Choosing a Caterer

When you are confronted with the challenge of choosing a caterer, it is good idea to have a few recommended caterers in mind that you feel you can trust.

Before you make the initial call to the caterer, a few details for your reception must already be laid out.

* How many people do you plan to serve?
* When and where is the reception going to be held?
* Are you wanting to serve a full meal, finger foods or just dessert?

At times, the location of the event has a lot to do with what caterer you will decide to use. Many hotels, museums, and other venues already have a preferred caterer or a list that you could choose from to best suit your needs and desires. Be sure to check with your wedding reception venue to find out if there are any restrictions.

Most caterers will quote you an average price per person based upon the menu you choose. Costs can normally range from $8.00 per person for light appetizers up to $250 per person, which would include drinks, appetizers, dessert, and wine or champagne with dinner.

If you plan to accommodate a party of 30, you can expect to pay about $20 to $25 per person for food, another $12 to $15 for service, and $5 to $7 for wine and liquor. As the number of your guests increases, the cost per guest typically decreases.

You will want to inquire about the style of dress the caterer's employees use during formal settings. It is wise to keep in mind that the service provided is a reflection of you and your special day. Also, ask about the decorations or centerpieces that are available, if any, from the caterer.

Finally, check with your caterer about your guests dietary requirements. Some caterers will provide a few vegetarian meals at no extra charge and a few extra regular meals in case of unexpected guests.

Here's some advice when searching for the perfect caterer:

* Make sure the caterer is properly insured, licensed and has all the necessary permits.
* Make sure the caterer's employees are covered by workers' compensation. If something was to go wrong the caterer would be held liable, not you.
* Get references from friends and people in the community. Chances are reputable names will overlap.
* Find a caterer that has been established for a substantial amount of time and whose owner is an active part of the company.
* Tour the facility, especially the kitchen.
* Don't neglect the importance of the quality of the food. Make sure to sample several dishes that you will be serving at your event.
* Always choose someone that you feel comfortable and confident with. Don't neglect enthusiasm. It's important to find someone that will go the extra mile for you.

Questions to Ask Your Caterer

Food plays an important role in the wedding festivities, so you'll want to take plenty of time and care when choosing your caterer. Here are some great questions to ask your caterer to ensure that you have a great "wedding feast" without any surprises.

Menu Options and Reception Styles - There is so much variety and choice when it comes to menu selection. It's no longer "chicken" or "beef". You can have a traditional sit down dinner, buffet, food stations or cocktail or dessert reception. It all depends on your personal preference and budget.

Budget - Let your caterer know your budget up front. Don’t assume that a buffet or food stations is less expensive than a sit down dinner. Remember, it depends more on what type of food you serve that determines the price.

Food Preparation - Does the caterer use all fresh food and produce? Will any of the food for the reception be previously frozen? Most "top notch" caterers do not use any frozen foods or anything that comes from a can.

Taste Testing - Ask if your caterer will do a "tasting". This is where the bride and groom can go sample and taste some of the caterer’s dishes.

Leftovers - Ask what is done with the leftover food. Particularly, if you are having a buffet or food stations there can be food leftover. Some brides choose to have the leftover food given to a homeless shelter or similar charity organization.

Many couples don’t get a chance to eat much or really enjoy the food during the reception because they're so busy with their guests. So, ask your caterer to prepare a "leftover basket" with a sampling of all the delicious hors d’oeuvres, main dishes and even dessert. Late that night, the bride and groom can enjoy a wonderful, romantic picnic for two.

Sometimes the leftovers are given to the bride or groom's parents. It's especially nice if they are entertaining any out-of-town relatives and don't have time to cook.

Family Recipes - Ask if dishes can be prepared that are not included on the regular menu. Some brides have a special "family" dish they'd like or a particular type of ethnic food prepared. This is a great way to really personalize your dinner and reception.

Guaranteed Numbers - Many caterers will quote prices based upon a certain number or minimum number of guests. For instance, many caterers base their figures on a minimum of 100 guests. If you’re final guest count is for only 80 guests, there may be an additional fee.

