wedding caterer

Finding the Right Wedding Caterer

First time hiring a wedding caterer? It’s a daunting process, and we’re here to help. We spoke with Peppers Artful Events, Kuoha Culinary, and Capers Catering for their expertise.

Fundamentals

If you were choosing your own wedding caterer, what would you look for?

Peppers Artful Events: The first thing I’d do is check them out on social media. I would look at their Pinterest board, website, reviews, see what kind of presence they have on Instagram, and get a sense of who they are. I’d note how quickly they respond to messages and emails as well. If they can’t respond quickly in the beginning, it doesn’t bode well from there. After the wedding caterer gives me a price range, I’ll meet with them and see how quickly they can adapt to my ideas and how well we connect.

Kuoha Culinary: I’d keep an eye out for their style of food and quality. I’d also check the wedding caterer’s reviews.

Capers Catering: I would definitely look for a wedding caterer that’s willing to customize the event to reflect me and my fiance. I wouldn’t want a cookie-cutter style wedding where I have to select things off a menu; I’d want a more personalized event.

What’s something that a lot of clients overlook?

PAE: People don’t ask if they can bring their own liquor or whether liquor is included in a package. They also don’t consider gratuity, taxes, and critical details like whether food will be made on site. Some caterers cook off-site and bring the food over, but that way the food sits in hot boxes for hours and it’s not ideal. Clients should make sure their caterers cook on-site. Leading up to the actual wedding day, clients should ask their wedding caterer as many questions as they can in order to cover everything. Asking general questions regarding final guest counts, last-minute changes, time of arrival and more specific ones about extra decor services all help to simplify the process.

CC: When people initially receive a custom proposal from us, their eyes automatically move to the price estimate. They don’t pay attention to what’s actually included in that price point. They don’t realize it includes chairs for the ceremony and reception, bartenders, this and that. In terms of planning, a big part of being a full-service wedding caterer is walking clients through the entire process.

KC: They overlook all the little details. For example, if they want to do their own wedding cake, they don’t provide plates. Sometimes I bring extra plates with me just in case they forget; it’s all about remembering to catch the little things. I try to be detailed in my proposal and stress certain parts to them, although a lot of people don’t read the contract thoroughly.

Check out How to Read your Wedding Vendor Contract!

What are some questions clients should ask their wedding caterer?

CC: They should take a good look at what staffing is included in the caterer’s package. If they’re comparing two caterers and one staffing cost is much higher, they should find out why. Maybe one wedding caterer has a higher level of service, or one pays their staff higher wages. It’s the people who work the event that will make or break it. Also, couples will want to make sure their event is staffed properly. Having the appropriate amount of staff is hugely important in the execution of the wedding day.

What should couples look for and ask about during their tasting?

CC: Definitely the staffing for sure. The tasting session is a good opportunity to discuss that further than what the wedding caterer initially presents to couples. They should also find out how the food is prepared, like whether it will be cooked on-site or off-site. Finally, couples should ensure that the food is prepared the same way for the event as the tasting session. It’s easy to cook for three people, but 150 is a different story.

KC: At the tasting, they’ll want to see what style of food they’re getting. If there’s something they don’t like, they need to speak up.

PAE: Couples should ask who made the food, where the produce comes from, and if they can tweak anything. For example, if the couple wants to switch out a certain sauce or meat, the chef should be willing to sit down and discuss options with the couple.

Pointers

Do you have any budget friendly tips for creating a menu?

CC: The less expensive option is doing a simple buffet. A simple plated dinner is similarly a good choice. When choosing a menu, pay attention to the types of proteins you’re offering: tenderloin will be more expensive than short ribs. Regarding desserts, sometimes passing out bitesize desserts instead of having an elaborate dessert buffet can help keep costs low. If you want to offer coffee, know that it requires a lot of equipment and power should you be in a tent. Having a small coffee and tea display is an inexpensive approach. If you’re using an off-site wedding caterer, you can save a lot by buying alcohol through a liquor distributor instead of buying a package through a venue. Another tip: you can keep your cocktail hour short–that decreases the amount of food needed. Paying attention to specific details definitely helps with budgeting.

