Wedding Catering Basics

Everything you need to know about catering your wedding — from identifying hidden costs to handling dietary restrictions.

Photo By: Thongkoch Chutpattarachai

Photo By: José Luis Gutiérrez ©José Luis Gutiérrez

Photo By: Cristian Baitg ©Copyright Cristian Baitg

First Things First: Finding a Venue

Before you book your favorite restaurant to cater your affair, you need to have your venue all squared away. Keep in mind that many venues require couples to either use their in-house catering services or choose from a list of preferred vendors. And if you do end up bringing caterers in, don't forget to make sure the venue has an adequate kitchen and prep space first!

Set a Budget

Since a significant portion of your wedding budget will likely go to food, setting a budget early on will help you determine what’s most important and keep you on track. Make your budget crystal clear to your caterer from the outset; a good caterer will be honest about what’s possible and what’s not, and will work within your means to create a standout menu.

Start Your Caterer Search Early

While you absolutely should take the time to enjoy your engagement, there are a few vendors that you’ll want to book ASAP, your caterer being one of them. Start doing research at the same time you begin looking at venues — about 12 months before you say “I do” — to get a sense of what’s out there.

Ask the Right Questions

You’ll be working closely with your caterer for a long period of time, so you’ll want to make sure they’re the right one for the job. Set up meetings and tastings with potential caterers, and then spend time researching them. When you finally sit down with each one, you'll want to find out whether or not they have liability insurance and a liquor license, what's included in the package (waitstaff, furniture, etc.) and whether or not they can accommodate dietary restrictions. 

Scrutinize Your Guest List

The size of your guest list and your budget have a direct impact on what you’ll be able serve at the reception and how. If food is your focus, a smaller group will allow you to really make the most of your budget and deliver an out-of-this-world spread. If it’s the decor and entertainment that top your must-have list, you can cut a few corners by axing a starter course or going light on the apps; just make sure that what you do end up serving is thoughtful and delicious.

Identify Any Hidden Costs

There’s nothing worse than receiving a bill and realizing that it’s way more than what you budgeted for. Before signing a contract, have your caterer go over every monetary point and clarify what extra costs and fees exist outside of the price per head. These could include waitstaff gratuity, cake cutting and plating fees, and corking fees for any alcohol you bring in yourself. And don’t forget to ask what their policy is for guests who don’t show!

Consider Dietary Restrictions

Now more than ever, caterers are getting on board with a diverse range of diets, meaning it’s a whole lot easier for you to plan a meal that will appeal to all your guests. Be sure to ask your caterer how they typically handle these situations, and ask your guests to note any dietary restrictions on their RSVP cards.

Go Local and Seasonal

It’s no secret that food tastes best when it’s in its prime. Focusing on locally grown goods will also deliver big-time in the flavor department, while supporting your friendly neighborhood farmer, too. Schedule your tastings right around the same time of year your wedding will take place, for an idea of how good your food will taste.

Get Personal

Your menu, your rules. A successful menu doesn’t have to adhere to the status quo, but rather offer guests a taste (literally) of who you are as a couple through dishes inspired by things like your hometowns, your favorite vacation spots and the very place you met. 

Settle on a Style

How you intend to serve your food is just as important as what you're serving. A family-style meal will feel awkward in an ultraformal setting, while white-gloved waiters will seem out of place in a casual setting. Take inspiration from your wedding’s vibe and the elements you want to be the focus of the night.