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23 Questions to Ask A Caterer

Updated: Jan 5

23 questions to ask your wedding or event caterer

This is a great list from The Knot that covers the big questions to ask when on the hunt for the right wedding caterer to prepare food and serve food and drinks. Good communication is always important, especially so when you are about to spend so much time and money with this catering company. The right vendor will have ready answers as these are fairly basic questions to ask a wedding caterer early in your wedding planning process. So what does a caterer do? Let's find out! 

Does the caterer have a license?

Why you want to know: More than just preparing delicious food, this means the catering company has met local health department standards (always good!) and carries liability insurance (a requirement from the health department). Make sure the caterer also has a liquor license if you're going to be serving alcohol.

Does the caterer have liquor liability insurance (if they're providing alcohol)?

Why you want to know: Anyone serving alcoholic beverages needs to have this type of insurance, including a wedding caterer serving alcohol along with catering services. If your wedding guests leave your party after taking advantage of the open bar and injure themselves, a third party, or damage property, you could be held responsible. Liquor liability insurance will minimize how much you'll have to pay if something goes wrong.

Can the caterer provide references from previous clients?

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Why you want to know: References can tell you what you may not find out just by talking to the caterer, including what it's like to work with this catering company or individual, quality of catering services they provide, problem solving ability and more. Get at least two references who had a similar number of wedding guests and reception menu style.

Is the caterer working any other weddings or events on the same weekend or same day?

Why you want to know: Sometimes, caterers will stack two or more events, a birthday party and a wedding perhaps, onto the same day or weekend. This doesn't have to be a deal breaker by any means, but you want to be sure if the caterer does have other events, your wedding will get the staff, event planning, and attention it deserves.

Does the caterer specialize in certain types of food, such as organic, locally sourced, ethnic or gluten-free, or services? Does the caterer work with fresh, not frozen, food?

Why you want to know: If you have a particular type of cuisine in mind, use a caterer who specializes in it. Not only will they have all the right resources, the caterer will also know how to properly prepare the food, meaning delicious food with better, tastier results. Especially make sure your caterer is able to handle any dietary restrictions you may be accommodating. Let's face it -- asking a sushi chef to create country-French cooking probably isn't going to end well.

Does the catered meal come full service?

Why you want to know: This just means that the catering company, in addition to food preparation, will handle everything from the table settings to bar service and cleanup. What's included depends on the catering company and the packages they offer. If it isn't full service, you'll have to find (and pay) additional staff.

What's the average price range, and does the caterer offer packages? How many appetizer and entrée choices come with the package? Are costs itemized depending on the foods you choose, or does the caterer offer an all-inclusive rate?

Why you want to know: A good chunk of your wedding budget will go to catering, so take some time to carefully weigh your options when choosing a caterer and your options for food and drinks. Packages can save you some serious money, especially if you plan on having a lengthy guest list. Most catering packages include appetizers (sometimes including fresh produce), salad, entrée and dessert (or cake), plus coffee service and, in some cases, wine. If your caterer does offer multiple packages, ask for sample menus to determine which one works best for you while also being cost effective.

When does the caterer need finalized choices?

Why you want to know: Your caterer needs to know your menu choices by a certain date, so they'll have all the ingredients ready to go for the day of your wedding. Decide on your RSVP date based on when your caterer needs a final head count.

Will the caterer make special meals for children and other wedding pros, and what does the caterer charge for each? Is the caterer able to prepare vegetarian, kosher or halal meals for a few guests, and is there an additional fee?

Why you want to know: A caterer may be willing to work with special dietary restrictions, but it could mean additional costs. If offering a special meal to certain family and friends is important to you, but the caterer's fees are hefty, you might have to find room from elsewhere in your budget or look for another caterer.

When will the tasting take place? Does the caterer offer tastings before being hired?

Why you want to know: Reading reviews of a wedding caterer is one thing, but you'll need to taste the food yourself to be sure. Definitely opt to do it beforehand if possible — it will allow you to make an informed decision and prevent you from getting locked in with a second-rate caterer that will be an integral part of your special day.

Does the caterer provide wedding cakes as well and, if so, is it included?

Why you want to know: Some wedding caterers can produce a fabulous confection, but other caterers don't specialize in wedding cake baking. Ask to see past examples of the caterer's work to get an idea of their cake-baking skills — if you're less than impressed, you might want to hire your own wedding cake designer.

Will the caterer provide tables, chairs, plates, napkins, silverware, buffet tables, and salt and pepper shakers – and are they extra?