Wedding Cake - Do they offer wedding cakes? Is a wedding cake included in the price? Is there an additional cake cutting fee? Is there a price break if you already have a baker lined up?

Tax and Gratuities - Are they included in the price? Are there any additional fees that are not included in the quote or proposal?

Ratio of Servers to Guests - This can vary depending on the type of reception you have. One good rule of thumb is to have one server for every 8-10 guests.

Dress Code for Wait Staff - Will they be dressed formally in a black and white tuxedo look?

Decorations - Ask to see pictures of their table displays. Some caterers that do buffets or food stations will include floral arrangements and other decorations. As your wedding plans progress, talk to your caterer about your color theme so that all decorations and floral arrangements will coordinate.

Tableware and Linens - Does the price include table linens, napkins, dishes, and glassware? Ask to see samples. Remember, if you don’t like the tableware or linens they offer, most everything can be rented, but usually at an additional price.

Menu Board - A recent trend when doing buffets or food stations is to have a menu board. The names of the entrees and items served are scrolled elegantly onto a piece of paper displayed on a board or in a picture frame. Many guests love to know the names or what’s in those delicious dishes they'll be eating.

Licenses - Your caterer should be licensed by the state. Most display their license in their office, but if you're not sure, ask.

More Catering Tips

As far as wedding expenses go, your catering or food bill is typically your largest expense (45-50% of most wedding budgets). So, choose your caterer carefully. Spend plenty of time with your caterer talking about your budget, the style of reception you’d like and the types of food that you’d like to offer.

If you are unfamiliar with the caterer, always schedule a "tasting" to sample their culinary skills and take note that the food is attractively presented too.

Check References. Many brides ask for references but never call them. Be sure to make at least two reference phone calls. Don’t by shy, remember -- brides love to talk about their weddings.

When hiring your caterer, be sure to ask about the dinnerware or china they will be using. Some caterers will include all the dinnerware in their price -- but they may be chipped, scratched and worn out. So, ask to see samples to make sure that the place settings nicely compliment the rest of your wedding decor.

When determining a final head count for your caterer, you should include a meal for your entertainer (DJ or Band), photographer and Wedding Day Coordinator. But, always confirm with these vendors that they do want a meal before you include them in your head count. And, make sure to separate these from your guest head count because your caterer will usually charge you less for "vendor" meals.

If your caterer is providing meals for your DJ, band or photographer, be sure to ask your caterer where the meals will be served for them and confirm that they will be eating somewhere "out of sight" from your wedding guests.

Be careful on how many hors d'oeuvres you order. Do you really need eight different varieties? You'd be surprised -- some caterers will suggest this. If you are doing hors d'oeuvres -- four different varieties is usually sufficient.

Serving Alcohol at Your Wedding

You need to provide your guests with some type of refreshments at your reception. However, the choice is up to you as to what you serve and how you serve it. You decide what type of alcohol to serve or you can choose not to serve any alcohol.

You may have good reasons for not wanting to serve alcohol at your reception. These reasons can be anything from restrictions placed on you by the location (many churches and public parks do not allow alcohol), to respect for family and guests who have strong feelings about alcohol, or can include medical or religious reasons as well.

Some couples choose to offer a champagne toast, but provide only non-alcoholic beverages for the rest of the celebration. This allows you to have the fun of a toast, but not have to worry over the amount your guests imbibe.

You should not feel obligated to provide an open bar for guests for the entire evening. It is your decision (based on your wedding budget and other factors) whether to have a cash bar, limited bar, open bar or some other variation.

Open Bar throughout the entire reception. This is usually the most costly option. Some facilities will charge a per person rate (i.e. $15-35/per guest) or charge you based on the amount of alcohol consumed such as per open bottle, by tenths of bottles consumed or per drink.

Another issue to consider with an open bar is the liability involved as guests may be tempted to drink more. Each state has different laws, so be sure to check with your reception facility and caterer regarding liability insurance.

Open Bar for the cocktail reception (1 – 1 ½ hours) and cash bar during the remainder of the reception.

Cash Bar for liquor (mixed drinks) and serve complimentary beer and wine throughout the reception. You can serve a variety of bottle beers or purchase a keg of beer.

