How to Choose a Wedding Catering Service
Your wedding is one of the most meaningful and thrilling experiences you’ll share with your significant other and guests. Your guests will look forward to the celebration, and they’ll expect delicious food, an abundance of drinks and impeccable service. To ensure your wedding is a memorable and enjoyable occasion for all, it’s essential you choose a venue with a catering service that fits your needs, budget and wedding daydreams.
With so many wedding venues out there, how do you know where to begin? Finding a venue with the best catering service for your wedding can seem intimidating, but there are steps you can take to make the process more manageable. In this post, we’ll show how to choose a compatible wedding catering service you’ll be excited to work with.
What Is the Difference Between On-Premise Catering and Off-Premise Catering?
You may feel torn between choosing a venue that offers on-premise catering and seeking a caterer outside of your venue. An on-premise caterer prepares and serves food in the same venue as your wedding. An off-premise caterer prepares food in a kitchen outside of the venue and transports the food to your wedding reception location. Many wedding venues do not allow off-premise catering, so you’ll want to consider the quality of the catering service that comes with your venue package before making any big decisions.
On-premise caterers offer many benefits. First, guests do not have to worry about food safety issues that could occur while the food is being transported, because all of the dishes are prepared and stored in the venue kitchen. Off-premise caterers face the challenge of safely transporting food to the venue, and they must make sure not to forget any of the important details such as special equipment or garnishes.
With an on-site caterer, you can relax knowing that the catering director and employees know the venue kitchen inside and out. They have experience preparing delicious food at the venue, and they understand the flow of the kitchen and space. They know how to handle challenges, and it’s much easier for them to adjust to last-minute changes because they’re prepared. With an on-premises caterer, you can expect things to run smoothly and on time. Choosing a venue that offers catering services will also save you the stress of searching for available caterers who meet your needs.
What Are the Qualities of a Good On-Site Catering Service?
Once you have a list of venues you’re interested in, compare and contrast their catering services. Look for the following qualities when seeking the perfect match:
- Cooking experience: First and foremost, a caterer should have experience preparing delicious food. They should also know how to provide satisfying drinks. If you have any doubts about the quality and taste of a caterer’s food, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.
- Flexibility: A caterer should be willing to change with your needs. Their job is to please you and all of your guests, which means they may need to adjust their menu to make everyone happy. They should offer various packages to fit your budget, whether you need to serve hundreds of guests or a party of fifty.
- Quality customer service: You will be a partner with your caterer in creating an experience you and your guests will thoroughly enjoy. A professional catering director should be polite, knowledgeable, thoughtful and understanding. They should make you feel comfortable expressing your ideas and concerns. The catering director should be available and on-site on the day of your wedding.
- Creativity: A quality caterer will bring unique ideas to the table, and they should be willing to try your ideas. They should offer creative solutions and menu options regardless of budget.
- Excellent communication: A great catering service will respond to your questions quickly, and make you feel comfortable asking them. They should let you know right away what they can provide considering their venue, your guest list and your vision. They should be focused on you and listen carefully to your ideas, and they should ask questions to understand your needs.
- Attention to detail: A caterer should recognize the importance of details, and use details to impress guests. This includes everything from hors d’oeuvre presentation to table runner color. Look for mistakes in the caterer’s communication early on. If they make mistakes, such as getting the guest amount wrong, they may not be the best fit.
How to Find a Good Catering Service
We understand – choosing the perfect venue with an exceptional in-house caterer can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re planning other wedding day details. Let these simple steps guide you through the journey. As you’ll see, finding the right venue and catering service isn’t so bad after all.
1. Create a Budget
Before you book a venue and sign up for a catering package, you’ll need to know your budget. Your budget will guide the decisions you make throughout the process and help you choose a catering service you can afford. Your budget will also help your caterer create a menu that works for you. When a caterer knows your budget, they can make recommendations based on your needs, such as suggesting a formal sit-down dinner or self-serve smorgasbord. Your caterer should be honest with you and what you can expect with your budget. Here are a few tips for creating a budget:
- Count your money: The first step to creating a budget is knowing how much you have to spend on your wedding. This may include you and your fiancé’s savings, the money you can set aside from income sources and family contributions. Make sure you set aside three months of emergency funds for you and your soon-to-be spouse. Subtract emergency money from the total, and you’ll be left with money for the wedding. Consider asking family members if they are willing to help and what they can give.
- Track spending: Keep track of estimated, modified and actual costs. For example, when you research venues, add the cost you find to the estimated cost category. Add the venue’s proposal to the modified cost category, and add what you’ll actually pay to the actual cost category.
- Be ready for surprises: Leave room in your budget for surprises. For example, consider setting aside 15 percent of your budget for unexpected fees or incidentals, and make sure not to spend this money. Also, be certain to save for tax and gratuity charges as well.
2. Know Your Priorities
You’ll want to know what’s most important to you before searching for a venue with an in-house caterer. Your priorities will help you determine how to allocate your funds. For example, is it most important for you to invite every guest on your list, or would you rather spend money on a gourmet dessert table? Knowing what you can and cannot live without on your wedding day will help you narrow your choices and stick to your budget.
To make it easier, list three essential items for your wedding, such as the catering package, the photographer and the venue. Aim to set aside extra money for your top three priorities. Next, list the three least important wedding items, which may include flowers, invitations or cake decorations, for example. Be prepared to cut back on these less critical details.
3. Know the Head Count
Before you contact venues about their catering options, you’ll also need to know how many people you plan to invite to your wedding. Your guest list is a key aspect of your budget, and caterers will want to know the most accurate head count possible. You’ll spend money on each guest for food and drinks, so you can drastically reduce or increase costs by changing the number of guests you invite.
