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Catering Considerations | Vendor Selection Tips

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

We're back, and so are you! When considering your caterer, where you are in the planning process is going to be a bit different for everyone, and it will be determined by the venue you chose. Some venues have in-house catering, and if yours does, you've got less to think about than if you have to hire an outside caterer. But no matter what situation you are in, you'll find helpful tips and things to think about in this article. Simply put, what you want in a caterer is going to come down to your personal taste, and what you want for your guests. Let's dive in, shall we?

1. What does a caterer really do? This may seem obvious, but many couples are surprised by how different the services and offerings can be from one caterer to another. Some are going to just bring the food to your venue and serve it to you. At the other end of the spectrum, you have caterers who do everything, from linens to bar service to cake cutting, and everything in between. If you've chosen a venue where they do the catering in-house, like Highland Manor or Mission Inn, you will mainly be concerned with choosing between the options that they offer. What type of food, what color linens, and bar service as far as types of liquor and beer, will be presented for your consideration. If they don't keep a particular style or item you want, chances are good they will work with you to acquire it for your big day, but be prepared to look at outside vendors or acquiring your own if you want something super-specific.

If you're picking an outside caterer, likely the driving force behind your choice will be the type of food you want for you and your guests (more on this next). Make sure you have a clear idea of what is most important to you, and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions when you are interviewing these companies. Do they offer plated meals, or just buffet or food station options? Do they offer cake-cutting services, and is there an extra charge for it? Do they offer a "late night snack" option, something that has become very popular lately and offers an additional treat for your guests?

It helps to know your crowd too; if you have a lot of party-animals coming to celebrate with you, ask if they will add a second bar station or extra bartenders to keep things flowing smoothly. Or maybe you want a lot of pictures taken between ceremony and reception, so ask how they would deal with an extended cocktail hour. The more questions you ask in advance, the more confident and happy you will be with your choice.

Table decor and custom table number

2. It's about the food! The driving force behind most couples choice for caterer is the type of food they want for the big day. No surprise there, but how you can get it leaves a lot to think about. If you really love the food from a national chain restaurant, most will do catering for large events, but they are only going to bring the food and serve it, usually in a buffet style setup.

Most full-service caterers such as Cocktails Catering or Millenia Catering, will do a wide range of foods, but if you want something really specific, be prepared to do some digging. We wanted a low-country boil for our wedding, and luckily we knew someone who specialized in it, but it may not be that easy depending on what part of the country you are having your wedding. And make sure your budget can handle it, because as with all things in life, you're probably going to have to pay a bit more for a specialty item or menu. Don't forget to ask your caterer how they can handle food-allergies, and other dietary needs, in their food preparation.

Over the years we have pretty much seen it all, and so have these companies, so don't be afraid to ask. Will they make vegan meals? Can they do gluten-free? Do they have pescatarian options, or allergy-sensitive options? Chances are good that a few of your guests will have these restrictions, so make sure the caterer is good with making a few meals that are different from the rest.

Wedding table decor with turquoise napkin and donut favors

3. What's included? This one is about food and all the stuff that goes with it, all the little details that are easy to lose in the forest of big decisions. As far as the food goes, do you want appetizers for your cocktail hour food? If so, do you want those to be carried around by servers who offer them to your guests, or just have them at a station? If you are doing a plated meal, do you want a salad course, or anything prior to the main course at all?

For the non-food items, most venues with in-house catering will have a selection of tables, chairs, linens, and silverware for you to choose from. This is the same for the majority of full service caterers, as they will either keep their own stock or get what is needed from their suppliers. Just make sure you see all their options, as you may need or want to go with a separate vendor for specialty items.

Very few things have changed and grown in the wedding industry like the rental market; these days your dreams are the only limit to what you can get. Vintage farm tables, matte flatware, and chairs fit for royalty, are just a few of the items that are available. A company like Orlando Wedding & Party Rentals is a great place to start getting inspiration for your vision, as they have a huge inventory that they are constantly updating and improving.

Dr. Phillips House main room wedding reception setup

4. Pricing and Service: So, pricing matters, because of course it does. What decision you ultimately make will depend on how important food is to you and your experience for the day, and what your budget will allow. Caterers will typically express their price on a per person basis, as it allows your cost to be seen consistently as the guest count changes (and it will change, but that's a topic for another day!) As you work through the options that you have to choose from, the important thing is to find a comfortable spot where the food and service you want meets the price you need. Be honest with the caterer about your budget and they can help you find that sweet spot.

One final thing to consider when thinking about price is the level of service the caterer will provide to you and your guests on the wedding day. Will there be a butler or head table server attending to your needs throughout the meal and during the hours of preparation before the ceremony? How many servers will they be providing (the industry standard being one server per every 4 tables), and will they add servers if you request it? If they are providing beverage services, how many bartenders will they supply. If you request special liquor options, will they acquire those bottles or will you be responsible for it? Specialty drinks are very popular, so you may want to ask what and how many you can specify for the event. As with all parts of the planning process, the more questions you ask, the happier and more secure you will feel once you have made your decisions.

We hope this article gives some insight into choosing the caterer for your most important day, and takes away some of the stress as well! While food is not the most important part of a wedding for everyone, it can definitely leave a lasting impression with you and your guests, so it pays to give it a bit of extra attention!

Stay tuned here for more articles just like this, on other vendors such as planners, DJ's, florists and more! And check out our full blog page for more tips, venue spotlights and real wedding recaps!

*All photos credit of their owners/photographers. *There is no paid advertising in this article. All vendors we mention by name are included because we have worked with them and trust them to be a good resource for anyone planning a wedding in Orlando.

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