After the venue rental, your wedding catering will likely be the biggest expense of the night, so it's important to hire the right professional for the job. Not only will the caterer prepare tasty food and pour delicious drinks, but, in most cases, they will also supply the tableware rentals, set the reception tables, and keep to a tight timeline to ensure the evening goes off without a hitch. So once you've narrowed down your list of potential caterers, here are the important questions to ask your wedding caterer. (Pro tip: Download our FREE printable and bring it with you!)
Photo: Tec Petaja
The 11 Most Important Questions to Ask Your Wedding Caterer
Don't sign your catering contract without asking these very important questions below.
1. Do you have a license and liability insurance?
What you need to know: It's important to make sure that the caterer has the proper license, which means they have met local health department standards. You will want to ensure they have liability insurance as well, in the off-off-chance something goes wrong.
2. Do you have a license to serve alcohol?
What you need to know: Most caterers will provide beverage services in addition to the wedding food. If you're planning to serve alcohol at the wedding, make sure the caterer has a separate liquor license, which allows them to serve alcohol off-site at your wedding venue. This is an especially important question to ask your caterer if you are planning a wedding at a somewhat remote location like a rustic barn or beachfront estate.
Photo: Erich McVey
3. What meal service styles do you offer (plated dinner, buffet, family style, etc.)?
What you need to know: Most catering companies offer a variety of meal service styles, but if you already have your heart set on one in particular (i.e., dinner served family-style, a New England-style clambake, etc.), then it's important to make sure that's something they can accommodate.
Photo: Corbin Gurkin
4. Can you accommodate special menu requests and guests’ allergies or dietary restrictions? Are there additional charges for dietary restrictions/menus adjustments?
What you need to know: Again, most catering companies these days are happy to accommodate special menu requests, allergies, and dietary restrictions. However, these menu alterations might incur an additional cost. Be sure to ask your caterer about this ahead of time and, if there are extra fees involved, you'll want to factor those costs into your overall wedding budget.
Photo: Ñora Spanish Catering
5. Do you do wedding cakes? If so, what's the pricing?
What you need to know: Some caterers have a talented baker on staff who is able to create a beautiful and delicious wedding cake; others might offer a dessert menu but not wedding cakes. Ask if the caterer is able to create your wedding cake and, if so, ask to see their cake portfolio. If you like their designs, be sure to include a cake tasting session when you schedule your menu tasting appointment. However, if you're not impressed, it's probably a better idea to hire a separate wedding cake baker.
6. How do you charge for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages? Per consumption or per person? Which is more cost-effective?
What you need to know: Your bar tab will be a hefty portion of your overall catering bill, so one of the most important questions to ask your caterer is how you will be charged. Most catering companies will charge you either as a "per person" beverage fee or per consumption. If it's a "per person" fee, then usually you'll be able to offer unlimited alcoholic beverages based on your final guest count number. If it's per consumption, then the bartenders will keep track of the number of drinks ordered and charge accordingly (or they will tally all of the consumed bottles of wine, beer, and liquor and total up your bill).
7. What do your packages include and what will I have to pay extra for?
What you need to know: Most catering companies will charge per person and typically offer multiple packages or levels of service so you can choose the option that works best with your budget. Basic catering packages might include a set number of hors d'oeuvres served during cocktail hour, a three-course dinner, and "well" liquor brands on offer at the bar, while more premium packages might include additional appetizer offerings, added meal courses, and top-shelf liquor.
In general, wedding catering prices vary widely according to guest count, geographic location, style of meal service (i.e., a three-course dinner versus a buffet), and the scope of catering services included. But in general, according to data from WeddingWire, wedding catering on average will cost about $4,000, with most couples spending between $1,800 to $7,000. Another rule of thumb would be to allot about 45% of your overall wedding budget to catering (food and drink) as well as the venue rental.
8. Where will the food be prepared and what are your water, power, and equipment needs?
What you need to know: If your wedding venue includes a kitchen on the premises, it's important to ask if the existing facilities will be suitable for the caterer's needs. If the caterer will need to bring in kitchen equipment—or build a makeshift kitchen from scratch if the venue doesn't include one—ask what their water, electrical, and equipment needs will be. There will likely be an additional fee for bringing equipment in, so it's important to know how those charges are applied and if those fees are workable with your budget.
Photo: One Love Photography
9. Do you handle rental equipment such as tables, chairs, etc.?
What you need to know: Some catering companies will work with couples and order all of the rental items on their behalf. Others will advise on the quantities of items needed and leave the ordering to the couple (or their wedding planner). Make sure you inquire about rentals so you understand whose responsibility this will be. Finding a caterer that provides all their own equipment may be a leading factor in how to choose your caterer for your wedding.
