Looking for reviews and ratings on sites like OneWed.com should be one of your first steps in any wedding vendor search. Tastings are a lot of fun, but you don't have the time to do tastings everywhere, so try and use recommendations from friends and online ratings to narrow your choices down to 3-5 caterers before you make appointments. Once you've narrowed your list down, get referrals of past clients from the caterer.
There's a caterer out there for almost any budget, but you can save yourself time and aggravation if you have an idea of both your overall budget and your food budget before you start looking. Don't forget to consider your budget for linens, plates and tables as well, since the caterer will oten coordinate renting these items. You will probably be asked to put down a 50% deposit when you sign the contract, so make sure you're absolutely committed before signing. It is expected that you'll tip the wait staff and the catering manager, so don't forget to budget for that as well.
Some wedding venues may have an approved list of vendors. This is why it's important to decide on a venue before choosing a caterer. Usually these lists are necessary because of insurance requirements, but sometimes it's simply that these are vendors the venue knows can be trusted. There is value to choosing from a recommended list, it means the caterer will be familiar with the set up and will have an easy time coordinating with the venue staff. But if you're having trouble finding a caterer that works for you on the list, discuss it with the venue manager.
If you want a vegetarian menu, or have specific allergy or ingredient concerns, discuss this with your caterer before making an appointment for a tasting. If you're having children at the wedding, arrange for special children's meals; these will be less expensive and keep the kids happy.
There are a lot of gray areas with catering a big event. Is the caterer providing tablecloths and linens? Are they an extra cost? If it's a buffet, do you need to rent the serving dishes separately? How many waiters and what will they wear? If the event lasts longer than expected, will you need to pay additional charges? Who is responsible for paying lost linen fees? It's a lot of detail to consider, but you need to pay attention.
It may be in your contract with the band and the photographer that you need to provide them with meals. Discuss getting special vendor meals with the caterer. Since your vendors won't be eating with your guests, their meals can be plated differently and should cost less.
Don't forget to relax, sit down and have a bite yourself!
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