Choosing your caterer

How to find a catering company that’ll serve a fabulous feast

Words by Beth Forsyth

Ketchup or brown sauce?

Your average breakfast from the greasy spoon may not require much more input than this, but your wedding breakfast is a different kettle of fish (no pun intended!). Even if you decide that you want to serve bacon and fried egg butties, your food bill will be one of the biggest costs of the day, so it’s vital that you end up with a caterer that will deliver the cuisine you want at the standard you expect.

Where do I start?

It’s important to give yourself enough time to consider your options, so start your search as soon as you have your date and venue confirmed. Many venues insist that you use their in-house catering, but if you’re getting married in a marquee, local hall or a barn, for example, you’ll need to outsource this to the professionals. If you haven’t already got someone in mind, begin your research online and at wedding fairs, always remembering to look at testimonials as an indicator of the company’s past experience and expertise. If you’ve been at a do where the canapes were fabulous, or a friend can’t help enthusing about how amazing the dinner was at another wedding, capitalise on it; your own experience of a caterer’s food or a personal suggestion can often lead you to a company that fits the bill. Neil Johnson at Humble Pie Food (humblepiefood.co.uk) agrees: “We get a lot of business from online searches, but the majority of our referrals come from word-of-mouth recommendations from couples who have attended other weddings we’ve catered for.”
Call to set up meetings with at least three or four companies to discuss your requirements, making sure you’ve asked they are available on the date of your wedding and checked that they can manage to cater for your estimated numbers – there’s no point meeting otherwise. Remember, too, that many caterers can manage more than just the food. “It makes your life much easier when one call can take care of many aspects,” says Robert Myler of Lamberton Catering (lambertoncatering.co.uk).

Questions to ask

You need to make sure that you’re choosing the right caterer, so don’t be shy when it comes to asking questions. “A good caterer will be able to answer questions easily and will be amenable to work with you to create the menu you want,” explains Robert Myler. “Go with your gut feeling when it comes to choosing your caterer and be wary if you feel they aren’t particularly accommodating or tell you how your day ‘should’ be.”

Food and drink

  • Do they take a ‘package’-based approach or can they create a bespoke menu for you?
  • Do they offer menu tastings?
  • When do you need to confirm menu choices?
  • Can they cater for special dietary requirements?
  • Do they offer a children’s menu/portions?
  • When do you need to finalise numbers?
  • Will the food be prepared on or off-site?
  • Do they use seasonal and/or local produce?
  • Can they provide a bar service and necessary equipment?
  • Are there corkage charges if you’re supplying your own drink?

Staffing and equipment

  • Can they provide waiting staff and bar staff? If so, are they agency or on the payroll?
  • What is the ratio of staff to guests?
  • What dress code does waiting staff have?
  • Have they catered at your venue before?
  • Can they provide the necessary facilities and equipment if your venue isn’t kitted out?
  • Are there any additional gratuity charges or travel expenses to consider?
  • Are they catering for any other functions on the same day as yours?
  • Can they provide tables, chairs, linen, cutlery, crockery and glassware? Clarify associated costs.
  • Can they supply chair covers and other decorative items? What are the charges for these?
  • Are staff able to set up and clear up the venue? Clarify timings.
  • Who will be managing the operation on the day, making sure it all runs smoothly?

Money

  • What does the ‘cost per head’ include?
  • Are there additional costs for equipment hire?
  • When is deposit and final payment due?
  • Are they fully insured in case something
    goes wrong?
  • What is their cancellation/postponement policy?
  • Ask for an itemized price breakdown and written contract of all food and services they are providing.



MENU TASTINGS

Many catering companies offer ‘tastings’ at their kitchens and if you’re a bit of a foodie, sampling the menu prior to the big day can be one of the most fun parts. Ask your company if they offer these, and if so, whether they are complimentary or not. “Though keep in mind that anyone can produce top notch dishes for two people in their kitchen, so what you’re served at a tasting isn’t necessarily going to be a representation of a meal when you’re cooking for a much larger group of people,” advises Robert Myler at Lamberton Catering.

BEST ADVICE

“Be clear about your budget from the outset and be realistic. You can’t get a Rolls Royce on a second-hand car budget. While most caterers are open to negotiation, if you end up with a deal that you think is too good to be true, then it probably is. It’s likely that – somewhere along the way – corners have been cut in terms of produce quality or level
of service.”
Neil Johnson, Humble Pie Food

“It’s imperative to ask for references. A reputable catering firm will be able to send you written and emailed testimonials and should be happy for you to follow these up by speaking to previous brides and grooms for added reassurance.” Robert Myler, Lamberton Catering

Image: christophercurrie.co.uk