From Metrosource: Though many venues require you to go with in-house caterers, if you’re free to pick your own, you’ve got some homework to do:
Sit down with your fiancée and set a clear budget for all food and beverages for your big day. Take everything into consideration: appetizers/passed food, the meal itself, bar costs, the Venetian Hour, and last but not least your big beautiful cake. Be realistic.
Check with your venue for a list of preferred caterers they work with, then visit their websites. Consider references and reviews. Set up phone calls or preliminary meetings with any who stand out. Look at their social media accounts, and ask for opinions – especially from people who have worked with them. Request an additional initial estimate so you can factor in pricing when weighing relative advantages. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, inquire about an actual tasting. Often caterers will charge a fee for their tastings; this is standard.
Once you find your dream caterer, go through the nuts and bolts of your wedding. Things to cover in your conversation include staffing: bartenders, waiters, runners, chefs, coordinators; any necessary licenses or certificates; rentals (what’s included and what might be extra); the bar (can you save by supplying your own alcohol?); how they handle tips/gratuity; and most importantly, the menu. Be clear about your expectations. If it’s important to you, ask about things like whether their food is locally sourced, farm to table, and sustainable.
Go over this in detail, especially the (heaven forbid) cancellation policy so there are no surprises later. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, and while caterers will do their best to accommodate, they need to cover themselves as well. This is why insurance is essential. Once you have reviewed your contract, ask a friend or family member to go through it with you. Request any necessary changes you deem necessary, and be prepared to look elsewhere if the final agreement is not to your liking.
To Theme or Not to Theme
You may wish to tie your choices together with a theme. Consider everything from your wedding date to your favorite world cuisines. You don’t need to serve salmon, chicken or marinated beef tips. If you want British Pub fare, menu straight out of Chinatown menu, or a mouthwatering Thai buffet, go for it.
Buffet or Seated?
There are pros and cons to consider. A potential plus is that buffets can reduce your overall price by requiring fewer servers. Consider whether the size of the wedding and the layout of the venue means guests will lose more time on a buffet line or waiting to be served. Make sure the buffet will be restocked such that table 1 and table 99 both get well served. Buffets also have the advantage of getting guests out of their seats and chatting with people they might not otherwise meet. This choice may also offer a wider range of options.
It’s important to take allergies and eating philosophies into account. You may have guests who are vegan, pescatarian or gluten-free. Consider incorporating the opportunity to share this info into your RSVP, and coordinate with your caterer to ensure they can deal with any dietary restrictions long before the wedding date.
If you’re having an elaborate sit down dinner you might not initially consider food stations, but consider the fun that a popcorn station, a candy buffet, a cotton candy booth, a donut wall or even an ice sculpture shot station might bring to the party. Make sure your location has enough space (and power outlets) to handle what you’ll have cooking.
Source: Jeffrey James Keyes for Metrosource.