Before you get knee-deep in your caterer hunt, you need to set parameters. Here are my tips for determining your catering preferences, based on my own experience. This will narrow your options, which, believer it or not, is a good thing. It will keep your search more focused and less time-consuming.
Here’s what to ask yourself before looking for caterers:
1. Does your venue allow you to use any caterer you want? Start right here because there’s no point doing a big search for someone you can’t use.
2. Do you want a sit-down meal, buffet, stations, a food truck or something else? Consider the level of formality of your wedding when deciding what type of service works for you. Robert and I liked the idea of something informal and interactive, so we honed in on stations or a food truck — the latter we quickly nixed because we might have too many guests to pull it off seamlessly. Turns out, many caterers don’t do food stations, so that really narrowed our options as well.
3. What type of food do you want to serve? A very formal meal with options for steak or fish will lead you to one type of caterer, while a casual barbecue will lead you toward another. We decided to give our guests, primarily out-of-towners, what they’re likely looking for from a meal in Nashville, Tenn.: Southern fare. We were open to both down-home and upscale varieties.
4. Do you require vegetarian options? Granted, most caterers will work with you on this, but Robert and I know a decent amount of vegetarians. We wanted a caterer who was actually good at making vegetarian dishes — not simply capable of it. Keep in mind your guests with other dietary needs as well: gluten intolerance, food allergies (shellfish and peanuts are common), etc., as you look for a caterer.
5. Does serving healthy food matter to you? Many of our guests eat healthfully, and “healthy” and “Southern” aren’t exactly synonymous when it comes to food. This narrowed down our options further because in some instances there was nothing remotely healthy on some caterers’ menus.
6. Does the messiness level of the food concern you? We played with the idea of fried chicken, but decided that would be a bit much to ask of people to handle in their nice wedding clothes.
7. Do you want your menu to be innovative? Robert and I were surprised that many catering companies offered what seemed to us very popular menus from 10 years ago. The ability to be creative was important to us. But food doesn’t have to be imaginative to taste good, so this may not be an important criteria to you.
8. Do you want your caterer to provide dessert? If you plan on getting a wedding cake from a bakery, this isn’t a concern. If not, you’ll want to look for a caterer with a solid dessert repertoire.
9. Do you want your food to have a visual component? Some caterers excel at food displays or plating dinner beautifully. Others excel at taste and don’t focus on presentation. The question is: Do you care?
10. How much are you willing to spend? Don’t salivate looking at pricey caterers who are clearly outside your budget. Decide how much you’re willing to spend upfront.
While these parameters will focus your search, keep an open mind as well — you don’t want to box yourself in. And be on the lookout for the next installment in this series on finding the wedding caterer for you!
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