Your wedding reception is a significant part of your wedding. It’s the “social” part of the day, and your guests will be looking forward to the food, alcohol, and dancing. That is why choosing the right wedding caterer is so important. There are two things your guests will remember: the quality of the food and the service. You want both to be impeccable at a catering price that fits your budget.
Excellent and experienced wedding caterers can ensure that everyone has the best possible time at your wedding reception. And you want to get the most for your money. When you find a wedding caterer with whom you “click,” the event is bound to be a huge success.
We love every part of weddings—from the planning to the thank you notes—but why lie? We’re extra excited about the food. Whether it’s a passed hors d’oeuvre or a seated dinner, mealtime at a wedding is also a bonding time for your guests and you. So, you want to get the food right.
While many wedding venues require that you use a specific catering service, that’s not always the case. And when it isn’t, you’re on your own. But this is the food we’re talking about—caterer shopping should be fun. Here’s how to choose your wedding caterer.
When hiring your wedding caterer, channel your inner Trump and negotiate yourself the best possible deal. Remember that you are doing the hiring and you are the boss.
For ideas on how to plan the perfect wedding reception, check out these wedding food ideas.
Here are some of the things to look for in a wedding catering service that can assure a successful event.
Looking for the best wedding caterers? Look no further! Brighton Savoy has you covered.
11 Useful Tips for Picking the Perfect Wedding Caterer
The food at your reception is something your wedding guests will look forward to the most (aside from celebrating your marriage, of course)! It is a chance to enjoy your big day and indulge, so choosing the right caterer is important if you want a reception to remember. Here are some helpful tips to help you pick the perfect caterer:
- Know your budget. When it comes to wedding expenses, catering is often the most considerable expense (45-50% of most wedding budgets go towards catering and the reception). Caterers vary in type of food and style, so carefully select your caterer. Discuss your budget, the style of reception you would like (i.e. buffet, food stations, sit-down dinner, or cocktail reception), and the types of food that you want to serve.
- Be a taste tester. You should always schedule a “tasting” with a caterer to sample their culinary skills and take note on the presentation of the food as well. This will familiarize you with their style before committing to them as your caterer for your big day!
- Always check references! Many brides ask for references but never actually call them. Making at least two reference calls will help you feel more confident in your decision to hire them. Don’t be shy, remember: it is another chance for you to talk about your wedding!
- Ask your caterer about “guaranteed numbers.” When you provide a minimum or guaranteed number of guests to your caterer, they can quote prices based upon those numbers. Find out if the caterer will base their figures on a minimum number of guests. Note: a guest count of less than 100 can result in additional fees.
- Don’t forget about dinnerware or china! Be sure to look into the dinnerware and china when hiring your caterer. Some caterers include the dinnerware in their price, but this may mean that it isn’t of the best quality—it could be damaged, scratched, or worn out. So it is good to ask to see samples to make sure that the place settings meet your standards and match the rest of your décor.
- Service is an important factor when choosing your caterer. Be sure to ask about the ratio of servers to guests. Obviously, this can vary depending on the type of reception you have (seated dinner versus a buffet). A good rule of thumb to remember is to have one server for every eight to ten guests.
- Feed your vendors. Once you determine a final headcount for your caterer, you should also include a meal for your entertainer(s) (DJ or band), photographer, and wedding planner. Of course, you should confirm with your vendors that they actually want a meal before you include them in your headcount. Also, make sure to keep them separate from your guest headcount—your caterer will usually charge you less for “vendor” meals. Be sure to ask your caterer where the meals for your vendors will be served, and confirm that they will be eating somewhere separate from your guests.
- Request a leftover basket! Ask your caterer to prepare a sampling of all the food at your reception. At your reception, you will likely be so busy socializing with guests, dancing, and celebrating that you may not get a chance to eat and enjoy all of the wonderful food. Even if you’re leaving the next day for your honeymoon, a leftover basket makes for a great late-night snack.
- Caterers may include decorations in their price, so be sure to ask what (if any) are provided. Also, request pictures of their previous table displays. Some caterers that do buffets or food stations will include floral arrangements and other centrepiece decorations. As you get a better idea of your wedding theme and style, talk to your caterer about your colour concept so that all their decorations and floral arrangements will coordinate with your vision.
- Having a menu board is a rising trend in doing buffets or food stations. Ask the caterer if you can use a framed menu board to elegantly display the names and descriptions of your entrée items. Incorporate your theme onto the menu board, making it fun and eye-catching to guests as they fill their plates!
- Don’t overdo it on the number of hors d’oeuvre options. Do you really need eight different varieties? Too many options can sometimes be overwhelming to your guests. But surprisingly, some caterers will suggest this! If they do, explain you aren’t looking to spend money on anything extra. Four different hors d’oeuvre varieties are usually enough.
What type of meal service do you want?
First and foremost, decide what eating vibe you want to achieve. In other words, how do you want your food served? There are a few standard wedding dinner options. Keep your wedding venue, wedding style, and budget top of mind as you choose your service type.
Formal Sit-Down Reception Dinner
Sit-down wedding dinners are the most traditional choice. In some cases, guests choose between a handful of entrée choices and submit their preference ahead of time—usually via a dinner card included in your invitation suite. Once at the reception, a professional waitstaff serves each course.
- This structure can help set a schedule for the reception.
