You're engaged, congratulations! You've decided to start planning your wedding?
Congratulations again, but let's take a moment to have a heart-to-heart about catering. Unless you are a chef, related to a chef or obsessed beyond reason with food, this is a good primer or review. There are three types of caterers: those that are trying to sell you a set menu that they have already created, those that will create a custom menu from scratch and those that do both. There are pros and cons with all three and it is important that you and your fiancé figure out which one is the best fit for your wedding and for YOU. I am not telling you which one you have to choose, but rather what you should expect from any of the three:
• Find a caterer that fits your style. Sometimes the venue requires that you use one of their approved caterers. Make sure that the list has someone that will fit the bill of what you are looking for or that you are willing to compromise because the venue is so rad you would cry if you couldn't get married there. We loved our venue but not our caterers, so we compromised. If you find a caterer that you just LOVE (there are many of those out there) you may want to call them and find out where they do a lot of events. That might help you find the right venue, the right caterer and a match made in heaven.
• Meet the chef. Yes, you will meet the catering coordinator who is just as important, but meet the chef; after all, they are the person in charge of cooking the food for your wedding. Add 10 points to this importance if you are customizing any part of your menu, as it is imperative that you and the chef have a clear understanding on exactly you want served.
• Creating a custom menu? Fantastic, but make sure you aren't asking for the sun, the stars and the sky. Caterers are an amazing bunch, but everyone has their limits and they may not be able to recreate great Aunt May's peach cobbler as you remembered it when you were a child. Give them room, though, and I bet they make a great peach cobbler of their own that will surely please you and all of your guests.
• Some argue the tasting is the best part of wedding planning and I tend to agree. A word of caution, though; don't expect to taste everything on every sample menu or everything in the chef's repertoire -- that would take eons. Do expect to taste what would be on your menu or the types of dishes you are looking for. The caterer might also throw in a dish you weren't expecting that they love and you may be pleasantly surprised.
• You are entitled to see a full breakdown of what is included in your catering quote. This includes bar information, linen information, food cost breakdown and any other fine print that needs to be cleared up before paying the deposit. Are you responsible for returning the dirty linens to the linen company the next day? Make you sure you clear that up with the caterer or venue before you proceed.
Now to back to you. The caterer expects prompt communication, a decision about what type of menu you would like and collaboration on said menu -- especially if it is modified -- and timely payment. They expect an estimated head count when figuring out your initial quote and a final head count one to two weeks before the wedding. If you have a hunch that 40 extra people may show up uninvited but ready to celebrate, do let your caterer know ahead of time. They will be thankful for the heads up, I promise. If you know that certain guests have a severe food allergy to parts of your menu let your caterer know, they should able to put something together for that particular guest and your guests will be grateful.
Last but not least, try to eat during your wedding. While the majority of couples don't get a chance because they are so busy during the reception, it is a real shame that you spent all this time crafting the perfect menu only to not even get a taste during the reception! If you have a feeling this will happen, ask the staff and your coordinator to make sure they pack up a meal or two for you to eat later. Bon appetit!