These Are the Essentials Your Wedding Caterer Needs to Know, According to the Pros

These Are the Essentials Your Wedding Caterer Needs to Know, According to the Pros

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Deciding on your wedding caterer is a little more complicated than attending a tasting or two and deciding whether you'll serve beef, chicken, or fish. There are all sorts of details you'll want to share with your caterer as you're planning what will influence your menu, the type of service you decide, and the experience your guests have. Want to make your first meal as husband and wife totally memorable for you and your guests? These catering pros are sharing the information they'll need from you to make this celebratory dinner one everyone will enjoy.

“Food is what brings people together,” says Jennifer Goldman, COO of Patrick Properties Hospitality Group in Charleston, South Carolina. “It's what's at the center of every social gathering, celebration, and family holiday. Since your wedding is the most significant occasion of all, we want the menu to tell your unique story as a couple.” That's why Goldman loves hearing about family recipes, favorite meals, go-to restaurants, signature cocktails, and what her clients like to cook and eat at home. “From a beloved heirloom recipe to the dessert you shared on your first date, sharing these details of your lives through food offers another layer of personalization to your wedding (without a lot of extra cost!),” Goldman explains. “Your guests will be excited by interesting and delicious food that sparks a conversation.”

“Knowing our clients' priorities is the most important aspect of planning for a wedding,” says Kristen Campbell, director of event sales and planning at Forklift Catering in Somerville, Massachusetts. “Whether it's designing and customizing a menu or ensuring that your new mother-in-law always has her drink of choice in hand, our job is to cater to your needs! If we know what is most important to you, we can create an experience that best serves you and your guests.”

Budget, of course, is also key. “You're essentially taking between 100 and 200 people out to dinner, and your food and beverages will be a huge part of the budget (typically 50%!). It's important to be realistic about what this can amount to,” Goldman emphasizes. “Prepare a thoughtful budget for food based on your priorities, and be up front with your caterer about where you need to stay financially. We can be creative (within reason) to try to work your favorites into the menu, but don't want you to fall in love with items that aren't realistic when it comes to the numbers.” Adds Campbell: “Couples can be hesitant to share their budget with us, but it's the best way to find the right fit for your wedding day. We want to have an open dialogue about what is possible, any alternatives you might not be aware of, and how we can best accommodate your vision.”

Inviting any little ones to your wedding? Let your caterer know. “If the children are important enough to be at your wedding, your caterer should embrace them. Even the tiniest guest deserves a wonderful meal!” says Goldman. “Parents get weary of 'kid food' like chicken fingers and fries, and most kids these days have more extended palates. If you're having food stations, you've got the perfect setup for incorporating preferences for all ages. Or set a kids' table with their meals in lunch boxes or served in a special presentation that makes them feel like part of the festivities.”

A big detail couples often overlook? Their vendor count! “When you're creating your guest count, don't forget vendors who have meal requirements in their contract, such as planners, photographers, and your band or DJ,” says Emilie Pfeiffer, director of Bristol Catering in Louisville, Kentucky. “The timing of when your vendors eat will be different from your own timing, either earlier on or much later in the evening. We offer a nice boxed meal that vendors can pick up and eat at their convenience. And don't forget to ask about allergies and dietary restrictions in advance.”

Campbell also stresses the importance of knowing both your dietary preferences and restrictions. “We want to know what your favorite foods are, as well as what you strongly dislike or are allergic to. The menu should be designed to the couple's tastes, so we'd rather plan a menu that is full of things you'll love! Then we can accommodate guests' dietary restrictions on a case-by-case basis closer to your wedding day.” Campbell always makes sure her couples take a break to eat, and wants every bite in reach to be something that excites them.

“Allergies and dietary restrictions can impact the way you serve food at your wedding, too,” says Pfeiffer. “Your catering team needs to know about any restrictions prior to the event so the staff can be made aware of them. We recently catered a wedding with a severe nut allergy, and my staff noticed that the local bakery had provided peanut butter cupcakes. If we hadn't known about the allergy, we wouldn't have been able to remove those items before they were served.” This is also important for buffet-style events, where a simple sign can direct guests with dietary restrictions to request a special meal from their server. “We want every guest to feel comfortable and included, and a well-prepared and informed staff will be able to do just that!” Pfeiffer adds.

And of course, make sure to loop your caterer in with your planner or venue representative as you're working on the logistics. “Accurate timing and logistics are incredibly important for the success of an event,” says Pfeiffer. “We need to know everything about your venue, from where to load and unload to the location of the dumpster and what the food and alcohol policies are. Who is setting up and breaking down tables and chairs, and when will it be done?” Keep in mind that any additional setup that needs to be done by the service staff can result in an extra charge. “If you're having your wedding off-site, that can change our timing and even add hours to service labor,” Pfeiffer continues. “We need to pack up our vans, drive to your venue, unload, set up, serve, clean up, and return to our catering location, which is why a four-hour event can require eight to 10 hours of labor.” Telling your caterer exactly when food service will begin and end will help them plan accordingly-and help you make sure your wedding day runs smoothly!