- Sit-down dinners also provide an opportunity for friends and family to make speeches and toasts.
- All guests also typically receive their meals at around the same time, too.
- This dinner style is also usually the most cost-effective option. You have a confirmed number of guests so your caterer can prepare the exact right amount of food.
- There are usually limited food options. You and your partner will meet with the caterer ahead of time to choose 3-4 dishes that guests can choose from. Typically, there is a beef, chicken, fish, and vegetarian option.
- These dinners need more staff—both for serving and also for preparation. This can increase your catering bill.
- If you have assigned tables but don’t assign seats, it can be challenging for the staff to make sure everyone receives their selected dish. This also gives guests the opportunity to change their original choice on the spot if they choose, as the staff won’t have names to guide their service.
Buffet-Style Reception Dinner
Wedding buffets include a variety of menu items spread out on long self-serve tables or serving stations at stations. This setup allows your guests to freely approach the foods of their choosing and can make accommodating special diets much simpler. It also lends a laid-back feeling to your reception with more mingling time.
- You need to employ fewer servers which can minimize man-power costs. Each station or table will usually have a staff member behind it to dole out the appropriate portions (and also provide any allergy information). It’s a good idea, though, to serve appetizers to the tables before a buffet dinner. So you will still need a handful of servers for this.
- Picky eaters will find something. As we said, buffet-style dinners are ideal for those guests with special diets. The same goes for people with limited palettes.
- Long lines may form. To keep things running smoothly, you may need to work with your caterer to strategize a layout that keeps wait time to a minimum.
- Guests serve themselves and carry their own food from station to table. After a few drinks at cocktail hour, this might prove less graceful than you hoped.
- Buffets also require a lot of food. If you don’t have servers at every station, guests are left to their own devices, and certain favourite dishes may go faster than others. So, you’ll need to account for popular choices to avoid disappointing guests at the end of the line.
At Brighton Savoy, we offer a wide list of the top wedding caterers to help you choose for your big day.
Family-Style Reception Dinner
Family-style dining is exactly what it sounds like—picture eating dinner with your family. Large serving platters of food are brought to the table to be passed around. Guests serve themselves and waitstaff brings and clears plates, as needed.
- Guests can fill their plates and eat as much as they prefer.
- You need less staff as dishes are usually brought out en masse to all tables in one swoop.
- This is an easy, stress-free option. Guests are seated and serving themselves. They can mingle and you, as a couple, can relax and enjoy your meal.
- Consider the size of your centrepieces. Family-style dining requires the room to leave a lot of large plates on the tables.
- This style can get expensive. Your caterer will have to increase food quantities to make sure nothing runs out.
What kind of food do you want to serve?
Now that you know how you want your food to be served, you need to decide what kind of food you want to serve. We are in the camp that says you should serve the food you want to serve at your wedding. However, there are some considerations to think about.
- Your guests. You and your partner won’t be the only ones dining at your reception, so it’s thoughtful to consider your guests. For example, while you guys maybe sushi fanatics, the majority of your guests may not feel so passionate about seafood. Be mindful of general food preferences.
- Your dinner style. Most food types fit with a variety of dining styles. However, it’s smart to think about who will be serving the food—staff or your guests. If you’re having an Italian feast, for example, self-serve stations may be a recipe for sauce-stained disasters.
Your theme or the season. If there’s a common thread running through the majority of your wedding—whether it be an actual set theme or a touch of seasonality—incorporate that into your food options. You want flavorful dishes that also complement your celebration.
These considerations should help you narrow down the search for your perfect catering company. Now you can seek out those caterers who specialize in the food and serving style you prefer.
How do I find my wedding caterer?
There are a few different ways to find your ideal caterer. First, ask for your wedding venue. They may not require a specific company, but they will likely have plenty of recommendations for you. All the better if it’s a location that’s hosted many weddings. They may even have relationships with catering companies that could end up in a deal for you.
- Don’t count out word of mouth either—especially if it’s coming from friends or family. Ask your loved ones about caterers they enjoyed or, if you attended a wedding recently with amazing food, ask the couple who they used.
- Ask recently married friends for vendor referrals.
- Scroll through The Knot Marketplace for top local caterers and client reviews in your wedding location.
- Hotels, country clubs and large special-event facilities often have in-house caterers, and if not, they’ll definitely 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 favorite restaurant to cater 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.
Tips for Making Appointments
- When you call to make appointments, try to schedule tastings as part of the interviews—their personality is incredibly important, 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, exactly what the fee includes (alcohol, rentals, tips), service and presentation style, and less expensive alternatives. Make sure to ask these important questions before making any decisions to book.
- Check references and find out several things to make your search more helpful: one, the customer’s headcount, venue and menu items; two, the food’s taste, presentation and preparation; three, the quality and efficiency of the waitstaff; and, four, 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.
Check out our wide list of top wedding caterers at Brighton Savoy.
Don’t even consider interviewing a wedding caterer before you have your budget and guest list in place. This will allow your candidates to offer you a number of per-plate options within your price range. You should also know the type of wedding catering you need. Seated versus buffet will affect the price of the meal.
If you are unsure, the caterer can provide options for both. Discuss your dream wedding and see what suggestions he or she is able to make. A good wedding caterer will know how to best turn your random thoughts into a dream event.