Choosing a caterer
After you have decided on the type of reception venue you want, it is time to choose between using the in-house catering on offer, hiring an outside catering firm or catering yourselves.
Many venues have in-house caterers that provide all the food and drink services for celebrations held there. These caterers will be familiar with the styles of meal that their chefs specialise in and will also be able to provide tables and chairs, linen, crockery, glasses, waiting staff and some decorations.
If you have specific catering requirements like needing Halal or Kosher meals then the venue may not be able to accommodate your wedding or they may allow you to book outside caterers. Similarly, if there is no in-house catering then ask for recommendations from the venue or friends or relatives. Also check the Yellow Pages and local newspapers for contacts.
Draw up a shortlist of potential caterers and arrange an appointment to discuss your specific requirements and compare prices and services. Ask to see specific example menus, price list and testimonials from other brides and grooms and inquire about the type of wedding packages they offer. Ask each caterer the same questions about their service, ingredients and any added extras so you get comparable quotes from each.
Useful questions to ask your caterer
- Do you only have set menus or can we create our own?
- How many options can we offer for each course?
- Can any special dietary needs can be dealt with?
- Can we taste a sample of your food?
- I am holding my reception at home/in a marquee/in a hall. Will my food will be pre-cooked and prepared or do you need any cooking or storage facilities?
- Is wine included in a package with food?
- Do you charge corkage if we buy our own wine?
- If wine is provided, will we be charged for the amount of bottles ordered or for just those that are opened?
- How many other drinks are included in the package? What soft drinks are included? (Some include a drink as the guests arrive and then a certain number of bottles of wine per guest, along with fruit juices).
- How much clearing up will be done after the reception? (Some caterers will clear only the kitchens while others will wait until the end of the entire evening and clear everything away. In-house caterers will usually clear up more at the end of the evening.)
- Do you provide for waiting staff in your quote?
- How near the wedding date can we confirm final numbers?
Self-catering your wedding
This is now the least popular option because most couples feel they have enough to worry about on their wedding day without being responsible for the finer details of catering. Taking care of the food for your wedding is a big responsibility, but a highly-organised bride with a dedicated team of helpers should be able to manage.
You will need to make sure there is plenty of food for your guests, that it is well presented and that you cater for any special dietary requirements. There is a limit to the amount of food that can be prepared in advance. The setting out of the reception will have to be done at the same time as the preparations for the ceremony, and it is here, if nowhere else, that helpers can come into their own.
Before choosing this option, ask yourselves a couple of questions: Do you have the time and experience to cope with planning menus and catering for large number, access to the right kind of equipment in large enough quantities, and a supply of willing friends and relatives to help with this mammoth task? Perhaps one friend could take overall responsibility for the catering with the rest of the team reporting to him/her rather than you. This will take some of the strain off you, but keep the cost of catering down.
It is more simple to self-cater a buffet as it is easier to estimate the quantities of food you need and you can provide a variety of hot and cold items that do not need to be cooked and served simultaneously. As a guide, professional caterers allow approximately fifteen to twenty items of food per guest, so simply multiply this by the number of guests you invite. Make sure you have enough furniture, china, cutlery and glassware or hire from a catering firm for the day. Some off-licences offer a discount if you hire glasses at the same time as ordering your wine.
When it comes to presenting your buffet food, the simplest way is often the most effective. Ask the staff at your venue if they have any table linen you could hire, or buy paper tablecloths and napkins in the colour scheme of your wedding. Basic plates are fine for displaying your food, and use a few some simple flower or candle arrangements to decorate your tables.
If you decide to have a sit-down meal you will need to consider table settings for all of your guests and provide waiting staff to serve your food. It is possible to hire waiters and waitresses but this can be an expensive option. Consider asking friends of teenage bridesmaids to help, and delegate responsibility of organising them to someone else.
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