What and how you serve your guests at the reception is one the most important parts of a wedding, and will probably take the largest portion of your budget. Whether you’re contemplating a wedding at a venue that includes its own catering services, or you’re hiring an independent caterer, we want to make sure you ask the right questions before you make a commitment. So this week we spoke with Ani Keshishian from Anoush Catering and got some incredibly helpful tips to make the wedding caterer selection process easier!
What is the caterer’s average price range? If it’s beyond your budget, say thank you and move on to the next name on your list. You might be able to manage a meal at the low end of the caterer’s range, but why feel as if you’re scrimping? Practically every single thing you add to a catering order will raise the cost; if a simple chicken entree is all you can afford from this caterer (and we’re not saying a simple chicken dish can’t be delicious), you’ll be under water by the time you add pine nuts to the salad and fresh raspberries to the dessert.
Does the caterer specialize in certain types of food or service? Is it possible to customize the menu, even to the extent of using a family recipe you’d like to provide for a special dish? Can they provide vegetarian, kosher, or kids’ meals if required for some guests? How many options for each course can you select to be served at the menu tasting? If the answer is that a tasting won’t be provided, stop right there. You do not want to serve food that you’ve never tried.
If you’re talking to an independent caterer, ask what your package will include beyond the meal itself. Often, a venue that doesn’t have onsite catering will require you to provide plates, silverware, glassware, serving pieces, linens, and sometimes even tables, chairs, and kitchen equipment. Some caterers have stock of items that they include in their pricing, some will charge for use of those items, and some will rent required items on your behalf from other sources. If you’ll be at an outdoor or other location without kitchen facilities, will food be prepared in the caterer’s kitchen and brought in, or will some of it be prepared on location? What extra costs will you incur for rental of hot boxes (sort of refrigerators in reverse), cooking equipment, or other items? If you’ve ever watched the Food Network, you know that propane-fueled professional stoves can even be brought to the top of a mountain; it just costs money.
Again, talking to an independent caterer, you want to find out if they are doing another event at the same time as yours. Large operations can handle it, but small ones may be pushing the limit and not be able to pay enough attention to you. Find out if a supervisor will attend your event to oversee staff.
An onsite caterer will almost always be able to coordinate bar service as well and will have an appropriate liquor license and liability insurance. Look at the wine list and ask what brands of alcohol they typically serve. Ask about pricing of cocktails made with those brands versus any premium brands you might want to specify. Will you be charged per drink or per bottle? If you want a signature cocktail, ask if their staff can create it. If you’re thinking of providing your own wine, find out about corkage (serving) fees.
If you’re talking to an independent caterer, ask if they will arrange for wine and other alcohol to be bought and served or if you will need to contract with a bartending service. Find out if your caterer or bartending service is ABC-licensed. Otherwise, depending upon your venue, you may have to apply to the State of California for your own one-day license. In either case, find out if host liquor liability insurance is required; you should be able to purchase it as a one-day rider to your homeowners’ or tenants’ insurance policy.
The Fine Points of Presentation
You know that people eat with their eyes first, so if you’re having buffet service for appetizers or dinner, ask what serving equipment and decor the caterer supplies. If you’re serving passed hors d’oeuvres, you want the platters to be beautifully presented. Ask to see pictures of previous events they’ve done. You may also have options as to styles of seated dinner service, such as American (food portioned and plated in the kitchen), English (seated guests serve themselves from platters brought around the table by a server), French or Russian (servers bring platters to the table and place portions on each guest’s plate) and family style (guests serve themselves from abundant platters and bowls placed on each table).
How many servers and bartenders are included in the quoted price and what is the ratio of servers to guests? (For a standard plated dinner to run smoothly, there should be one server for every eight to 10 guests.) What are the extra charges for additional wait staff? Is there an additional labor charge for a carving station or other special services you may want? What is the standard attire for the wait staff, and can you request or provide something else? If the event runs over the contracted time, what are the overtime fees?
The Bottom Line
What’s it all going to cost? Remember to ask if there is a charge for cutting and serving a wedding cake you provide. Is coffee and tea service included in the per-person meal charge? Can you arrange a different meal to serve to staff you bring to the event, like the band or DJ, the photographer, and so on? Find out what the taxes and service charges will be; in Los Angeles County it will be an additional 27 to 31 percent.
Finally, find out what the payment policy is regarding deposits, final payment, and cancellation dates and fees as well as forms of payment the caterer will accept.
For superior catering in Los Angeles, we hope you’ll consider Anoush Catering for your next big event.
Thank you Ani from Anoush Catering for the extremely helpful advice on what you need to know before selecting a caterer. If any of you have any other tips you'd like to share with us, we want to hear from you!