Wedding Planning Tips

How Do I Choose a Wedding Caterer?

Have you ever been to a wedding and loved the food? Or maybe you’ve been to one that had mediocre at best food, and it took away from an otherwise perfect day. So how do you go about choosing your caterer? Saying “I do” at Boutique Events Group is an elegant and luxurious affair.

We’re here to help! Whether you want traditional or modern cuisine, we have some helpful tips on what to look for in your search. Read on!

Do I Need a Caterer?

For many couples plunging into a DIY wedding, those famous words of “We’re doing the catering ourselves” always makes us nervous. 

As much as auntie Joan may make a mean flan and Dad can get cheap booze from the local pub, don’t underestimate the other one million things a caterer does!

You need to seriously consider a professional caterer if your guest list exceeds 40. 

You will not enjoy yourself when you’re running around worrying about dirty dishes and whether or not everyone has had enough to eat. 

If you do take on the catering yourself, at least hire staff to serve and clear up. 

It’s money well spent, and you can always rely on these staff not disappearing after 12 hours of drinking prosecco and dancing.

What Type of Catering Do I Need?

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Your caterer will very much depend on the venue and type of reception you’ve decided on. Many platforms have an in-house team or recommended list. 

They may even insist that you use a particular one. However, for a marquee in the garden, local restaurants, bakers, outside catering companies will be more than willing to quote.

Once you’ve found your ideal venue, it’s always good to make an appointment to discuss dates, times, the number of guests and the exact prices of things––specifically the cost of the meal, which is usually the most significant expense in the budget.

Your caterer will need to know the date, time of reception, the number of guests, level of hospitality you wish to provide and your limit on charges per head to supply you with ideas and quotations. 

Costs are usually quoted per ‘head’ (guest). This should always include staffing, crockery and linen. Always ask for quotes and confirmation of everything in writing – and file your copies carefully.

There could be some additional catering equipment or staffing needed depending on your menu. 

It’s essential you confirm this as soon as possible or at least have a clear understanding so hidden costs do not creep up on you. 

Remember that caterers tend to get booked up months in advance.

Where to Start Finding a Caterer

Ask recently married friends for vendor referrals. 

Hotels, country clubs and extensive special-event facilities often have in-house caterers, and if not, they’ll have a list of preferred pros. 

That means choosing a venue like one of these will take you totally off the hook for finding someone yourself.

Ask your favourite restaurant to cater for your day. If they don’t do weddings, some spots might be able to point you to a trustworthy restaurant that does.

The photographers, florists, videographers and planners you’re speaking with might keep a list of reputable caterers they’ve heard of through the industry grapevine or know personally. Looking for Wedding Caterers in Melbourne? Look no further, Boutique Events Group has you covered.

Find Your Style

First off, you’ve got to figure out what you’re looking for to make sure your research heads out in the right direction. The best way to do this is to find your style. When you remember your wedding day and the food, what words would you like to use? If you get stuck, head over to Pinterest and get a mood board together.

Check Your Venue

Venues often have a list of recommended caterers or exclusive caterers. If you’re not getting married at a platform, it’s worth just taking a peek at their approved caterer’s list for some inspiration. If you are holding your wedding reception at a venue, this could make your job easy as you can pick one from a list. Or, if you don’t like what’s on their list, you’ll have to ask them if they’ll allow an external caterer to come in. Most venues are amenable to this, as, at the centre of it, they are there to help you have the day you want. Just be aware that some venues charge caterers a percentage fee for catering with them, so as frustrating as it is, you may have to add a cost.

Ask Friends and Family

Newsflash: your wedding isn’t just about you two. It’s about the friends and family that you are choosing to celebrate it with. By this, I don’t mean that you have to pick your catering purely based on what everyone else likes; though there may come the point where compromise has to be made, your friends and family support you through your wedding planning the important marriage after. Not only may they be able to find you your perfect caterer, but comments such as “my sister used this caterer, but they’re too ‘x’s, ‘y’ or ‘I’m for you” will help with deciding what style to go for. Also, as I’m about to delve into it, there are some great caterers out there who may not even have a website and word of mouth is just about the only way to find them.

Use Google Search, Well

This may seem ultra obvious, but I’m not about to tell you to use Google search; it’s more about how you use it. There are some great caterers out there, and the Google search bots aren’t necessarily the best ones at finding them. Some caterers get lucky and manage to build a website that performs well on Google, and some don’t. Be that because they’re too busy in the kitchen and at events or because their website is optimised for phrases you’re not searching for. It costs a lot of money/time to get to the top of Google for terms such as “outside caterer”, and your perfect caterer isn’t necessarily going to be there.