According to the Knot 2018 Real Weddings Study, couples spend an average of $70 on catering per guest. So, for example, if you plan to invite 130 people, you’ll spend $9,100 for catering based on the average. However, if you reduce the guest list to 100 people, you’ll save $2,100.
When a caterer discusses the cost per person, make sure you understand exactly what they include in the price. Find out the following information:
- Is gratuity included in the cost per person?
- Is there an extra cost for cake cutting or corking per bottle?
- Is soda, coffee and tea included?
- Does it cost extra for set up and clean up?
- How do they handle unexpected guests?
4. Compare and Contrast
After you know your budget and guest list size, you’re ready to contact catering services you’re interested in. Try to limit your list to five or six venues, to help you stay focused. Have a list of questions ready, and ask for proposals so you can compare and contrast costs, menu items, alcohol options and more. Be prepared to share the following information with each venue:
- How many guests you’ll need to serve
- The style of wedding you’re having
- The wedding date
Make sure to take plenty of notes during your phone call.
Also, compare and contrast how each venue’s catering director communicates with you, as this can affect your decision. For example, does one respond to your questions right away, while another still hasn’t gotten back to you? How a caterer communicates with you can help you narrow your options quickly.
5. Schedule Tastings
No matter how many people recommend a catering service, you’ll want to taste their food before you sign a contract if possible. Try to select your top three in-house caterers and find out if they offer tastings. If a caterer doesn’t offer food tastings or any way for you to sample their food before you sign a contract, ask if you can cancel the contract if their food does not meet your needs. You might also offer to pay a small fee for a mini tasting. For example, you might offer to pay $40 per person to sample three to five dishes.
Aim to sample a caterer’s food close to the season in which you’ll be having your wedding. That way, you can taste menu items using fresh in-season ingredients. If this isn’t possible, try the basic elements of a dish to get an idea of what a caterer is capable of.
Lastly, expect to pay for a scheduled tasting, and factor the cost into your budget.
6. Attend an Event
If your top choices do not offer tastings, consider checking their events schedule. Venues often appear at bridal expos to serve samples, and some may host dinners to attract new clients.
You can also ask a venue if they will be catering any public events and plan to attend. At the event, you’ll get to try their food, and you’ll gain a sense of their service style. Pay attention to how staff members treat guests and consider how they’ll treat guests at your wedding.
7. Read Reviews
Once you choose a catering service, you’ll likely feel eager to sign the contract and take a deep breath. However, resist picking up your pen before you read reviews or contact references. It’s worthwhile to hear customers’ recent experiences before you commit.
Consider obtaining a few references from your top choices. Call each reference and find out how the venue’s in-house caterer handled challenges and what they could have done differently.
Also, read reviews from previous customers or talk to people you know who have hired the caterer in the past. Find out how others were treated by the staff, what the bride and groom experienced, and how well the venue paid attention to the details.
8. Choose Your Soul Mate
There’s one more step to complete before signing a contract with a venue – ask yourself if it feels right. You’ll be working with your venue’s caterer for months before your special day, and you might encounter challenges during that time. Choose a catering service you enjoy and feel comfortable working with, and who understands your wedding day vision. Refuse to settle for anything less.
Questions to Ask an In-House Caterer
You’ll want to ask caterers the following questions as you shop around and compare venues:
- Is the venue and catering service available for the date of your choice?
- How much is the deposit to guarantee the final date?
- How is payment scheduled?
- What is the cancellation policy?
- Are food and beverages included in the venue rental fee?
- Is there a food and beverage minimum?
- Can the rehearsal dinner be held at the venue?
- Can you taste the food before you make a final choice and does it cost extra?
- Do they offer packages, and what does a package include?
- Does the catered meal come full service?
- Are there additional fees?
- Will they give you references from former clients?
- What will the staff wear to your wedding?
- Is set up and clean up included, and if not, what is the extra cost?
- Will the chef who prepared food for the tasting be the same chef on your wedding day?
- Can they accommodate vegetarians?
- Do they offer kid-friendly options?
- Do they provide a wedding cake and if so, is it included in the package?
- Do they provide tables, chairs, plates and silverware?
- Will they set out menus and place cards?
- Can you provide your own alcohol, and is there a fee to do so?
- If the catering service provides alcohol, what packages do they offer, and how do they charge for the service?
- If they provide alcohol, do they have liquor liability insurance?
- How many bartenders will they provide, and what is the fee to hire extra bartenders if needed?
- What is their backup plan if a staff member can’t make it?
- When do they need to know your final menu choices and head count?
- When is the final bill due?
- Do they like the food?
When Should I Pick My Caterer?
You’ll want to choose your venue and an in-house caterer as soon as possible because venues can be booked for up to a year in advance. Try to begin contacting venue caterers at least a year to nine months before your wedding day.
Browse Catering Packages at Colonial Golf and Tennis Club
If you’re searching for a gorgeous venue and incomparable on-site catering services in central Pennsylvania, we’re excited to accommodate you at Colonial Golf and Tennis Club. At Colonial Golf and Tennis Club, you’ll find impressive views, flexible indoor and outdoor spaces, and a team dedicated to making your wedding reception an extraordinary event for all. We offer affordable wedding packages to suit the needs of just about any budget and party size, whether you plan to invite hundreds of guests or wish to have a small and intimate wedding.
To learn more about our venue and our provided on-premise catering services, please fill out our online form and speak with our catering director. We look forward to making your wedding day an unforgettable celebration!