Why you want to know: These items are essential to your event planning and if a caterer doesn't outfit their events with these necessary items, and your wedding venue doesn't have them on hand either, you'll have to rent them yourself, and rental equipment can quickly add up. Even if a caterer does have them, ask to see them to make sure they're up to par, especially if you have special requirements for these (special table runners, chiavari chairs, etc.).

Will the caterer provide a waitstaff? How many are included in the package and what's the fee for additional waiters?

Why you want to know: Top caterers say they always use their own serving personnel, ensuring a staff with exceptional customer service skills and experience in the hospitality industry working in fast paced environments at special events even if the wedding venue's staff is available. They know the ins and outs of how the company operates, so they're better able to provide seamless service. You'll want about three waiters for every six tables for a sit-down meal to serve both food and drinks to your guests.

What will the caterer and their staff wear?

Why you want to know: You want to make sure the catering staff dresses appropriately for the tone and style of your wedding – if you're planning a formal black-tie wedding, you might not want waiters in polo shirts.

Does the caterer also provide a bar, and what sorts of packages do they offer? How do you charge (by consumption or per person)?

Why you want to know: The bar can be a big cost, so give it some extra attention. There are usually two ways caterers (or wedding venues) charge for bars: either by set fee per person or by the amount of alcohol consumed. If they go with the latter method, at the end of the party, your bartender will count all the used and partially used bottles of wine and beer (and sometimes by the glass for mixed drinks) and ring up your bill.

Will the caterer provide alcohol, or do you need to handle the bar separately? Can you provide your own alcohol and does the caterer charge a fee for that?

Why you want to know: Most catering companies supply the bar and alcohol, but supplying it yourself can save you money. If you want to take the latter route, check with the caterer or wedding venue first—they might charge a corkage fee for every bottle opened, which could slash any savings.

How many bartenders are included in the caterer's package? What's the caterer's fee to hire extra?

Why you want to know: Ideally, you should have four cocktail waiters for every 100 wedding guests and one bartender for every 50 wedding guests to make sure your guests aren't hanging around with empty glasses. Additional staff will cost extra, so factor in that cost.

How do delivery, setup and breakdown work? What does a caterer do and is there an additional fee? How much time will the caterer need to set up? When will the caterer need access to the wedding site?

Why you want to know: You need these details in order to coordinate with your wedding venue and determine a time when your caterer can start setting up. You also need to know how much time the caterer needs for clean-up, because some venues may have a restriction on how late staff can stay. Not all companies will include setup and breakdown in their pricing—meaning you'll have to pay the wedding venue or caterer extra or hire outside help to do it for you, either option meaning higher costs!.

Where will the caterer prepare the food? Are there on-site facilities, or will the caterer need to make additional arrangements with the wedding venue?

Why you want to know: If the caterer has to bring in equipment, there may be an additional fee. So before you decide on a company, make sure you know what type of facilities your wedding venue has and the potential obstacles this could pose for the type of caterer.

Will the caterer set out the wedding place cards and menus we created?

Why you want to know: If the caterer says "no way!" you'll need to enlist the help of your wedding planner, a detail oriented family member or friend to deal with these wedding details. No matter who is putting them out, event planners or family, give them instructions (and a photo) of how you want them displayed at the wedding reception.

Who will oversee the event on the wedding day? Will the same caterer you worked with when planning also oversee meal service on the day? What will happen if he's sick or otherwise unable to be there?

Why you want to know: Ideally, the person you worked with from the catering company throughout the planning process (and who best understands your needs) will be your wedding day contact for food service. If this person isn't available, they should have a suitable replacement in mind from the company (ask to meet with this person too).

Does the caterer have extra charges, such as a security deposit, sales tax or service fees? What, if any, are the expected gratuities?

Why you want to know: Any extra charges from the caterer are going to affect your bottom line, so it's best to know ahead of time to plan for it.

How does the caterer arrange the food on the buffet or plate? Can you see photos of previous presentations from the caterer?

Why you want to know: Presentation is everything, and even the most delectable dish can seem unappetizing if poorly presented by the caterer. You've put a lot of time and effort into all of your other wedding details— the food shouldn't be any different.

So there you have it! Feel free to reach out to the professionals at Beau Catering for answers to these and any other questions to ask a wedding caterer that spring to mind as you go through the wedding planning process of evaluating catering services and for any other special occasions as well (religious ceremony, birthday party, you name it)!

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