26 Dec 11 Questions You Should Ask Your Wedding Caterer

It’s your big day and you certainly don’t want to leave the catering to just anyone. Food and beverage will likely comprise the largest portion of your wedding budget, so you want to hire the best. But how do you narrow down the choices when selecting a caterer? While the first questions to ask are whether the caterer and venue have your date available and can accommodate the number on your guest list, there are so many more that you should ask to ensure that your wedding day goes off without a hitch.

1. How many weddings do you cater per year, and do you ever sell out for a date?

There is a fine balance between catering too many events per year and catering too few. You certainly want a company that has a lot of experience, but not at the expense of being overextended, which could have a negative effect on the quality of services provided at your event.

The more a caterer works, the more experience they gain and that experience is critical. But be wary of caterers who tell you that they can handle your affair anytime and anyplace. Every caterer should know their capacity for the number of events they can successfully accomplish each weekend and then should employ a “sold-out weekend” philosophy. This will alleviate possible mistakes such as a decline in food quality and services.

Also beware of multiple events happening side-by-side at your venue. You might think that Wedding Crashers is hilarious … until it happens at your own wedding.

Barn on Bridge Wedding

2. Are you licensed?

Sure the food tastes great, but does the caterer have all of the appropriate health permits? Additionally, does the business carry liability insurance and have a liquor license? Not just anyone can be a caterer. For your safety and the safety of your guests, make sure your chosen caterer is properly licensed.

3. Who will run the event day of, and what do they handle?

Not all caterers are created equal. Many caterers simply handle the food. It’s important to clarify that your caterer will provide a day-of professional to lead the production of your event. If the caterer will not provide a day-of leader, then you will either have to handle all of the logistics yourself or hire an outside coordinator. If a day-of event coordinator will be included, find out the specifics regarding what he or she will handle. If the caterer’s event supervisor will only handle food and beverage details, you will need to ensure that there is someone else who can make all of the other details flow.

4. Do you offer a menu tasting?

Offering a menu tasting to clients is an added expense for caterers. Many will offer a menu tasting but will charge you to attend or simply will not provide a tasting at all. Your wedding day is a big investment. A caterer who is worth your confidence and trust will willingly invest in your satisfaction and will look forward to sharing a taste of what to expect on your big day.

Menu Tasting

5. What type of cuisine is offered, and do we have to select from an established menu?

Every wedding is a special representation of the individuals who are getting married. Make sure that your caterer can create a menu that is a reflection of your tastes and desires.

Does your caterer offer organic or special meals for dietary restrictions and preferences? Does your grandma have a special family recipe that you would like to include? Do you have a favorite dish from the restaurant where you spent your first date, and can they re-create it for you? Does the groom have a favorite craft beer that he would like to serve? Do you want to share a little taste of your honeymoon by offering an island-themed signature cocktail? Can the caterer accommodate last-minute requests that might pop up in case Aunt Betty forgot to tell you she has an allergy? Look for a caterer that can be flexible with their menu and drink offerings—even on the day of your wedding.

6. Do you provide alcohol and trained bartenders?

Most caterers are licensed to serve alcohol, but not every caterer is licensed to provide alcohol. Some may be licensed to provide alcohol at their venues, but not at an off-site location. Be sure to clarify.

Additionally, not all bartenders are equally trained. Your caterer should provide professionally trained bartenders who not only know how to make a great drink, but also have completed a Responsible Alcohol Management Program. Make sure they are fully covered so you are, too!

If you are providing your own alcohol, can the caterer guide you through beverage planning and offer you suggestions on much beer, wine and liquor to purchase?

7. Will the bar be closed at any time during the event?

There are only two reasons throughout your event when a bar should close—when you are moving a crowd of people from one area to another (such as from the cocktail hour space to the ballroom) or during a special presentation (like a best man’s speech) when you want to reduce noise and keep all attention focused on the matter at hand.

When bars are closed for extended periods of time at events, long lines will form before and after closing and sometimes guests might overindulge because they are afraid they might not be able to get back to the bar.

Some caterers also close the bar during the dinner hour. This often comes with a suggestion to do a tableside wine pour, which usually comes with an upcharge. If you’re paying for an open bar, make sure it’s all-inclusive.

Columbia Station Wedding

8. What is your staff-to-guest ratio?

It’s very important to maintain excellent service standards in order to consistently execute excellent events. Look for a caterer to provide one wait staff for every 20 guests and one bartender for every 50 guests.This ratio will ensure excellent service throughout your wedding reception.

9. How do you find and train your staff?

Many catering companies specialize in food and use temp agencies to provide service staff. At first thought, this seems like no big deal—as long as the food is good, right? Except your event is oftentimes the first time this team has worked together. Have you ever watched a sports team play together for the first time? Everyone comes from different backgrounds and training and is running around doing it their own way. It takes time, training and practice to build a winning, skilled team that works well together. Don’t let your special day be the first day of practice.

Off-Site Events, Day of Wedding Vendors

10. Do you have a preferred vendor list?

You may not be required to use the vendors on the preferred vendor list, but a good catering company will vigorously screen professionals before adding them. You can usually trust that anyone listed is well-regarded by your caterer’s previous clients and their staff. The benefit of using vendors who are on the preferred vendors list is that those professionals have most likely worked at the location repeatedly; therefore they understand the space, format and style of service of the caterer. They may also be familiar with the caterer’s process and generally work well with the people who will be executing your event. Just be sure to ask how they choose the vendors that they recommend on their list and that you are satisfied with their criteria.

11. Do you offer event packages, and what is included?

Many caterers boast that their event packages are all-inclusive. In most cases that means only the food, bar and service personnel. A champagne toast, tableside wine pours at dinner, wedding cake, tables, chairs, linens, china, flatware and glassware are often extra. Initially the caterer may sound like a more affordable choice, but then the bill starts adding up. The caterer who seemed more expensive might include more extras and therefore actually be much more reasonably priced. Make sure you know everything that is included as well as the charges for extras prior to signing a contract.

Ready to start planning your party? Schedule a consultation with one of our event managers today!

Robert Ryan Catering and Design plans and executes over 400 events each year, boasts a five-star rating on WeddingWire and has received WeddingWire’s Couple’s Choice/Bride’s Choice Award seven years in a row. Learn more about Robert Ryan Catering & Design and tour our venues. Subscribe to our e-newsletter for exclusive offers, up-to-date news and recipes from our executive chef.

Ronna Dewey

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From inception to execution, Robert Ryan Catering & Design works with you to realize your vision for your event, and translate it into a successful affair.