No more dry, bland chicken! How to find the perfect caterer for a wedding or special event
Catering is one of the biggest expenses in most wedding budgets. You also don’t want to be “that bride or host” who served up the much disparaged bland, dry chicken dish with cold, tasteless veggies that guests dread.
Worse yet, what if your caterer runs out of food or the service is slow? If you want to find a top-notch caterer for your wedding or special event, consider the following tips.
Before committing to a caterer, be sure to weigh your options first. The best way to find a great caterer for your wedding, quinceañera or other special event is to seek out personal recommendations from people who worked with the caterer in the past.
Another smart step? Ask your venue for caterer recommendations or feedback on caterers you’re considering. Venues witness the capabilities of caterers first hand, so they can weigh in on:
- The consistency and quality of the caterer’s food.
- How well the caterer handles buffet-style vs. plated service.
- Whether the caterer can tackle large events with hundreds of guests or is better suited for smaller celebrations.
- Whether the caterer consistently plans for the right amount of food or is known to plan for too much (you don’t want to take a bunch of food home) or too little (every guest needs to eat!).
- What level of service the caterer typically provides—from punctuality, speed of service and clean-up to friendliness and professionalism. If the caterer always shows up late, the venue will know.
- Whether the venue is suited for the type of service the caterer provides. For example, if your venue doesn’t allow Sterno burners in their facility, you shouldn’t hire a caterer who keeps food warm with Sterno fuel.
BONUS TIP: Find out if the venue charges extra to bring in outside catering. Some venues like DFW Celebrations welcome outside catering for no additional fee but many venues will impose a charge.
Ask caterers these important questions
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, schedule time to learn more about the food and services the caterer provides. Along with the obvious questions about costs, other important questions to ask include:
1). What type of food/menu options do they offer?
Some caterers stick to a set menu, while others offer more flexibility. If you have your heart set on a specific type of cuisine and the caterer isn’t familiar with your favorite dishes, they may not be a good fit for you.
2). What experience do they have catering your size and style of event?
Again, if you will be hosting hundreds of guests and the caterer has mostly handled smaller, intimate affairs—it’s probably best to keep looking. Ask for specific numbers and references.
3). How will they transport and plate food?
Again, it’s critical that the caterer be a good match for the venue you choose. Different venues offer different kitchen facilities and amenities, and may not be able to accommodate the type of services the caterer offers.
4). How many servers will the caterer provide?
If you prefer plated service, the server’s role is to serve the food and clean up. With a buffet service, servers are mainly responsible for clean-up. The number of servers needed depends on the type of service provided. As a rule of thumb, a buffet service normally requires one server for every 60 guests or one server for each individual dish (salads, entrées, sides, desserts, etc.), whereas one server for every 30 guests generally works best for plated service.
5). What type of plates, flatware and glassware will they provide?
Some caterers offer a variety of place settings, while others offer one option or only disposable items. Many venues also keep plates, glassware and flatware onsite. If place settings are important to you, this is an important question to ask.
6). Have they worked with your venue before?
The more familiar and comfortable the caterer feels in the venue, the more smoothly your catering service will go. As noted above, the venue can provide insight on the caterer’s capabilities if they have previously worked with him or her.
Wondering how far in advance to book your caterer? Check out this recent post on vendor timelines for details.
Schedule or attend a tasting—but don’t base your decision on taste alone
Caterer tastings typically occur in one of two ways—either one-on-one or at a general open house tasting. For one-on-one tastings, you typically choose one of the specific menus the caterer offers and taste each item on the menu. At DFW Celebrations banquet hall in Irving, we hold an open house every month where caterers bring in a sampling of menu items to taste, which allows you to taste every dish they make.
Either way, caterer tastings should be available to you free of charge. They’re trying to earn your business after all, and based on our experience, we consider it a red flag if a caterer charges a fee for a tasting.
Finally, even if you LOVE the caterer’s food, that doesn’t mean they check all of the other boxes needed for a successfully catered event. Their reputation for consistency, punctuality, good service, attention to detail and overall value can’t be underestimated.