Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Step 19 - Interview and Book your Caterer

(9 Months to 24 Months before the Wedding)
When it comes to weddings, there are basically four things that will stand out to make the wedding a grand success. First is a gorgeous bride in her eloquent wedding dress, second is a beautiful wedding cake, third is the visual of the venue, and fourth is the food. To be a grand success you need to provide a scrumptious meal. In order to have a scrumptious meal you have to find a great chef and that means finding a great caterer. Being the special occasion as it is, you want the food to be served in a delectable presentation and taste delicious too. The meal should be a meal that you normally won't encounter in a residential home.

The food is the most expensive cost incurred at a wedding. Around 50% of the total cost of the wedding revolves around the wedding reception and the bulk of that cost is toward the food bill. You need to shop around and find a top notch caterer that offers gourmet meals. If you find the right one and you greatly enhance the chances that your wedding will be a rousing success.

At some reception facilities, a caterer or a list of preferred caterers go along with the reception facilities. If the venue has been successful, the caterer they employ must be pretty good, they have proved themselves to the facility and in addition know the facility well. You still should interview with the caterer, you need to know what meals choices they offer, are they easy to deal with, how do they operate, how is their staffing set up, and when will your final choices have to be ready. You will always want to review the food choices and the pricing and do they offer hors d'oeuvres, desserts, and coffee and the like. If you prefer bringing your own caterer to work your own wedding, it doesn't hurt to ask the reception facility about being able to use them, you never know, you may be the ones responsible for getting a good caterer hooked up with a good business.

Before booking with a caterer, you want to arrange for a food sampling of items you are likely to select for the wedding. Beside the food tasting you want to see how the food will be displayed on the plate. Many of the better caterers will offer food tasting opportunities when they are not in a crunch period and the wedding couple gets the sampling free, sometimes you can invite guests, but might be charged a nominal fee for the experience.

If you are in search of a caterer that is not linked up with a reception hall, you want to do the normal search and identify 3 or 4 caterers to interview. You can find good caterers off the yellow pages and wedding websites and some even in this blog. As you narrow down your search you want to focus on the types of food on their menu and determine if their type of meal is a meal that you would like to serve at your wedding.

You will want to start the interview and let them tell you what they are all about. You want to learn what are their specialties and how do they operate. You then want to review their menus and then divulge how many guests you would like to invite at your wedding and what operating budget you are looking at. The caterer has presented high level what they can offer and you have laid out your constraints, you now determine if you should continue on and go in-depth in your interview with this caterer.

The next thing to discuss, is the caterer available for the day of your wedding. If the answer is yes great, but if the answer is no, you have to decide whether to move your targeted wedding day to a day the caterer is available. You go further on in the interview. What are the food options, you should try to come up with three distinct food entrees. Is it going to be beef, pork, and pasta or will it be beef, poultry, and seafood. You want the choices nailed down so they can be included in wedding invitations when they get mailed out and included as part of a RSVP, so they can be ordered in advance of the wedding. The caterer will let you know the final date the order has to be in so he/she is sure to arrange and prepare the food in on time.

You also need to review what besides the entrees are to be served. Are there any special dietetic or vegetarian dishes that can to go along with the meal that cover special need guests. What do you serve the wedding vendors (officiants, photographers, musicians, etc) and what to feed any children at the wedding? You need to discuss the hors d'oeuvres, and be sure they are fancy, varied, and delectable, which items should you choose and how many should be served. Fair warning, try not to choose hors d'oeuvres that are not too drippy, ones that need dunking and get sauces dripped on the beautiful dresses and tuxedos.

You need to decide on extras that go along with the meal. What vegetables should be served with the entree, do you offer a starch like a twice baked potato or rice or other pasta.  Do you offer a multi-course meal, a shrimp cocktail, a fruit cup, a sherbet, a special salad, a house soup, or flavored rolls? And what about dessert, do you offer additional desserts along with the wedding cake?

You then move on to the drinks. First what coffee do you serve at the reception. Do you serve conventional coffee or do you make it espresso, cappaccino, or lattes? Do you offer liquors with the coffee or just creamers, sugar and diet sweeteners? Do you have self serve or do waitresses service each table? And what about the drinks and beverages? Do you provide sodas and hard liquors? What hard liquors do you provide? How is the bar stand set up? Is there a bar area in the reception facility or will one need to be created?

You will need to review all the needs of the kitchen and of the reception area on all that will be needed. You need to be sure the caterer has all the cooking and preparation and storage needs for all the food, Does he need extra stoves, refrigerators, slicers? Does the caterer need additional equipment or is the facility self sufficient? Does he have all the serving dishes and serving utensils he needs? As for the reception area, are all the tables and chairs, and buffet tables, and a wedding cake table, and the china, plates, flatware, glasses, beverage and wine glasses, table accessories like salt and pepper, coffee cups and saucers, and linen and napkin needs all accounted for?

