So, you’ve found a venue, and now it’s time to find a wedding caterer. With so many types of food and services to choose from, finding the right caterer can feel overwhelming. As an Austin wedding catering company, we see many overwhelmed brides in the trenches of planning at this time of year, so we decided to share our tips for finding the best caterer for your big day.
There are four major steps to keep in mind: determine your priorities and preferences; find the right caterers; ask the right questions; and ensure you understand the quotes you receive.
What to Know Before You Search for a Wedding Caterer
Before you dive into a caterer search, you can save yourself some headaches by answering a few questions about your wedding:
- What are your priorities? If amazing food is important, expect to spend more on catering to get the quality and experience you are looking for. Utilize your priorities to allocate more of your budget to the areas you care about most.
- What kind of food do you want to serve? Narrowing down the type of cuisine can connect you with a caterer who specializes in it. Many caterers could whip something up in your desired category, but everyone has a specialty, and choosing a natural fit for your event will ensure you get the most delicious food possible.
- What kind of atmosphere do you want your wedding to have? Different styles of catering lend themselves to different atmospheres. Looking for something formal? Then you look for caterers with a plated meal option. Looking for a friendly, warm atmosphere? Then consider a family-style service that gets guests interacting with each other. You can learn more about wedding catering service styles here.
- What are your budget expectations? Think of a full-service caterer (like us) as a fancy restaurant that brings the whole restaurant to you. All of the behind-the-scenes work of providing and setting up furniture, serving guests, preparing first-rate food, doing the dishes and so much more gets included in our cost. We provide most of the things you need to have an amazing reception, so you should expect a full-service caterer to cost 50 to 60 percent of your budget. Understanding what a caterer truly provides for your wedding (and how much all of those services cost from separate vendors) can help you set realistic expectations as you start the work of collecting and comparing quotes.
How to Find Wedding Caterers
Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to start building a list of caterers to explore. Ask recently married friends which companies they recommend and look for highly-rated, local caterers on the Knot or other wedding resources.
If you’ve already found a venue, trust their preferred vendor recommendations. No one in the wedding industry wants the hassle of working with vendors they’ve had bad experiences with, so their recommendations can point you toward quality wedding caterers.
As your list grows, it can be tempting to jump right into tastings, but you will be able to make a better decision if you shorten your list to two or three finalists, first. Do some investigating to find caterers who align well with what you are looking for, before you get caught up in all of the great tasting food. You may find yourself disappointed if you taste the best beef short ribs of your life, only to find out that the caterer doesn’t provide some other essential service you are looking for.
Take a spin around the caterer’s website and social media to learn more about them. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you do so:
- Do the types of food they offer align with what you want to serve at your wedding?
- Do they offer the type of service that will create the perfect atmosphere for your event?
- Do their portion sizes look reasonable to you?
- What other services do they offer that could streamline your planning (wedding cakes, other desserts, event staffing, bar services, etc.)?
The Best Questions to Ask Wedding Caterers
When you’ve gathered all the info you can online, it’s time to make a few final calls before scheduling tastings. If you haven’t found this information out already, now is a good time to ask:
- Does the caterer offer special allergy and/or dietary menu options?
- Where do they source their ingredients? Some caterers, like us, provide farm-to-table catering, ensuring that our food is of the highest quality and freshness, while supporting our local community.
- What are their most popular dishes? Again, the goal is to ensure they make the food you hope to serve at your wedding really well.
- Are they compatible with the venue you’ve chosen? Confirm the space requirements for their set-up, their inclusion as a preferred vendor, whether they’ve worked there before, and if they can set up and tear down within your venue time window.
- Do they have a static menu, or will they create a custom one for your event?
- Which bar services do they offer? Can they provide a full bar and bartender, or will you need to provide the alcohol, etc.?
- How many servers do they staff based on the guest count? This ratio can indicate how enjoyable your guest experience will be. Also, to gauge how stress-free your experience will be, ask if there will be an on-site, day-of coordinator.
- What is their process for preparing and serving food? Some companies don’t cook the food on-site or bring it fresh out of the oven before dinner service, so ask the company about their process to see what the food quality will really be like.
All of these answers should help you rule out quite a few options. With your short-list in hand, it’s time to schedule and enjoy some amazing tastings!
Pro Tip: Do your menu tasting when the food is most in season so you can get a true representation of what it will be like on your wedding day.
Finding Out How Much Wedding Caterers Cost
The final hurdle to finding the perfect caterer is understanding what you will get for your money. Just because two caterers are priced the same, doesn’t mean that they are equal. Here are the questions that will help you make sure you are getting everything you think you’re paying for.
- Ask for an itemized quote to see what portion of the budget is going to food, rentals, staff, service, bartending, gratuity, etc. Compare itemized offerings to get a true sense of each caterer’s cost.
- Ask for all prices up front. Asking about the logistics behind how the company prepares and serves food can help you uncover hidden costs. Are they going to charge you extra for cooking equipment down the road? Make sure to uncover those costs early on.
- Be sure to clarify what’s included in the per plate cost (look for things like non-alcoholic beverages, etc.).
- Ask for clear explanations of what’s included in set-up and tear-down services. Will your caterer assemble tables and chairs? Will they help with decor and distributing menus and place cards? What will happen to leftovers after the reception is over? These services can go a long way toward making your wedding day run smoothly.
- Find out how deposits and payments work with each caterer. What deposit is required to hold the date and when is the due date for the rest of the cost? Do they offer payment plans? What’s their cancellation policy? (That last question has been more relevant than ever over the last year!)
As you compare quotes, be sure to note when essentials like tables and chairs are included in the quote. Sometimes a seemingly higher price from a full-service caterer would actually save you money and trouble in the long run by including other essentials.
Finding the right caterer can make a huge difference on your wedding day, so make sure you take the time to ask the right questions and fully understand what they’re offering you.
If you’re planning a wedding in the Austin area, be sure to reach out to us, so we can help you start planning!