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Before Signing the Contract – Everything You Should Ask Your Caterer

Are you available on my wedding date? For some couples, that’s the only question that matters when selecting a caterer, and they’ll happily sign a contract right there on the spot to secure their date. But to ensure everything goes smoothly and you’re not caught off guard by any added charges or caveats, here’s a list of questions to ask before you commit to the  catering contract. 

The Obvious

Once you’ve confirmed that the caterer in question is indeed available to take on your event, there are a litany of questions to shower them with. 

Do you require a deposit and if so, how far in advance do you need to be booked? It’s also a good idea to ask about their refund or cancellation policy, in the event of a change in venue, date or catering choice. 

What does your price include? If they offer multiple dinner style options, this is a great time to ask about the price difference between sit down meal versus buffet, or stations versus family style versus cocktail reception. Find out if they charge per person or on consumption. And don’t forget to ask about the gratuity and if it’s already added to the final cost. 

Are we able to do a tasting? Is there an additional fee to do so? In this case, you definitely want to try before you buy. The beef brisket at your cousin Marcy’s wedding may have been the best thing you’ve ever tasted, but you should make sure the rest of their entrees are just as tasty.

Do you provide beverages and bartenders? If so, make sure to ask what brands of alcohol they stock or if you can bring your own, and any associated fees (bottle corking, extra bartenders, wine service with dinner). And remember – not everyone is going to imbibe, so make sure they provide non-alcoholic options as well as coffee, tea and water. 

 

The Essentials

Caterers have heard it all, so no question is off limits.

Have you worked with my venue in the past? If yes, this eliminates the need to ask more detailed logistics questions. For example, they will have already established a cleanup procedure, set up and take down is already been handled, and any electrical or equipment needs will already be known to the venue – you won’t have to worry about a thing. 

What if we want to create a custom menu? You’ve probably chosen a caterer because you’ve already glanced at their menu and liked what you saw. But if you have your heart set on homemade mashed potatoes but it isn’t on the menu, definitely ask in advance of signing any contract. It may seem like an easy request, but some caterers stick strictly to their predetermined menu options, while others are happy to try something new.

Are you able to accommodate special dietary needs? These days it’s expected that there will be special requests whether it be free of dairy, gluten or nuts. You also may need an option for the kiddos attending the festivities. You want to look for someone who is flexible and willing to work with your requests, within reason of course.

 

The Details

You may feel uncomfortable asking questions that seem like you’re questioning their style or talent. After all, they’ve done this before so you assume they have all their ducks in a row. It’s still important for you to ask the questions and check each box to make sure nothing is overlooked and everyone is on the same page. 

Are you licensed? It’s important to not only have a health permit, but a liability insurance policy is essential in case anything goes wrong. And let’s not forget about a license to serve alcohol! An experienced caterer will be able to put your mind at ease that they have everything covered. 

Will the meal be prepared on site or arrive already prepared? There’s nothing wrong with having the food prepared in advance. A good catering company knows how to keep food from drying out, getting too hot or too cold, and properly storing refrigerated items. But if they are expecting to prepare on site, this should be worked out in advance with your venue. 

What is the ratio of servers to guests? Make sure the caterer has an approximate number of guests already in mind before you sign a contract. If they’re expecting a small, intimate wedding and your guest list suddenly explodes into the hundreds, they may be inadequately staffed. It’s also a good idea to ask about their backup plan in case a server calls in sick that day.

 

The Extras

These questions are just icing on the multi-tiered wedding cake. But you definitely want to ask these specific questions either before you sign the contract or at least a few weeks before the event. It might not affect your decision whether or not to select this caterer, but it will make things easier down the road to have all the little details ironed out.  

What extra services are you able to provide? Your venue may provide tables, chairs, linens, glassware, plates, flatware, etc. but if not, you may  be able to tag your caterer with these items. Find out if they provide them, the cost and how they handle set up/take down with the venue. 

Will your staff serve wine/champagne with dinner? If you envisioned beautiful toasts taking place throughout dinner, your guests should have something in their lifted glass. If your caterer’s servers are willing to pour the wine, make sure you ask about any extra fees associated with this task. Some couples provide their own spirits, especially if the caterer doesn’t provide beverages, and the caterer will charge a corking fee.  

Will your servers also serve the wedding cake? Most caterers will work with you but will charge a cake-cutting fee.  Or maybe you want to provide a dessert other than cake. Make sure to ask what your options are and any associated costs. 

When do you need a final head count? Final menu choices? Again, it’s good to know these things up front so both you and the caterer can be prepared and there’s no last minute surprises. 

 

We’ve created this infographic for your convenience. Pin it and bring it with you to your catering meeting.