First Visit with Your Caterer
On-premises vs off-premises caterer.
On premise catering involves food service in the same building where is located the caterer’s kitchen. E.g. a banquet hall, hotel or golf course. Off-premises catering involves food service in a place away from the caterer’s kitchen. E.g. your own backyard. This article offers insight into your relationship with an off-premises caterer.
Your first visit with your caterer will be more productive if you are prepared!
- Set your wedding budget. The wedding reception and the catering portion of the reception will account for much of your total wedding costs. If there is a mismatch between what you can afford and what the reception will cost, it’s best to know that early enough to make changes.
- Select your date and venue. There is little benefit in meeting with a caterer if you don’t know the “when” & the “where” of your wedding. Remember, there will always be more caterers available than beautiful venues. Beautiful wedding venues are typically booked one or two years in advance. Caterers are typically booked six months to one year in advance.
- Determine if the venue will permit you to bring your own caterer. If you are tied to a caterer supplied by the venue be aware that most of your negotiating position is wiped out. You are given the choice of accepting the terms of the venue’s caterer or finding another venue.
- Draft a menu wish list; i.e. the foods you would ideally like served at your wedding. (It’s your wedding – you should have what you want)
- Start with the 4 main food periods of the day: hors d’oeuvres before dinner, dinner, dessert, late evening
service. Pay as much attention to hors d’oeuvres as to the main course. The hors d’oeuvres will be the first food that you serve your guests and set the bar for all other food at the wedding. Your guests will also be at their hungriest when hors d’oeuvres are served, having travelled some distance to the wedding and having sat through the ceremony..
- Tie the 4 food periods together with your favourite foods that offer complimentary tastes, textures, colours, proteins and carbs.
- List menu restrictions imposed by family tradition and your guests’ allergies, ethnicity or religion.
You are now in a position to start a conversation with a caterer. You have already identified the “when” & the “where” of the wedding. Your first visit with your caterer will attempt to identify the “what” and the “what cost”. There are only two ways to approach the subject:
- You tell the caterer what you want; the caterer will tell you what your wishes will cost.
- You tell the caterer how much you have to spend. The caterer will tell you what that money will buy.
Visit Before Or After You Have Received A Proposal
If you contact & visit a caterer before you have received a proposal you can expect only a general conversation to address a variety of topics:
- An explanation of what services & menus the caterer can offer.
- A description of different styles of food service and your preferences in tyhis regard: buffet, plated table service, platter style, French table service.
- An explanation of the date of your event, the number of guests, indoor vs outdoor location.
- A description of your venue’s seating facilities, cooking facilities, supply of parking, distance from parking to unloading area, distance from cooking area to reception area. (Greater distance = more labour potentially).
- A discussion about access & utilities:
- If the reception is in a tent can the caterer’s truck drive to the tent to unload plates, cutlery, food, etc. ?
- If there are stairs between the unloading area and the reception area, for example to a basement church hall, then carts and trolleys can’t be used. More set up time usually means more labour cost.
- What about adequacy of electricity? Does the caterer require 220 volts for any of his equipment? Is it available at the location?
- Is the water at the venue potable or must it be transported there for ice water, boiling pasta or coffee?
- An expression of menu preferences and how the caterer can best address them. Does the caterer frequently prepare the type of menu you have in mind? (If not you should not hire that caterer).
- A description of menu restrictions based on health, religion or ethnicity of guests
- A description of menu restrictions based on caterers ability to produce certain foods away from their kitchen.
- A list of the mobile cooking equipment the caterer owns or has access to for cooking at the venue. (Pay specific attention to refrigeration equipment).
- Will the caterer cook on site or at the caterer’s base kitchen? (The greater the distance between these 2 points, the more difficult it is to keep food hot and fresh. If the time interval between cooking at the caterer’s base and the time set for food service is more than 30 minutes this should influence your decision about hiring that caterer. Some foods simply don’t travel well.)
