How To Choose Your Wedding Caterer

Buffet table by The Smoke Shack. Photo by Wingtips Photography.

Written by Kirstin

Hey, I'm Kirstin. I'm a local wedding planner out of Swift Current, SK and I'm the host of the SW Wedding Expo and SwiftCurrentWedding.com. I'm so glad you're here, and I hope to help you find all the information you need to make planning your local wedding a breeze!

May 5, 2021

Click on images to see photo credit.

Your wedding caterer is a big deal.

The food basically sets the tone for the whole reception.

Today I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about choosing your perfect venue.  It’s a lot so here’s a little outline so you can jump around.

  1. What to do before you choose.
  2. How much to spend.
  3. Types of catering styles.
  4. Questions to ask.
  5. How to choose.

Before we dive in, remember that there’s a (growing) list of local caterers right here!

Photo from Unsplash.

1. What to do before you choose a caterer.

Before you can even start looking at caterers, you’ll need some basic information.  To avoid wasting time looking at businesses that aren’t right for you, make sure you’ve got this list nailed down first.

Priorities

This is the very first thing you should do after getting engaged (other than celebrate of course!).  You and your fiancé need to have a chat and figure out what is most important to each of you.  Combine your answers to decide what is going to be top priority for your day.

Budget

Crunching numbers sucks, but not having a budget sucks even more.  Using your priority list, decide on some numbers for basic budget categories.  This may involve some uncomfortable conversations if you have other people (hello parents!) contributing.  Better to have the awkwardness now, than after you’ve already spent the money!

Style

The formality of  your day will be reflected in the style of catering that you choose.  A very formal day would not be served well with a buffet, and a casual evening wouldn’t work with plated service.  There are lots of options that we’ll work through in a bit.  For now, just have an idea of how you want your day to feel.

Guest Count

While your final number will continue to be flexible, you’ll need at least a ballpark (or a few different options) to use when figuring out if a meal is in your budget.

Date & Venue

You’ll need to be able to ask the caterers about their availability on your specific date.  You’ll also need to have an idea of what the venue allows.  Some venues have in house caterers, or a preferred list you need to hire from.  Others have site limitations, like kitchen equipment, space, or location challenges.  Be familiar with your venue, or ask them for a list of caterers who are familiar with the space.

Donuts from Safeway.  Photo by Wingtips Photography.

2. How much to spend.

This is where having your priority list and budget set gets really useful.  Spending on your venue should add up to about 40-50% of your total budget.  That number includes your venue, food, bar, rentals, and décor.  Your catering budget just for food will likely end up somewhere around 15-30% of your total wedding budget.

In our area (south-west Saskatchewan) a meal usually starts around $15 per person and goes up from there.  Most weddings will end up in the $15-30 per person range, but if you’d like to get fancier, most caterers are more than capable of something more extravagant.

The biggest cost factor is your guest count.  To make sure a meal fits in your budget, you’ll need an estimated number of people attending the meal.  Obviously the smaller the guest list, the fancier you can afford to get!

 

“Especially with restrictions and with your guests having food restrictions find out for sure that your caterer can accommodate.  I can be flexible to suit almost any request.  Just need to know ahead of time!!

I love catering to weddings and enjoy customizing it to suit your needs and personality.  That’s what makes each wedding special.”

 – Connie, Country Hills Catering 

3. Types of catering service.

I’m going to arrange these from (generally) least formal (and expensive) to most.  Obviously there are exceptions and some overlap, but this is basically how it goes.  You’ll also need to make sure to follow any health and safety guidelines in your area.

Buffet

After the pandemic, I’m not sure this is really a viable option anymore.  I know in some places you can still manage a buffet with a distanced line, and staff handling the plates and serving duties.  Buffets are a staple of the local weddings in the area, so caterers will be getting creative.  Ask caterers you are considering how they have adjusted for health guidelines.

Russian (Family Style)

I personally love this option.  Basically, staff bring serving dishes of fully prepared food to each table.  Guests dish out the food for themselves.  It can be challenging with large centrepieces.  A turnstile also helps.  You could have staff remove the centrepiece and place a turnstile before bringing the food.

French

Food is brought to tables on platters.  A (white-gloved) server serves in individually onto each guest’s plate.  This allows guests the flexibility of a buffet or family style meal, with a more formal feeling.

American (Plated)

Basically like a restaurant.  Food is put on plates and garnished in the kitchen, before being brought and served to guests.  This allows for multiple entrée options and food intolerances best.

Butler

This is what you’ve seen on Downton Abbey.  Servers bring out platters of fully-prepared (and pre-sliced!) food to each guest, who then serves their own portion onto their plate.

*Food Stations

These can fit in to any budget and style.  Different types of food are set up at various stations and guests can choose which to visit.  They can be buffet style, staffed, or even cooked right at the station.

*Hors D’oeuvres

 These can be on a buffet or ‘butlered’.  There are two surprising things about this.  First, it’s not usually cheaper than a whole meal, since you need a lot of pieces per person.  Second, butlered options are actually cheaper, since people will only take one or two pieces at a time instead of a whole plateful.

 

Photo from Unsplash.

4. Questions to ask potential caterers.

I’ve narrowed it down to ten…

I. Are you available for our date?

II. What is included in your packages?  Are there multiple options, or just one menu?  Can we customize it?  Dietary restrictions?  Children?

III. What is your fee structure?  What is included?  Are there extra fees for anything?  What’s the deposit?  What’s the payment plan?  Cancellation policy?  Postponement policy?  Is there a minimum order?  Should we budget a tip for servers?

IV. How many weddings have you catered before?

V. Have you worked at our venue before?

VI. Will you be catering any other events the same day?

VII. When do you need the final head count number?  What happens if it is slightly different on the wedding day?

VIII. How much space do you need at the venue?

IX. Do you offer any extras?  Night lunch, appetizers, cake, cake cutting & serving, alcohol, dinnerware, etc.

X. Is a tasting included in your service?

Bonus for Covid-19: What are your pandemic protocols?

5. How to choose.

Well first there’s probably a few to eliminate right away.  Your date isn’t available, it’s way over budget, can’t accommodate your dream menu, etc.

Once you’ve eliminated the obvious, here are three questions to ask yourself to help you decide.

How much will this cost us per guest?  Does it leave room in our budget for other reception costs?

Does their menu and package line up with the way we want our guests to feel?

Do we trust them?

Once you’ve answered those, it’s time to go with your gut.

Now go find your caterer!

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