Photo: The Ganeys
10. What is the dress code for your staff?
What you need to know: This one might seem like a silly question but it's always good to know nitty-gritty details like these so everyone is on the same page. After all, if your wedding is black-tie, you wouldn't want the servers dressed in casual attire. Ask about staff dress code to ensure that they'll complement the wedding's overall style and aesthetic.
11. What is your policy on breakdown and cleanup, and what does it include?
What you need to know: Ask how much time the caterer will need for cleanup and breakdown, because you will need to coordinate the timing with the venue. Some locations have tight restrictions on how late vendors can stay for cleanup, so you'll need to make sure you allot enough time for the catering staff to complete breakdown so that you aren't charged any extra overtime fees.
Photo: Jose Villa
Everything Else You Should Ask Your Wedding Caterer
In addition to the must-ask questions listed above, round out your consultation meeting by asking the follow-up queries below. Pro tip: Go over the full list beforehand and circle the ones that are most applicable to your wedding (because some might not apply to your celebration).
- Is my wedding date available?
- Have you ever worked at our wedding venue?
- Do you have other weddings or events on the weekend of my wedding?
- Are you available to do a venue walk-through before the wedding date? If so, is there an additional fee for this?
- How long have you been in business?
- How many weddings do you cater per year?
- Do you have a license and liability insurance?
- Do you have a license to serve alcohol?
- Will I need special permits for my event? If so, will you handle obtaining them?
- Have you ever worked with our wedding planner?
- Are references and/or reviews available for me to access?
- What meal service styles do you offer (plated dinner, buffet, family style, etc.)?
- Do you have any signature dishes or specialties?
- Given the style, time, and date of my wedding, what are some menu items that you suggest?
- Would we work off a preset menu or can you create a custom menu for our event?
- If I have a special dish I'd like served, can you accommodate that?
- Where do you source your ingredients?
- Can you accommodate special menu requests and guests’ allergies or dietary restrictions? Are there additional charges for dietary restrictions/menus adjustments?
- Will you provide children's meals? If so, what's the pricing?
- Do you do wedding cakes? If so, what's the pricing?
- If we use an outside cake designer, do you charge a cake-cutting fee?
- If I decide not to serve cake, what are some other dessert options?
- Do you provide alcoholic beverages and bartenders?
- Can you accommodate specialty cocktails?
- Can you list off what brands of alcohol you pour?
- If we provide the alcohol, beer, and wine, can your bartenders pour it?
- Is a corkage fee charged if we provide our own wine and champagne?
- How does your billing for beverages work (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic)? Do you charge per guest or per amount of drinks served? Which option is normally the most cost effective?
- Is a champagne toast included in your meal packages or is it extra?
- Does your pricing include wine being poured during dinner?
- Is there a time restriction on how long the open bar can run?
- Is coffee and tea service included in the pricing?
PRICING & PAYMENT
- Do you offer catering packages or is everything à la carte?
- What do your packages include and what will I have to pay extra for?
- Does the catering staff receive a meal as well? What are the costs associated with that?
- Can I taste the menu, or parts of it, in advance? Is there a fee for this?
- How many menu tastings can you do?
- Are there any additional fees I should know about?
- What’s the difference between a gratuity and a service charge?
- How far in advance do I need to book you?
- When can I expect to receive my contract from you?
- How much is the deposit and when is it due?
- When is the final payment due?
- What is your refund/cancellation policy?
- How far in advance do I need to set the food and drink menu?
- What date will you need the final guest count for the wedding reception?
- Where will the food be prepared? Are there certain equipment, power, and water needs you require?
- Will you provide a catering captain/banquet manager to coordinate the meal service?
- How long does the meal service usually take?
- What time will you and your staff arrive at the site?
- How much time does your team need for setup and breakdown? Are we expected to help?
- How many staffers (servers, bussers, bartenders, captains, culinary, etc.) will be at my event?
- In past events, what is your sweet spot when it comes to the ratio of servers to guests?
- Are the servers/staff employees of the company or temporary staff?
- Is your team responsible for setting all the dinner settings? Will you be placing our place cards in the pre-assigned locations as well as any party favors?
- Do you handle rental equipment such as tables, chairs, etc.?
- What types of linens, glassware, plates, and flatware do you provide?
- Do you offer rental upgrades such as lounge furniture, Chiavari chairs, etc.? What would be the additional fees?
- Do you provide any décor for food tables like appetizer stations or buffet tables?
- Is there an additional fee to move ceremony chairs to the reception?
- How do you handle gratuity for your staff?
- What is the dress code for your staff?
- What do you do with leftover food?
We hope this list of questions will help you determine how to choose a caterer for your wedding. For more in-depth wedding-planning resources, check out our comprehensive wedding planning checklist, a list of the most important questions to ask your wedding venue, our how-to guide on wording your wedding invitations (including a Q&A on some sticky invitation-wording situations), as well as easy-to-follow instructions on to how to make a wedding website.