Vendor Series: A Planner’s Perspective (Catering)

Hello all! We know we’ve been absent from the blog recently, and we apologize! But we are hopefully about to make up for it! We are going to do a little series pertaining to vendor selection, from a planner’s perspective (that’s us!). For the series, we will release a new post each week highlighting some tips and information on how to go about selecting the vendor of the category we are highlighting. We hope the information we share with you will be an invaluable resource that helps make the process a little easier!

Bare with us, this post is a little wordy, but you can never have enough information when it comes to a choice of this magnitude.

Let’s start with your most likely biggest expense: catering.

First thing to consider is the style of service and type of menu you are wanting. This will help narrow down your selection to a more precise list. From that point here is the flow of events…

  • A valuable tool in assisting you with your selection, is reading reviews (Wedding Wire, Facebook, Yelp, The Knot, ect.) We recommend honing in on at least three companies for comparison.
  • Next it’s time to taste. There are two ways to go about doing so. The first is to set up a private meeting/tasting. The second is to attend a group tasting. With the private tasting, you are able to ask more questions, and get more feedback while still tasting their food. However, some private tastings are not complimentary, so be sure to inquire if there is a cost involved. With a group tasting, you are still getting to taste food items, while usually seeing the way the menu is presented at an event. These events are usually free, but be sure to confirm before attending. One thing to consider is you may not be able to have one-on-one consultation time like you would at a private tasting.
  • After tasting the food, you now want to get some proposals. Being that you may have liked all of the food equally as much, it may come down to cost. When comparing quotes, be sure to ask if the following is included:
    • Hors D’oeuvres
    • Dinner (buffet, stations, family style, or seated)
    • Dessert (if provided by caterer)
    • Non alcoholic beverages
    • Alcohol (if not providing yourselves)
    • Staffing
    • Rentals (if provided)
    • Extra fees (service charge)

Some caterers provide all of the above, or just a few items. We listed items you would most likely find on a full service caterer’s proposal. This is where it may be a good idea to have a planner’s input. They are able to help you understand the breakdown of each proposal and find any differences or ways to cut costs.

  • At this point, you should be able to narrow your choice down to one caterer. Now you may want to set up another meeting, either in person or via phone. This is where you can ask a couple of more questions before making your final decision. Here are some examples:
    • What is the staff ratio? (A good number is 1 server per 25 guests)
    • Will there be a Banquet Event Manager on site?
    • What will the waitstaff wear?
    • Are they licensed in your state?
    • If alcohol is to be served, do they have a liquor license?
    • Is there a corking or cake cutting fee?
    • What is meant by “service charges”?
    • Is gratuity included or paid separately?
    • Is a tip jar on display at bar? (are you okay with this?)
    • If no kitchen is available on the property, can service still be provided?
    • How much set up does your staff provide?
    • Can they accommodate dietary restrictions/allergies?
    • Can they provide kids meals?
    • How are vendor meals handled?
    • Are you allowed to take home the leftovers or are they disposed of?
    • What is the payment schedule?
    • What is your refund/cancellation policy?
    • Any other questions you may have, now is the time to ask!
  • Now you’ve made your choice and are ready to book a caterer. The first thing you will need to do is make an initial deposit and sign a contract. You may want to get a payment schedule, if available, to help stay on track with your budget. Also, be sure to ask when final guest count is due, so you can plan your RSVPs accordingly.

It may be at this point, you’re job of securing a caterer is complete. However, there may be two more items to consider depending on which caterer you’ve chosen.

  • Rentals: Do you need additional rentals outside of what your venue and caterer may provide? If so, set up an appointment with your local rental company. If you have a planner, they can attend this meeting with you to help with your selection. If you do not have a planner, someone from the catering company may also be able to attend. If rentals are provided through the venue or caterer, be sure to preview these items to make sure they accommodate your needs.
  • Alcohol: If you are planning to provide your own alcohol, here are a few things to consider:
    • Determine the amount of alcohol you will need based on the amount of guests of drinking age. Your caterer should be able to help you with an equation to figure out that number. If not, click here for a simple alcohol estimator. (Many more can be found on the internet!)
    • If you plan on serving liquor, be aware you will need to obtain a Special Occasions Permit.
    • Inquire if your caterer can still provide the bartenders to serve the alcohol.
    • If wanting a full bar, you can still obtain a mixer package from your caterer or you can provide these items yourself. In our experience, it is easier and more cost efficient to allow your caterer to provide the package.
    • Be sure you have sufficient rental items for your bar.

Now your wedding is over, and hopefully your caterer did a phenomenal job. There are a few more things to handle before all is said and done. Usually your final balance is due after the event because there may have been a change or two the week of the wedding. You will likely receive a final invoice with total balance due. This total generally does not include gratuity (be sure to double check). If not, gratuity is at your discretion, and can be paid at the end of your event along with any with any other tips you may be distributing. To calculate your tip amount, take the percentage (generally 10-20%) of the food and beverage amount ONLY. Your caterer will then distribute the tip to each staff member accordingly. Lastly, be sure to leave a review based on your experience (good or bad) on a well known site. This greatly helps future couples with their catering decision.

We hope this first segment of our vendor series is of much use to you! If you have any other questions about making your catering selection, please reach out to us!

Be on the look out for our next segment on photography/videography!

xo,

Lynn & Jess

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