There is a terrible misconception that wedding food is bad food. Not true. Most wedding food is unmemorable food. A bit of fluff that simply fills a time slot of the reception and puts a dent in empty stomachs that are gearing up for the dance floor. You might as well serve Power Bars for fuel if you aren't going to put any thought into the food. If you have a great caterer, your wedding will stand out in people's minds and set your special day apart from the rest.
My lovely friend over at The Glamourist is getting married in a few months, and she requested that I go over some topics about picking out the perfect caterer for the perfect day. I love that. I had almost forgotten the ordeal I went through trying to find a caterer! It took months of searching to find someone who would do a custom menu. So here are some things to mull over privately before you venture out to procure your food vendor.
1. Time of day. I know that you have your time in place. Morning or evening, you've made your choice. Brunch weddings are much cheaper because the ingredients used for breakfast are often cheaper. Eggs, cheese, and fruit? Maybe a little smoked salmon and some bagels? That is a lot less money than filet mignon and lobster. What if you are having a mid-afternoon wedding? Think about serving heavy hors d'oeurves instead of a full meal. It keeps cost down and most people don't want to eat a lot of food at 4 or 5 pm.
2. Seasonality? Not all items are available year-round. Produce is more limited in the winter and certain meats are best in spring. You will save money if you stick with the food that is in season. Also, think about it... do you really want to serve something like beef wellington in the middle of July or ceviche in January? Go with your season!
3. Plated meal or buffet? A plated meal screams "fancy!" However, they are significantly more expensive than a buffet because of the timing and wait staff that is involved. Also, there is more room for error on the caterer's part. If plating is not timed properly, the food may not be consistent in temperature. Of course, for someone who knows what they are doing this isn't an issue, especially with smaller gatherings. Buffets allow guests to have more control over their meal. It is much easier to feed a very large group of people with a buffet.
4. Custom or standard? Most caterers you find have a set menu. You pick two items out five from several categories. That is fine and often they have decent prices, but where is the creativity? When I see a standardized pick-and-choose menu that has no wiggle room, I see a business person who lacks passion. If you know you want a BBQ reception or a steak and chicken meal, go with the standard menu. My personal choice is custom all the way! A good caterer will sit down and discuss the options with you. (I was a little bossy with mine... I knew what I wanted, and I just told them to make it!)
5. Do you have a righteous vegetarian friend? Don't invite them. Just kidding. The vegetarians/vegans I know are very considerate of us meat eaters and wouldn't cause a scene or complain. It never hurts to have a huge salad on the buffet and several side-dish options (by that I mean, don't offer only green beans or only potatoes) for those who aren't digging the main. Go a little adventurous! All your guests will thank you. Our salad had tropical fruit like mango and kiwi mixed in. The sides were black beans and rice, roasted vegetables, and baked plantains with cheese.
6. Just because you like it.... This is trying to consider everyone's food preferences here. I love fish. It had to be at my wedding. However, I know many people don't like seafood so I made sure to have a second protein choice that was very different (we did roasted, pulled pork... Southern friendly with a Central American twist.) Also, as much as I love things like tongue and goat, I would NEVER even consider serving such items to a large crowd of unassuming people (in America.) It sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised at the bat-shit crazies out there.
7. Have a favorite restaraunt? Ask if they will cater your event! Many places will, all you have to do is ask.
8. Caution! Be wary of venues that require you to use their in-house caterer. (Recipe for distaster.) However, do ask your venue if there are recommended caterers that they have dealt with in the past.
Questions to Ask
1. Do they have an ABC card? Hiring a separate bartender can be pricey.
2. Do you need to rent anything? Plates, silverware, glasses, or extra large chafing dishes?
3. How much will this cost? Before you finalize a hire, get a quote! It would be stupid not to.
4. Cake discount? If a caterer has a baker on staff (or some one equally as qualified to make you a fabulous 3 tiered confection), they will sometimes give you a really good deal if you order your cake though them as well.
5. Are they familiar with your local? Some venues have kitchens, some don't. That makes a pretty big difference when it comes to planning and timing the meal.
6. Can I get a sample? The only way to know if the food is good is to try it! Many places will set up a tasting menu for a small fee.
7. Testimonies. This isn't a question, I know. Testimonies from previous clients are invaluable to gauge reliablity, consistency, honesty... all those character traits that are important. Then after your experience, write a testimony. Good or bad you are helping the public in their future decisions.
As a satisfied client of both cake and food from my wedding, I highly recommend both companies I used!
Cake: Flour Girls
Food: The Mad Platter