What to Ask Your Caterer
As you plan your wedding, catering will likely claim the largest portion of your overall budget. Choosing the caterer can be a stressful process. How can you be sure you’re making the right decision?
Compare Apples to Apples
Every catering company presents their quotes differently. Some will include all expected charges, like gratuity, set-up and breakdown labor; others will leave out these common charges and add them after your event – an unwelcome surprise! Similarly, some caterers package their services and show you one per-person price. Their proposals often leave out the details (how many staff members, how many chairs will be ordered, etc.) but are generally brief and simple to read. Other caterers will line-item all their services. While it may feel a little overwhelming to receive a seven-page proposal, you see exactly what you get.
Not all caterers are created equal – and neither are their quotes. Knowing what services are represented, and then filling in the blanks, will help you choose wisely.
Ask the Right Questions
What are your staffing ratios? How many servers & how many bartenders will be at my event?
A well-staffed event means food comes out of the kitchen quickly, water glasses remain full, and trips to the bar are brief. If these are important to you, find out how many servers and bartenders will be staffed at your event and consider ratios when evaluating the right caterer for you.
Will there be an Event Manager on staff?
A clear person in charge will help ensure things run smoothly. Both you and the service staff know where to turn if something unexpectedly arises. Plus, he or she is familiar with the details of your agreement while individual servers may not.
Is the food prepared on site?
Where the food is cooked influences food quality. Prepared on site, chicken is more likely to be juicy, vegetables crisp. If no on-site kitchen facilities are available, a professional caterer is skilled at creating kitchens in unexpected places, but it will affect your catering costs. Be sure to look that any fees for the make-shift kitchen are included in the proposal as well.
How many hors d’oeuvres are included?
For hors d’oeuvres receptions or cocktail hours, know how many pieces per person will be served. Too few, and guest will be grumpy and hungry. Too many, and you’re paying too much.
For a cocktail hour followed by a dinner, we at Vibrant Table, recommend 2-3 pieces per person. On the other end of the spectrum, expect 14-16 pieces for an hors d’oeuvre supper.
Can I do a tasting? What are the policies?
Tastings allow you to test the product, but they are expensive for the caterer. To offset costs, some caterers may invite you to an event to see their overall quality and professionalism rather than prepare your particular menu in a private-dining experience. Some caterers offer tastings with limitations: a certain day or time, how many items can be tasted, or how many guests can attend. Some may charge for a tasting – which can cost hundreds of dollars – while others may waive fees if you meet an event minimum. And there are caterers that do not offer tastings at all. Don’t be surprised if your caterer wants you to sign with them before they’ll provide a tasting, meaning you may have to rely on other resources to ensure they are all that they claim to be.
Do charges include all set up, break down and clean up?
Who “strikes” the tables and chairs? Who drapes and sets tables? Who hangs decorations and sets centerpieces? Who meets and instructs other vendors? Who will clean after the event? If you expect your caterer to perform these labor-intensive chores, ask that their quote includes the man-hours to do so.
Are there any charges that will be added to my invoice post event that are not included on the proposal?
Avoid being sidelined by hidden fees. Common event charges left off proposals are equipment, gratuity, transportation and travel fees. Also, inquire about what happens if your guests stay longer than expected or break a few glasses in their excitement. Unexpected things happen, but at least you’ll be prepared.
Asking your caterer the right questions will help you make an informed decision as you plan and let you enjoy your special day.