Meet the Caterer
In the first meeting with the caterer, you need to determine if there is a good fit for what you are looking for and to get a feel for pricing. Avoid a detailed menu discussion and concentrate on the feeling you want to create.
Pricing methods differ from caterer to caterer. For some a buffet might be more cost effective, others it could be a seated dinner. Talk to them about the four basic food presentation options: seated, buffet, stations, and cocktail service.
The classic seated meal features several served courses, and it's usually preceded by a cocktail hour. Wedding traditions such as the formal presentation of the married couple are most fluidly incorporated into this format. Service costs are highest for a seated meal, however food costs are generally lower.
For a buffet meal, most caterers will supply staff to serve at the buffet table. If your guest list exceeds 50, your caterer should set up duplicate buffet tables. If not, your guests will end up waiting in long lines.
The station reception features several food areas, each with a theme, and gives guests choices. A meat-carving station that includes roasted potatoes and Caesar salad might be offered at one, while fresh pasta is available at another. If you choose this style of service, plan on at least three stations, plus one for dessert.
At a cocktail reception, hors d'oeuvres are passed and often served at stations. This allows the most time for mingling, but is not well suited to a traditional wedding with all the rituals.
Making A Plan
Some caterers offer a tasting that allows you to sample dishes on their menu. Anyone who helps pay for the reception should have initial input, but only the couple need to attend the tasting.
Make a plan with your caterer, list everything that will happen from the time they arrive until the last glass is packed away. Decide on a serving time for each course, as well as a start and end time for the party. Make sure they are flexible, incase something interferes with the timeline.
Most caterers estimate food costs per person, which can range from $25 to $100 or more for a seated dinner, plus add the approximate cost for the staff, rentals, beverages and cake. Be sure to ask what exactly is included.
Staffing & Tipping
Ask about staff overtime charges, taxes, and gratuities. If your caterer does not add a gratuity, keep in mind that for an eight-hour event the average staff person might get a tip of $30 to $50. The event coordinator would get more. Also, some companies charge a per-person fee for slicing any cake they do not provide.
Get everything in writing. Most caterers will ask you to sign a letter of agreement or contract. This contract should be very specific, detailing everything from the exact menu to the total charges for rentals and staff.
If your venue allows you to purchase your own alcohol, do it. It can save you hundreds of dollars. Request a shopping list from your caterer based on the number of guests or go to www.FrugalMacDoogal.net to get all the information you need.
One Last Tip
Ask your caterer to pack food for you for after the wedding. A boxed meal will be quite welcomed when it's two in the morning and you realize you've been so busy greeting guests you haven't eaten a thing all day.