You also need to address staffing needs, does the caterer have enough staff to cover the wedding or does the reception facility have the staff to cover the wedding? Are there any additional waitresses and busboys needed? Are there any bartenders or any additional ones needed?

What type of alcohol should be served? Do you want a dry bar, an open bar, or somewhere in-between? Some things to consider when talking about serving alcohol. The wedding couple may be non-drinkers but the best weddings offer some alcohol. Some guests expect to see alcohol at a wedding and if not served may leave early to find an alternative bar or restaurant and will be disappointed alcohol was not served. You want to encourage some social drinking. You may consider having an open bar with hors d'oeuvres served prior to the start of the wedding reception, maybe open for two hours, shut down the open bar during the formal reception period and depending on what activities are planned after the wedding reception open the bar back up, especially if there is dancing into the evening.

An open bar adds to the expense of the wedding reception. If budget is an issue, there are a few things you can do to drive down the cost of the bar bill. First, if the reception facility allows it, find your own bartender. You can find bartenders off of wedding related websites or you can call around to upscale restaurants, hotels resorts, high volume bars and even liquor stores. You want an experienced bartender, preferably one that has plenty of experience handling many guests at a time. A good bartender has experience setting up the bar, knows the mixture of drinks to be ordered to the guest size, knows how to make the drinks without looking them up, knows where all the liquor is stationed and can make the drinks quickly. You might save a lot of costs on hiring your own bartender. The caterer or reception hall may pay the bartender some monies and keep some of the monies applied for overhead. By bringing in your own bartender you only pay the bartender and not pay additional fees. You generally don't need a liquor license to serve alcohol at a private event but need a liquor license if the event at a business. You should check with the local laws to check how the liquor law is structured in the local community.

Second, if the caterer or reception hall allows it, pick up the alcohol yourself, find the right mixture of alcohol to serve at the wedding and if the alcohol is not opened have it returned for a credit. By buying your own alcohol often you get alcohol a lot cheaper than what the caterer or reception hall would charge. You can often get better deals on alcohol if you go to a good liquor store in the area and buy alcohol there and bring to the wedding reception. For example, there are very good wines you can get for close to $5 that are just as good as $30 wine bottles that reception places or caterers use.

Third, you can limit the amount of hard liquor at your wedding reception. Find out what your primary drinkers drink and only serve maybe three hard liquors at your event. You don't have to purchase all those different liquors and you drastically cut down on your alcohol bill. Liquors added to your coffee add expense too, if your budget is an issue, cut down on the alcoholic drinks served at your wedding.

Besides talking to the caterer, you want to interview any bartenders. You don't want a bartender for a big wedding just out of school, it takes years of experience to be a good bartender. You want a bartender that knows his job off the top of his head and knows when to cut a guest off. You want to encourage social drinking at your wedding, you don't want your event ruined by a few guests getting drunk and getting out of hand. There's always a few people in any crowd that can't handle their liquor. You want just enough buzz drinking where your guests feel good and are having a good time.

There are many more things to cover with a caterer than any other wedding vendor. Usually the caterer will talk with you on the price per person. If the price per person is too high, the caterer might work with you and discuss switching to a less expensive entree. Talk possibilities with the caterer if price is an issue. You can go less expensive, cut down on your guest list, or switch over to buffet style serving instead of a sit down dinner. To note, for every 50/60 people you should have a separate buffet station.  If you don't provide separate stations the buffet line may take a very long time and you end up with disgruntled guests.

Another note, if you have a buffet style serving, make sure the wedding couple eats first before going to a receiving line. Some guests will refuse to serve themselves until after the wedding couple is eats and once they are in a receiving line they won't be able to break away and eat for awhile so the food lines for the buffet table get really fouled up. A sit down dinner, does not matter for the couple, they can have the receiving line either before or after they eat.

When all is said and done, there is a lot of details to go over with the caterer, the contract needs to be reviewed in detail, and you want no surprises on the wedding costs. Be sure to have someone along to go over the contract with you and be sure everything talked about is covered and no surprises occur, even put some notes on the contract that your final bill will be paid in full by such and such a date and no hidden fees will be added and make sure you get a copy of the signed contract. This is to protect you in the court of law should some unexpected fee is applied. Only sign the contact when everything is reviewed. Get receipts for any and all bills associated with the caterer. Usually you pay some when you book and pay in full when the food is ordered, however some caterers handle bills differently.

Remember, don't let a caterer intimidate you, as is with all wedding categories, there are many caterers that would love to serve your wedding, you have the upper hand. There are a lot of details to cover associated with the food for your wedding, you want to make sure you find a caterer that will work with you and is easy to communicate with and serves the food that makes your wedding.

That's the story of interviewing and booking a caterer. See you on the other side!

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