KC: Some caterers are flexible and some aren’t. Clients can save a lot of money if both they and their wedding caterer are flexible. Regarding food, couples can opt for a buffet as it’s the most inexpensive option. Some people have the misconception that a buffet is a big spread, but they can do a simple buffet involving one salad, one hot appetizer or side dish, one starch, one vegetable, two proteins, and dessert. They can use lower-cost proteins like pork and chicken to lower costs. By having a simple buffet, they can save money, prevent a lot of waste, and save on labor.

PAE: When looking at the actual food, see what’s in season. If it’s November, will you get a special rate on turkey? Regarding your cake, you can opt for sheet cake and a dessert bar instead of a tiered and heavily decorated cake. If you want bar options, keep them simple. Use one signature drink and offer mixers like vodka soda or vodka cranberry juice instead of having a full bar. To save money, do a wine pour instead of a champagne pour. If you aren’t too big on a dancing kind of reception, you can have an afternoon cocktail reception following your wedding.

Do you have any advice for accommodating food allergies?

PAE: Caterers should ask their clients if there are any known allergies and dietary needs among immediate family members and friends. I wouldn’t recommend asking guests about allergies on the RSVP card, because you’ll end up with people saying they’re allergic to onions or parsley when they just dislike it. If guests are truly allergic, they’ll tell you. As caterers, we accommodate allergies all the time. We have to be diligent, especially if we know the bride has an Epipen on her at all times. We’re all ServSafe trained, and we make sure that every single person is aware of severe allergies.

Just for fun…

What are the most memorable catering requests you’ve received?

PAE: We get a lot of ethnic requests, like Indian or Peruvian cuisine. In these cases we ask them to give us family recipes so we can match our flavor profile to what they want. As of late we’re getting more and more vegetarian and vegan requests.

KC: One time, a couple planned to have people line up to create one continuous sushi roll–they would put all the rice on and roll it at the same time.

CC: A couple years ago, we did a wedding for a Swedish couple. We customized a unique first course for them: instead of a traditional salad or soup, we had five individual Swedish dishes, kind of like a tasting plate. In the center of the plate there was a chilled shot of Swedish liquor called akvavit. During the first course, they played a song to go along with the akvavit. One of the family members stood up and started singing along, then everyone took a shot together. That’s just an example of how we can customize clients’ menus and really make the food reflect each individual client.

What are some recent food trends?

PAE: People nowadays want the food to be as local as possible and want to know what farms everything comes from. There’s been a trend towards lighter, more west coast style eating, and healthier cleaner eating. Instead of requesting fried coconut shrimp, clients request seafood, like grilled fish tacos for hors d’oeuvres. Clients don’t request beef as often now.

KC: People have been asking for interactive small bites and decor. There’s also been a lot of pupu party platters.

CC: Recently people have been incorporating different designs into different elements. Some couples have portable bars, like food trucks with beer taps. That’s a different way to serve alcohol instead of a bar table with alcohol behind them. Nowadays, more breweries are coming out with food truck beer trucks. It’s definitely really neat and something that’ll become more popular in the future.

Anything else?

PAE: Be true to who you are and be honest with your wedding caterer. If you don’t like something at the tasting session, you need to say it. Doing so won’t hurt your caterer’s feelings. Your caterer should want you to be ecstatic and have a wonderful wedding experience, and that starts at the very beginning of the process. It’s a partnership; as your wedding caterer we want you to be happy.

KC: What’s really important is choosing items that will work for the setting and venue. For example, I won’t do really hot food items through hand-passing. I’ll only serve hot food items at food stations. Additionally, timing cooking on-site is crucial. Caterers have a window of time to cook something before it dries out or declines in quality. Some guys will fire the protein early and hot-box it. We won’t hot-box anything unless we’re serving a very large party.

CC: Do your research on the caterers you’re looking at. Reviews and talking to people are much more important than any print advertising. Reading reviews can help you come up with questions to ask when you meet with the wedding caterer, too.

Want to know more? Let us know!

Photo by Dennis Kwan Photography

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