What questions should your wedding caterer ask you?

How do you know whether the wedding caterer you are asking to serve you on your special day is going to deliver what they promise? Ultimately, you can’t know for sure. You can ask around, get recommendations, look at their online presence and check their history. But realistically, its only when you meet them and start going through the process of planning the day that you can get a flavour of whether they are up to the challenge.

Carl and I had the privilege to meet a young couple who had travelled up from Bristol to chat to us about the possibility of catering their wedding next year. They were looking for someone who was able to source Halal meat as the majority of their guests were from a mainly Muslim background. They had booked a spectacular venue, but the venue’s in-house catering team could source Halal certified meat on that scale. Nor could any of the local catering companies. We were amazed that there was such a gap in the market down in Bristol, and were more than delighted to chat through their options with them. Living and working in the multicultural melting pot of Birmingham, Halal dietary requirements are a normal part of the conversation in the West Midlands.

The meeting was a really positive one, and hopefully we will be able to work together next year. It was interesting though, that the soon-to-be groom kept saying “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that” to our enquiries as we tried to build a bigger picture of their expectations and requirements. This is totally understandable. Anyone getting married and trying to please 100 or more guests is not going to automatically know the fine details that go with planning catering on such a large scale. No doubt, one’s wedding is the largest event most of us will ever plan. You need someone with years of experience in the business to tease out the facts and structure the day so it runs smoothly.

So, following this conversation, this would be our advice to anyone thinking of hiring outside caterers to provide the food for their wedding. If they ask you the following questions, I can tell you that they are going to be better at providing a high quality service. Hopefully this means, they are going to be much better at troubleshooting if anything goes wrong on the day. You can’t guarantee a trouble free day, but you can certainly expect them to put the planning in to minimise the possibility of problems occurring.

  • Have you confirmed the booking with your venue?

Outside caterers (good ones, anyway) will definitely want to either visit or contact the venue you are hiring. There are so many questions we will need to know the answer to. For example, have you got the necessary risk assessments completed for your kitchen? Where is the kitchen in relation to the celebration space? What kitchen equipment do you have? We need to know all these things so that we don’t turn up without an essential piece of kit on the day! We need to know where we are going and what to expect when we get there.

  • What type of food do you want?

Wow! This is a big one. What you pick can really impact the quote you are given. Sometimes, outside caterers will present you with a selection of options that they can offer. The best will try to accommodate your wishes and preferences. Regardless, it is best to think about the type of food you wish to serve to your guests on your big day.

A cold buffet is normally cheaper, can be laid out so that guests help themselves and requires fewer staff to man. This is a good option if you want to keep your costs down.

A hot buffet works well if you want to serve dishes such as curries, casseroles, soups and roast vegetables. Caterers can supply rectangular serving dishes that keep the food hot. These are called chaffins. However, some dishes just don’t work well in these containers. Your caterer should be able to guide you to which dishes will suit being presented in this way.

One of the most luxurious (and most expensive) ways of presenting food is to serve your guests platters of food to their tables. They can then help themselves. A good example of this is a roast dinner. You caterer would serve a plate with the roast one to each guest. Each guest would then fill their plate from a selection of vegetable dishes on the table. This requires the most staff manpower and can be an expensive way of serving a lot of people.

  • How will the room be set out?

Are there round tables or long rectangular tables? It will really affect how food will be delivered to the guests. This, in turn, will affect how many staff need to be hired and how much food will need to be cooked.

Our clients from Bristol were wanting a selection of curries for their guests, and had realised that the tables were going to be round. They wanted three dishes to be presented on a platter in the middle of their tables. This meant we would have to provide enough food for everyone on the table to be able to choose the same dish if they wanted to. This in turn affects the quote a caterer will give you.

A way of reducing costs is to opt for a hot buffet setting. Guests would have to queue and then select their food themselves. You could opt for self service or hire staff to serve the food from behind the hot buffet table.

  • Does your venue have cutlery, crockery and disposables hire?

This is something you must find out, otherwise your caterer might turn up to your venue with delicious food, but no plates to put it on!

Most caterers offer cutlery, crockery and disposables (e.g. napkins etc) hire. They will provide tea, coffee, cups and saucers too when requested. But you must factor this in to your budget if your venue does not have any of this to hand.

If you have booked a venue that can’t cater for your guests’ dietary requirements, like our friends from Bristol, you should be able to persuade your venue to give you hire of the plates, cutlery and crockery that they use. I may add, maybe they should throw it in as part of your package hire seeing as they weren’t able to meet your dietary requirements?! If should be the least they can do, as you are having to do more work to feed your guests suitable food. Don’t tell them I said that though!

  • Do you know that outside caterers are going to cost more?

I know it seems silly to say it, but if you know you are going to need outside caterers, you must accept that there will be additional costs. The reason hotels can offer such great all inclusive deals is because their staff are employed full time by the hotel. Things like plate hire aren’t necessary as hotels buy the equipment in once and then reuse it; it all helps to keep their costs down.

If you need to bring in outsider caterers to a venue, you must factor in things like staff hire, transportation, equipment hire and corkage. If your caterers are going to be travelling a long way to facilitate your event, there will be a fee involved. Although all caterers try and minimise those costs as much as possible in order to make their services competitive, they have to cover their expenses in order to make their businesses profitable.

Conclusion

Just making sure you have discussed these five points will give you a much better feel for whether the catering company you are using understands the requirements of the event. The more planning you put in, the better the day will go. One thing we can guarantee at Just Catering is outstanding tasting food! You certainly would not be getting any complaints from your guests about the quality of their meal.

Good luck as you plan your wedding. And good luck to our friends in Bristol as they look forward to their life together.

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