  • Use the location that your wedding is going to be in. Start specific, for example, the local town, then go larger.
  • Use phrases specific to what you would hope to find on their website. “Alternative”, “Rustic”,   
  • Use variations of one lead word followed by one following word: Lead words: “Outside” “Private” “Wedding” Follow terms: “Caterer”, “Catering” “Food.”

Once you’ve found potential perfect wedding caterers, the time has come to choose one.

Tips for Making Appointments

When you call to make appointments, try to schedule tastings as part of the interviews—their personality is essential, but it’s their food you’ll be putting to the test first.

Before you leave, don’t just take a business card—ask each caterer to draw up a rough outline including details like cost per person, menu options, precisely what the fee includes (alcohol, rentals, tips), service and presentation style, and less expensive alternatives. 

Make sure to ask these critical questions before making any decisions to book.

Check references and find out several things to make your search more helpful:

The customer’s headcount, venue and menu items.

The food’s taste, presentation and preparation.

  1. The quality and efficiency of the waitstaff.
  2. Whether or not the menu and bill met expectations.

Take extra precaution and get the full scoop on a particular catering firm through the Better Business Bureau before you make any moves to hire them.

Dos and Don’ts of Choosing a Wedding Caterer

Here, her simple dos and don’ts to keep in mind during your initial catering meetings. 

Don’t: Jump the Gun.

Don’t begin talking to caterers until you have a good idea of how many people you’ll be inviting to the wedding. 

The number of guests is crucial in your overall catering budget, so any conversations without this information will be very hypothetical and unhelpful.

Do: Know What Your Priorities Are.

What’s most important to you? 

It doesn’t matter if it’s having a gourmet experience or having as many friends in attendance as possible-you need to know the answer. 

As any bride in the thick of wedding planning can attest, it’s hard to have it all. Knowing where you’re comfortable cutting back will make comparing catering services that much easier.

Don’t: Try to Skimp on Service.

We’re talking about menus here, so it seems evident that the most critical factor is the food, right? Wrong. 

In this order, the three critical factors in choosing a caterer are service, food, and presentation. 

If you don’t have good service, the rest doesn’t matter because that’s what people will remember.

Do: Ask to Attend an Event They’re Catering.

It can be tempting to blast off 200 emails and gather as many menus as humanly possible, but the truth is it probably won’t be helpful. 

Instead, we advise couples to attend an event with the caterer you’re considering to experience their service. 

You can see the vibe and see how it feels, so you’re making an educated choice. So many people say they just want a tasting, and that’s only one part of it.

Please pay close attention to the staff’s demeanour, their attentiveness to guests, and how they handle any bumps in the road. 

On the day of, you won’t be able to be at 12 tables at once, so knowing your guests are in good hands ahead of time will give you one less thing to worry about.

Don’t: Get Too Caught up in Food Fads.

Offering your guests some twist on the “standard” wedding menu is always appreciated, but there’s no need to fret over modern versions of your favourite foods just to make an impression. 

There’s such an emphasis put on having expensive food or super gimmicky food, and it can get in the way of a good experience. 

Do: Trust Your Gut.

Aside from the food itself, your budget, the presentation, and the team’s service, there’s one factor that can go an even longer way: your gut. 

Choose a caterer you enjoy working with, one who understands your vision and concerns and is generally personable. You’re inviting this person to be part of your big day! 

Could you make sure they’re worthy of the honour?

What to Look for in a Caterer?

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In the beginning, expect an informal, no-pressure consultation with your caterer to get an idea of who you are, what you like and don’t like. 

This could be over the phone or at an agreed location. Then a proposal can be created with menus and costs for your initial consultation.

Every wedding is incredibly unique. Choose a caterer that is ready to serve your needs and reflect the vision of your big day. 

A catering company should customise any of their menus or dishes to cater to a client’s preferences or dietary restrictions. 

Also, it’s a major plus if the company has licensed bar services. This way, there’s no need to hire separately. 

How Much Should I Expect My Catering to Cost?

This is like asking how long a piece of string is. 

Some caterers focus on lower costs and higher volume; some have much higher prices but do significantly fewer events. 

It’s always good to understand why some caterers are more expensive as they are likely to provide a different level of service and have a long-standing reputation than others.

On the day of your event, no issue should reach the couple’s attention. 

With the help of a wedding planner, a caterer should make judgment calls for each issue and execute the event flawlessly. 

A caterer should know how to stay out of the way. This is a time to enjoy your new spouse and the ones you love. 

On your wedding day, the catering staff should know exactly what their jobs are and be able to execute them flawlessly, without interrupting the newlyweds.

