17 Questions You Should Be Asking your Caterer

If you have met Adam & I, you know… We love food! If you are looking for a specific type of food, we can usually tell you about a place and if you are open to anything, well… We can give those too!

With both of us having a decent background in catering, its always a priority for us to make sure our couples are asking all the key questions when scouting a caterer as to make sure things don’t get left out. We thought we would make a list, so the next time you are on the search, we got your back!

In the last blog, we talked about the different types of catering options most venues offer. Did you read that one? If not, you can read that (here). Today, its all about those hard hitting questions that you may not have thought about. So if you are interested in questions to ask your caterer, just keep reading!

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1.      What is your food & Beverage minimums?

Most (not all) caterers will offer a F&B minimum. This is usually the lowest dollar amount that you will have to spend in order to use their catering services. Depending on the venue, this can range from $1000-$15000.

Some things to note about food and beverage minimums…

Some places may offer a lower f&b minimum on a Weekday, Friday or Sunday. Be aware that yes, the minimum might be lowered, but if you are having 300 guests and the food menu prices are the same as always, that minimum is not going to matter. Most places are not changing the menu price, so the only time a lower f&b minimum actually benefits people is when they have a smaller guest count and might want a certain venue.

For example…

A Golf Course might have a discounted f&b minimum on a Friday. Originally $10,000 but they lowered it to $7000 for appeal. Their base meal starts at $42 per plate and you have 250 guests. It doesn’t matter what the f&b minimum is, you are still paying over $10,000.

If you want a killer space like the Machine Shop and you have a smaller guest count, this is when a lower f&b minimum can actually help you. If they give a discount for Thursday weddings and you have 150 guests, this can save you from having to be stuck with a $10,000 minimum.

It is also a good thing to ask what is all included in the minimums. Sometimes it is everything that you are quoted on. Sometimes it is strictly food & beverage. Any additional fees like servers, bartenders, chefs, linens.. Those are not included in the minimum. Again, this differs between caterers so its always a good idea to ask.

2.      Do you provide linens, napkins, glassware, silverware?

-        If yes, how early on the day of are they there to set up the linens? This will dictate when your center pieces can be set up. Often, they will give you the option of picking the linens up ahead of time. This is where we come in, we will pick them up and set them up for you so that we can get the center pieces set up as well. (always have to plug our services in somewhere)

3.      What is your server fee and how many servers would we have?

I used to have people that wanted to save money anywhere they could, and they would ask if we could take a few servers away. My advice, listen to your catering contact and do what they advise. Without the correct number of servers, this slows down the entire process and makes it stressful on the other catering staff and vendors. Servers are a vital part of any well functioning wedding!

4.      What is the service charge and does any of that go to the server gratuity?

Often the service charge (generally 18%-25%) goes to administrative fees. Sometimes a portion of that goes to the servers as a gratuity.

5.      What is the average cost per person?

There is going to be the per plate charge. But that doesn’t include appetizers and then when you divvy up all the additional fees, you should be left with an over all “per person” price.

6.      What are some of your favorite dishes?

I was very honest when I was in catering. If there was something I didn’t like on the menu, I would explain what I didn’t like about a certain dish, but I would also encourage them to try it for themselves so that they could determine if they liked it. Everyone has different tastes and visions when it comes to their wedding dinner.

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When it comes to appetizers, this is where you want to get real answers from your caterer. There are some options that seem innovated and delicious, but they might not hold up well for your venue.

7.      Do you have cake cutting fees?

I would say, 99% of caterers are going to have a fee to cut and serve your cake.

“But I am not doing cake, I am doing xyz…”

Does “xyz” need plates, napkins, silverware? Does it need to be set up and maintained? Then there will be a fee. I don’t blame them; it is an overhead cost that they need to cover. But when they spit out a number like $2 per person, it can be a little shocking.

8.      What do you do with left over food?

 I personally don’t like to ask this question because, Per health codes, the caterers are required to dispose of all food. You can ask if they use pig buckets. Honestly, I have never worked at a place where it was ok to package up food at the end of the night. So, while it never hurts to ask if you can take home any left overs or if it can be donated. Don’t be surprised when they say no. I wouldn’t even ask, but there are some smaller mom & pop shops that might allow it.

9.      Never ask if you can take the tapped keg home at the end of the night either.

If you are providing your own booze, then sure, take it home. But if you are getting married at a venue that is providing the alcohol, you will not be able to take any of that home.

Story time…. I once had a drunk bride at the end of the night get very upset with me because she couldn’t bring her have drunken keg home.

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10.   Will you set up a water station?

While its classy to have water glasses on the tables, it never hurts to have water stations set up as well. Esp. during the social hour. You don’t want to have your guests wait in line at the bar just to grab a water. Nor should they have to pay for a water when the bar or catering can easily set up a station.

11.   Does bar service go through you?

Sometimes they require bar service go through them, and other times, you can look into other options.

The pros to having catering handle bar service – That will go towards your food and beverage minimum.

The cons – You are stuck with their prices.

12.   What are the bar options?

Do they take care of the bar? Or will you have to find outside bar service?

Do you have to host the bar? Can you have a cash bar? Do cash bar sales go towards the f&b minimum? Can you do a split – Hosting the bar for the first few hours and switch to cash bar?

13.   How many bartenders will there be?

 I would always suggest 1 per 75-100 adults

14.   Do we have to get desserts from you?

Its nice when your caterer is a Rock star at desserts as well. But its also nice to have options. Most caterers will allow an outside licensed vendor to provide desserts.

15.   Do you offer coffee & Tea? Table side or Station?

-        I always prefer stations for coffee and tea. That way, people can get up and mingle, it is less clutter on the tables and it eliminates the waste when there are carafes of coffee on all the tables, some guest might not want any. Some guests might want more than one cup. If you have a station, you get to please everyone.

16. How many events do you do in a night?

Some catering companies are huge and they work events all over the state. The last company I worked for was the biggest catering company in the area and they serviced some of the the most amazing venues out there. They would service as many events in one day as possible, because they could. Smaller caterers might only service 1 - 2 weddings a day. This is why you shouldn’t wait until 3 months out (I have seen it) to choose your caterer.

17. Do you cook the food on-site or off-site?

Piggybacking off of the last question, its always good to know where the food will be prepared. Some venues don’t have kitchen spaces, so they set up makeshift kitchens and work from hot boxes and warmers. I know from experience that this is a totally normal way of serving food and it has always worked for me in the past.

I think we will leave it at that. This is a pretty decent list for you to start out with, and if at any time you are looking into catering and have random questions, we are always around to give you advice and help you along the way! Stay tuned for the final series to the catering blog, where we talk about the different types of dinners you can have at your reception!

Cheers!