- Can the caterer supply non-food items such as tables, chairs, linens, bread baskets, wine and water glasses, table numbers and cards, salt and pepper shakers, table candles & holders, napkins, etc.? If so, does the caterer own these items or will the caterer rent them from a 3rd party supplier?
- Can you visit the caterer’s kitchen? Is it spotlessly clean? Is it neat and tidy with a place for everything and
everything in it’s place? Is there a Health Department Inspection Certificate visible?
- A review of any outside suppliers that you may employ for such items as the wedding cake and any caterer’s fees for such duties as cutting the cake.
- A discussion of prices based on your respective budget expectations.
- A review of the caterer’s references and pictures of past projects.
- A description of the caterer’s staff uniforms or dress code.
- A discussion of how involved is the caterer in the coordination of the wedding day itself.
Does the caterer act as an unofficial wedding coordinator? Will the caterer:
- receive flowers & the wedding cake
- put out place cards and favors
- stage the champagne toast after the ceremony
- adjust the schedule if guests aren’t ready to sit down to dinner
- ask guests to be seated
- cue the band
- advise the couple when to cut the cake?
- Will the caterer appoint one of their staff to be principal liaison with your master of ceremonies? Was that staff person the member of the caterer’s staff with whom you planned the menu, etc.?
A general description of bar services that the caterer can supply.
- What brands and quantities does the caterer normally serve for your guest numbers?
- How does the caterer deal with excessive alcohol consumption?
Does the caterer have liability insurance?
- If so, in what amount? (No bar service should be considered by anyone who lacks an all risk policy in a minimum amount of $2 million dollars).
- Can you and your venue be listed as named insureds under the caterer’s policy? If so, at what cost?
- Do the caterer’s bar tenders have actual bartending experience in addition to Smart Serve certification?
If You Visit After You Have Received A Proposal
It is quite common for a caterer to prepare a catering proposal before your first visit normally in response to information you supplied through the caterer’s web site. Your visit will focus on the specific details of the catering services offered in the proposal.
The catering proposal should include:
- The date, start & end time, location of the event
- The hours of service provided by the caterer and any overtime charges.
- The schedule for when the caterer will set up, begin service of hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dessert, late evening service.
- The date that you need to provide the final head count.
- Who is included in the final head count listing other wedding/party vendors, such as the DJ, Band, Wedding Consultant and Photographer
- Price differences, if any, for children and the wedding/party professionals.
- The list of services provided (e.g. buffet, sit-down meal, bar service, wedding cake service, etc.)
- The menu that you have selected.
- The number of portions of each menu item.
- The number of chefs, waiters and porters the caterer will bring to the event.
- Minimum quantities and brands of all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, the number of bar tenders, the quantities of ice, and bar accessories such as lemons, limes, etc.
- Corkage fees if you supply the beverages but the caterer provides the bartenders and manages the bar.
- The fees, including any deposits, extra expenses, a payment schedule, and when the final balance is due.
- Calculation of taxes and gratuities.
- Confirmation that gratuities are distributed equitably to the staff at the event and in the kitchen and not kept by the caterer.
- Travel charges, if any – including rented vehicles and the basis for their calculation.
- The policy for clearing tables before, during or after speeches.
- The disposition of leftovers, both food and beverage, after the event.
- Tear down and cleanup costs, if any.
- Responsibility for garbage disposal.
- The style and colour of caterer supplied tables, chairs & linens.
- The size and style of the caterer supplied tent, (pole vs. frame tent)
- The caterer’s cancellation & deposit refund policy.
Taste Samples are Nonsense
You may have read that your caterer should provide a sample of their cooking at a taste interview. This is mostly nonsense. A reputable caterer, in business for years, certainly knows how to offer you and your fiancée a delicious sample in their kitchen. So what? There is little or no relationship between what a caterer can achieve in their own building and what they can provide out there in Booneyville. There is a world of difference between the professional facilities the caterer enjoys at their base and the limited facilities available at your venue. Off-premises catering can only be judged off-premises. That’s why you read the caterer’s reference letters and speak to one or two of their past clients.