Be creative - instead of offering your guests the typical run of beers, try to include some of the newer micro-brewed beers. You can still offer the old stand-bys for those guests who are committed to "their" brands, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by the feed back you'll receive on being somewhat adventuresome.

To save money on your alcohol bill, you can serve a champagne punch as your choice of alcohol.

Always include a wide assortment of interesting and delicious non-alcoholic beverages. Try hot apple cider for a winter wedding, pink lemonade or fresh brewed ice tea for a summer wedding.

Serve specialty drinks like Margaritas, Pina' Coladas or Sangria. For an early afternoon reception, you could try Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s.

Have a wine bar that serves a variety of specialty wines. These don’t have be expensive either -- there are plenty of great moderately priced wines available.

To save money, serve house brand liquors versus top shelf.

During the cocktail hour, have the wait staff serve wine and champagne on trays to your guests. First, if you have many guests, it will cut down on the line to the bar. Second, it will make your guests feel as they are receiving "top-notch service". Third, you can save money on your bar tab when guests choose a glass of wine or champagne versus hard liquor.

If you’re having a champagne toast, find out if the guests will see the champagne being poured. If not, it's a good place to save some money by selecting an inexpensive brand, since most people just sip for the toast. It may enable you to spend a bit more on the wines you'll be serving with dinner.

Offer your guests a choice of red or white wine with dinner. Many times if wine is served with dinner, guests will be less likely to order another drink (i.e. hard liquor) which can cut down on your bar costs.

Consider an international coffee bar during the dessert hour. You can serve Kahlua, Bailey's, Tia Maria, Grand Marnier and other cordials that your guests will enjoy with coffee.

Great Tips For Stocking Your Own Reception Bar

If you’re planning a wedding in a location where you’re making the bar arrangements, it can be mind boggling. How much liquor should you buy? What kind do you buy? Can you return the unopened liquor?

If you have the ability to stock your own bar, it can save you lots of money! Here are some great tips and some creative ways to cut your bar and liquor costs.

Choose a reputable company that will consult with you and help you select the right wines, champagne, etc. for your guest list and menu. In addition, be sure they don't charge for delivery and most importantly, that they will credit you for any unopened wine and spirits.

Think about your guests…are they beer, wine, or hard liquor drinkers? This will help you to determine quantities. But remember, the choice is up to you as to what you serve.

Set a budget for liquor. A good liquor company will work with you to stay within your means. There are thousands of wine choices at different price points, so you can find one to fit your budget.

When trying to determine how much to buy, ask the company you’ve selected to provide alcohol, to make recommendations and help you to determine the appropriate amounts. There is also a guide below to help determine the amount of liquor to buy.

Check into liquor liability coverage. Does your caterer provide coverage? If so, find out how much. You may find that the hall carries some coverage and it will be important to determine their role.

The best part about putting together your own bar is that you can save a tremendous amount of money. Brides and grooms can keep their costs low -- often under $5 per person for the entire evening.

Suggested Liquor Amounts For 100 Guests

If you have the ability to purchase your own liquor for the bar, that’s great news because you can save lots of money. However, deciding what to buy and how much can be confusing. Here are some general guidelines for a suggested amount of alcohol based upon 100 guests:

Beer - Total 9 Cases
•Domestic 3 cases
•Imported 3 cases
•Lite 3 cases

Wine - Total 5-8 Cases
•Chardonnay 3-4 Cases
•White Zinfandel 1-2 Cases
•Cabernet Sauvignon 1-2 Cases

• 1-2 Cases

Hard liquor
•Vodka 5 liters
•Gin 3 liters
•Rum 2 liters
•Scotch 2 liters
•Bourbon 2 liters
•Vermouth 750ml
•Kahlua 3 liters

Others to Consider: (l liter of each)
•Bailey’s Irish Cream
•Grand Marnier

If you are responsible for setting up the entire bar, be sure to include the following:
_____Lime juice
_____Lemon mix Orange juice
_____Cranberry juice
_____Soda water
_____Tonic water
_____Coke, diet coke
_____Seven up, ginger ale
_____Cocktail stirrers
_____Coolers for beer, etc