in it. Not only will they have all the right resources, the caterer will also know how to properly prepare the food, meaning better, tastier results. Let's face it -- asking a sushi chef to create country-French cooking probably isn't going to end well.

Does the catered meal come full service?

Why you want to know: This just means that the caterer, in addition to food preparation, will handle everything from the table settings to bar service and cleanup. What's included depends on the catering company and the packages they offer. If it isn't full service, you'll have to find (and pay) additional staff.

What's the average price range, and does the caterer offer packages? How many appetizer and entrée choices come with the package? Are costs itemized depending on the foods you choose, or does the caterer offer an all-inclusive rate?

Why you want to know: A good chunk of your budget will go to catering, so take some time to carefully weigh your options when choosing a caterer. Packages can save you some serious money, especially if you plan on having a lengthy guest list. Most catering packages include appetizers, salad, entrée and dessert (or cake), plus coffee service and, in some cases, wine. If your caterer does offer multiple packages, ask for sample menus to determine which one works best for you.

When does the caterer need finalized choices?

Why you want to know: Your caterer needs to know your menu choices by a certain date, so they'll have all the ingredients ready to go for the day of your wedding. Decide on your RSVP date based on when your caterer needs a final head count.

Will the caterer make special meals for children and other wedding pros, and what does the caterer charge for each? Is the caterer able to prepare vegetarian, kosher or halal meals for a few guests, and is there an additional fee?

Why you want to know: A caterer may be willing to work with special dietary restrictions, but it could mean additional costs. If offering a special meal to certain family and friends is important to you, but the caterer's fees are hefty, you might have to find room from elsewhere in your budget or look for another caterer.

When will the tasting take place? Does the caterer offer tastings before being hired?

Why you want to know: Reading reviews of a wedding caterer is one thing, but you'll need to taste the food yourself to be sure. Definitely opt to do it beforehand if possible — it will allow you to make an informed decision and prevent you from getting locked in with a second-rate caterer.

Does the caterer provide wedding cakes as well and, if so, is it included?

Why you want to know: Some wedding caterers can produce a fabulous confection, but other caterers don't specialize in wedding cake baking. Ask to see past examples of the caterer's work to get an idea of their cake-baking skills — if you're less than impressed, you might want to hire your own wedding cake baker.

Will the caterer provide tables, chairs, plates, napkins, silverware, and salt and pepper shakers – and are they extra?

Why you want to know: If a caterer doesn't outfit their events with these necessary items, and your wedding venue doesn't have them on hand either, you'll have to rent them yourself, which can quickly add up. Even if a caterer does have them, ask to see them to make sure they're up to par.

Will the caterer provide a waitstaff? How many are included in the package and what's the fee for additional waiters?

Why you want to know: Top caterers say they always use their own serving personnel, even if the wedding venue's staff is available. They know the ins and outs of how the company operates, so they're better able to provide seamless service. You'll want about three waiters for every six tables for a sit-down meal.

What will the caterer and their staff wear?

Why you want to know: You want to make sure the catering staff dresses appropriately for the tone and style of your wedding – if you're planning a formal black-tie wedding, you might not want waiters in polo shirts.

Does the caterer also provide a bar, and what sorts of packages do they offer? How do you charge (by consumption or per person)?

Why you want to know: The bar can be a big cost, so give it some extra attention. There are usually two ways caterers (or wedding venues) charge for bars: either by set fee per person or by the amount of alcohol consumed. If they go with the latter method, at the end of the party, your bartender will count all the used and partially used bottles of wine and beer (and sometimes by the glass for mixed drinks) and ring up your bill.

Will the caterer provide alcohol, or do you need to handle the bar separately? Can you provide your own alcohol and does the caterer charge a fee for that?

Why you want to know: Most catering companies supply the bar and alcohol, but supplying it yourself can save you money. If you want to take the latter route, check with the caterer or wedding venue first—they might charge a corkage fee for every bottle opened, which could slash any savings.

How many bartenders are included in the caterer's package? What's the caterer's fee to hire extra?

Why you want to know: Ideally, you should have four cocktail waiters for every 100 wedding guests and one bartender for every 50 wedding guests to make sure your guests aren't hanging around with empty glasses. Additional staff will cost extra, so factor in that cost.

How do delivery, setup and breakdown work? What does the caterer do and is there an additional fee? How much time will the caterer need to set up? When will the caterer need access to the wedding site?

Why you want to know: You need these details in order to coordinate with your wedding venue and determine a time when your caterer can start setting up. You also need to know how much time the caterer needs for clean-up, because some venues may have a restriction on how late staff can stay. Not all companies will include setup and breakdown in their pricing—meaning you'll have to pay the wedding venue or caterer extra or hire outside help to do it for you.

Where will the caterer prepare the food? Are there on-site facilities, or will the caterer need to make additional arrangements with the wedding venue?

Why you want to know: If the caterer has to bring in equipment, there may be an additional fee. So before you decide on a company, make sure you know what type of facilities your wedding venue has and the potential obstacles this could pose for the type of caterer.

Will the caterer set out the wedding place cards and menus we created?

Why you want to know: If the caterer says "no way!" you'll need to enlist the help of your wedding planner, a family member or friend to deal with these wedding details. No matter who is putting them out, give them instructions (and a photo) of how you want them displayed at the wedding reception.

Who will oversee the event on the wedding day? Will the same caterer you worked with when planning also oversee meal service on the day? What will happen if he's sick or otherwise unable to be there?

Why you want to know: Ideally, the person you worked with from the catering company throughout the planning process (and who best understands your needs) will be your wedding day contact. If this person isn't available, they should have a suitable replacement in mind from the company (ask to meet with this person too).

Does the caterer have extra charges, such as a security deposit, sales tax or service fees? What, if any, are the expected gratuities?

Why you want to know: Any extra charges from the caterer are going to affect your bottom line, so it's best to know ahead of time to plan for it.

How does the caterer arrange the food on the buffet or plate? Can you see photos of previous presentations from the caterer?

Why you want to know: Presentation is everything, and even the most delectable dish can seem unappetizing if poorly presented by the caterer. You've put a lot of time and effort into all of your other wedding details— the food shouldn't be any different.

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