Will the Time of Year Make a Difference to the Menu We Want?

When are you getting married? The date of your special day could reflect the food that you serve. 

For example, in autumn, you might look to serve up something very different than what you would want in the spring or summer. 

Remember, some foods are only available in the season, so if you are set on a game menu, then a summer wedding is not for you!

Do We Need to Try the Menu Before the Day?

Absolutely! Not only is the menu tasting the best part of choosing your wedding caterer, but it’s a crucial part of the process. 

Although many caterers will have impressive marketing, photography and review, the proof of a good caterer is really in the pudding! 

Sampling the menu is key to getting exactly what you want and ensuring you have made the right choice. 

It’s good to sample the food in your wedding surroundings and see how the service works, and get a feel for how the dining experience will be on the day. 

Top tips for menu tasting

  • Make sure you have a mixture of fish, meats and vegetarian to give variety (unless you opt for all veggie, vegan menus).
  • Remember that when guests are eating a canape, they will more than likely have a glass in the other hand!
  • Keep to your theme.
  • Try to choose dishes that YOU like rather than trying to cater to all 120 guests.

Do I Need Evening Food?

This is a question we get asked all the time. The answer is YES! 

Unless you’re having an evening wedding reception. 

Extra evening guests or not, if you’re drinking and dancing into the night, it’s always a good idea to have some nibbles arranged for hungry guests to refuel after a long night of ‘dad dancing.

If you have evening guests coming, then something more substantial will need to be arranged. 

Some people think ‘they should have eaten before they came, but my personal view is ‘if you don’t like them enough to give them a bacon roll or a cone of chips, why are they at your wedding?’ 

You’ve spent a small fortune entertaining your day guests, showing your evening guests they’re valued by laying out some nice cheese boards, a grazing table or even some bowl food. 

That’ll line their stomachs before that sugary sweet wedding cake.

How Much Evening Food Should I Provide?

This is a complex calculation – you’ll often hear people say 75% as a rule of thumb. 

Essentially this is correct because you don’t want to run out of food but prepare to have some leftovers – don’t let this get you down. 

It means none of your guests went home via the kebab shop – you put on a good spread!

No doubt you have a million and one questions about the dos and don’ts of a wedding caterer; as you can see, it’s a pretty intense area! 

One of the essential parts of my job as a planner is to source the best caterer for my couples, but it can sometimes take some work! 

A wedding planner can relieve an awful lot of the pressure when finding the best caterers, so if food is a priority for you, it would be worth getting in touch and chatting it through with a professional. 

If a wedding planner isn’t for you, then my advice would be to start researching. Get some inspiration from Instagram or recommendations from friends and family. 

Once you are a bit more clued up on the catering jargon, start putting a list of questions together for when you meet. Good Luck and bon appetit!

Questions for Your Wedding Caterer:

Availability & Venue

  • Is our wedding date available?
  • Do you have any other obligations on that day?
  • Have you catered at our venue before?
  • Can you accomplish our vision and meet our expectations?
  • How much space will you need at our venue?
  • Will you require any additional kitchen equipment?

Food & Menus

  • What is included? 
  • Are the menus flexible? 
  • Is there a vegetarian alternative? 
  • Can they accommodate special dietary requirements?
  • Can they accommodate children?
  • How soon can you have a menu tasting?
  • Are they able to work creatively within your budget?

Staffing 

  • Have they catered a wedding at your venue before?
  • Will your contact be at the reception to oversee the event?
  • When will you require final numbers and pre-orders?
  • What will the staff wear?
  • Are the serving staff included in the price?
  • What is the ratio of staff to guests?

Bar & Drinks

  • Do you have a bar?
  • Do you provide the staff?
  • Do you charge corkage?
  • Do you provide glassware?
  • Will you take care of all the dirty glassware?
  • Will we need to provide the alcohol?

Logistics & Details

  • Do they provide the linen, crockery, cutlery and glassware?
  • Do you offer table settings and accessories?
  • Do your staff handle the place cards and menu choices?
  • Can you provide a table and chair hire?
  • How much time will you need to set up
  • When will you be setting up?

Booking and Payments

  • Is a service charge included, or are gratuities optional? Is there a charge for breakage?
  • What is the cancellation/postponement policy?
  • How far in advance do I need to book?
  • How much is the deposit to secure the date, and when does it need to be paid?
  • Is VAT included in the price?
  • Is everything covered under your insurance?
  • Do you have a contract?

Too busy with life to really plan your wedding in detail? Have someone else do it for you and check out our list of Wedding Planners in Melbourne to help take the stress away.

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