Choosing a wedding caterer

When comparing catering companies, you need to compare more than the menus in order to determine the true cost. Menu items and services may all sound the same, but the final price for your event may vary greatly, and rightly so.


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The company you are considering should have a good track record and list of happy clients. Simply selecting a caterer out of the phone book is a risk you should not take. A great way to start is by talking to the staff at your favorite venues and asking who they would recommend to hire for the style of food and service that you are planning. Another great way to get valuable insider information is by asking other wedding professionals who they would recommend. By understanding of how different companies price their events, you can make a more informed decision. Here’s a list of things to know and questions to ask, so that you can get a better grasp when comparing catering bids.

Menu design 
No two caterers create identical dishes, even if the dish sounds the same. To understand why pricing differs, you need to ask the caterer how the food is prepared and what ingredients are used. The fresher and more exotic the ingredients, the more expensive the cost. Does the caterer actually create the food from scratch or do they purchase it frozen and just doctor it up at the last minute by adding their own sauce or garnish? How will your menu be presented at the event? Look for a caterer that has photos of their work that depicts beautiful presentations. One caterer might have their own staff while another may use contract labor for each event. Each detail affects the overall quality and the final price you will pay. Several elements added together create the final price.

Corkage and cake cutting fees 
It used to be that these fees were added to compensate a venue when they allowed you to bring in your own items. These fees have become standard charges that are applied by many companies, even when you will be utilizing the in-house staff or the venue's champagne. To compare caterers, you will need to find out the charges for each charge and add them to the final bottom line.

Creating a kitchen 
An off-premise wedding reception often requires a finish kitchen of some sort. Did the caterers you are interviewing include this in their proposal or did they end your proposal with "plus rentals"? Remember to ask each caterer how they plan to prepare the food on-site. For instance, will they be plating to order, which requires extra staff, or will they be plating ahead and holding the meals in transit cabinets. In the end, you will find that everything is a compromise. It’s up to you to determine what is worth it and what you can do without.

Ask how your caterer will staff your event. The ratio of server to guest varies dramatically depending on what style of food service you choose (such as sit-down, buffet, family style). A caterer whose standard for a sit-down meal service is one server per 10 guests is going to be providing a much higher level of service (and should be more expensive) than a service whose ratio is one server per every 25 guests. You need to understand the level of service provided in order to make a fair comparison. And if you are paying for service as a line item, is there a service charge?

Gratuities and service charges 
There is some confusion between these two terms and some caterers even have a mandatory charge for both. Here is a definition of the two that can help you ask the right questions and know what you are being charged. A true gratuity is an optional amount of money given at your discretion to the service staff. A service fee (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a gratuity) is a predetermined percentage that is set by the contract and included on the final bill. The percentage is fairly standard and the current norm is between 18 and 22 percent - calculated based on the total catering bill. Note that if it’s contracted for, it will be taxed. By knowing this, you can avoid another surprise at the end of the party and be able to compare pricing with the knowledge of what everything will really cost.

Ask Questions and compare
While two menus might appear to be alike on the surface, there may be substantial differences between them in cost and quality. It is important to understand the real cost of your catering bid. Asking the right questions and making the right compromises will guarantee a great meal. Fresh ingredients that are promptly served may cost more, but if you can afford it, the difference will be noticeable.