Catering Tips

When all the costs of a wedding are tallied, the catering bill is typically the largest expense (45-50%) of most wedding budgets. It pays to choose a caterer carefully.

Phone first to set an appointment with the caterer. They too are busy and need to schedule an appropriate amount of time for you and your questions. Spend plenty of time with your caterer talking about your budget, the style of reception you’d like and the types of food that you would like to serve. The typical choices for the serving of food are buffet, an individually plated dinner, a ‘family style’ dinner, cocktail reception or food stations.
If you are unfamiliar with the caterer, always schedule a tasting to sample their culinary skills and observe whether of not the food is attractively presented.

Request a list of references and call them. Often people will acquire a list of references and not follow through. Most likely, the references will give you an honest, non-biased opinion. Ask what type of experience they had with the caterer. Ask if the meal was prepared to their liking, was the banquet room prepared and well organized upon their arrival, etc. Ask if they would book with the caterer again.

Dinnerware or china is often included in the price of the meal. Ask the caterer to see the dinnerware. Make sure that it is presentable, not chipped, cracked or stained. Depending on the facility, table linens may be included with the booking. Ask if there is a choice of linen colors.

If you are not accustomed to catering, you may not think about the ratio of servers to guests. A seated dinner will have a different ratio of servers to guests than will a buffet. At a minimum, one server should be used per eight guests at a plated meal. This is a very important area, so don’t forget to ask.

When working with the caterer, ask when they need a rough estimate of the total number of guests that will attend the reception or rehearsal dinner. Additionally, ask what is their final cut-off date for turning in your final head count or guaranteed number of guests. This ‘guaranteed’ number is the basis on which you will be charged for the meals. Have the caterer explain their definition of “guaranteed number of guests” and the dates by which to correspond. The price may also be based on a minimum number of persons. For example, if the minimum for that particular banquet facility is 250 and your count falls below 250, you will be charged for 250 guests whether they are there or not. Some facilities are more lenient and only charge a ‘below minimum fee’ rather than charging the full per person fee. If the count is 260 guests, obviously you will be accountable for the 260 guests.

Also, ask the hired service workers if they wish to have a meal. Include your clergy person, photographer, deejay or entertainers and wedding coordinator in the final count. Where ever the hired professionals will eat, inform the caterer that there should be an appropriate table setting for the professionals. Will they be with the guests or out of view while they are dining?

Here is a new tip from One that we have not come across in other reading and research. Ask your caterer to prepare a “leftover basket” for the bride and groom. This is a sampling of all the food at the reception. Often the bride and groom do not have time to eat and enjoy all the wonderful food they have ordered for the reception. Offering to provide the basket may make the task more enticing to the caterer. This would make a great midnight snack.

If a caterer provides table decor, ask to see the items. Will they match your color scheme? You are not obligated to use their decor. If you decline, thank them and explain that you have other ideas that would better coordinate with your wedding event. Don’t start out on the wrong foot by questioning the quality or appearance of the items offered. Simply state that you had something else in mind.

If the reception includes having a food station or buffet, the caterer may automatically include floral or other natural decorations to enhance the beauty of the display.

Ask the caterer if they have any decoration limitations. Some caterers frown upon the use of crepe paper. If crepe paper is draped across a table and happens to get wet, the colored dye can stain the linen. Most linens are rented, but whether or not they are owned by the facility or are rented from another source, the staining still creates unwanted problems and fees.

If you need to affix something to a wall, ask first! Most facilities prohibit attaching things to their walls, but do have alternatives for displaying items that might enhance the individuality of your wedding. You certainly would not want your memories of your wedding marred by having a bill for replacing paint or wall paper presented to you or your family!

If ordering hors d’oeuvres, four different varieties are usually sufficient. A rule of thumb for the number of hors d’oeuvres per person is when providing a full meal for your guests, 3-5 hors d’oeuvres per person is indicated. If your reception consists solely of hors d’oeuvre stations, your count of hors d’oeuvres per person will be higher.

Thank you to for a list of catering tips. Edited and enhanced upon by The Bridal Guide. | p. 815-739-9937 | f. 815-754-5261