I have been asked many times by couples how to choose a caterer. These tips will help guide you through the process as smoothly as possible.
All caterers aren't created equal. These days, it is all about standing out in a crowded industry and making name for yourself so that your business will grow. Some caterers are known for fancy fare, some for "down home" comfort foods and some may serve ethnic foods from their country of origin. It is crucial that you like the foods being served at your reception. Many will not offer a tasting until you have booked with them while others are learning that can be a turn off because you don't want to be locked into a contract and then find the food isn't to your liking so they offer a tasting upon your first meeting. Ask about tastings when you first begin speaking with a company, don't be rudely surprised down the road when it is too late.
Ask what comes standard in the contract. All caterers do not bring china, glasses and flatware unless specified in the contract and most charge a fee for this service. Ask if they have linens, not only for stations they may be setting up for you but for your guest tables as well. If linens are not part of the package, find a reputable linen company in your area and remember you are not only dressing your guest tables but the cake table, gift table, and sign in table to name a few.
Cutting costs in catering is always a concern with brides and grooms. A recent article I read made a very good point and said to focus on your cocktail hour food. This is the first thing your guests will taste and passed minis make an impact. Opt for cheaper cuts of meat and plenty of vegetables when planning your main meal. Be careful to say away from foods that you know many in your circle of family and friends do not care for and time consuming dishes as well. While we are on the subject of family and friends, if there is a dish you have loved all your life, maybe a recipe of mom's, don't be afraid to ask the caterer to add it to the menu…it is your day after all, enjoy it!
A couple of fun trends to ask your caterer about right now are mini everything and food trucks! Slider burgers and a small paper cone of fries as a midnight snack are always a hit with the younger crowd. Food trucks delivering everything from tacos to doughnuts can be found in most areas.
Remember to ask lots of questions and keep good notes when speaking to catering companies. Ask for sample menus, about substitutions, and staffing. Be sure there will be some staff left at the end of the event to help bartenders clean up abandoned drinks and remove the garbage. Your mother and your wedding planner do not qualify as catering staff! :)