Decide on a Style
- Heavy Hors d' Oeuvres. This is set up like a buffet, so guests can choose what they what. It's cheaper because your caterer doesn't have to prepare massive amounts of steak, chicken, fish... the typical seated dinner entrees. Instead, a wide variety of small items are placed on the tables. Your guests will go away full and possibly even happier than if they were given one or two choices for dinner.
- Buffet. Just like with heavy hors d' oeuvres, guests are expected to get their food themselves. Instead of having a variety of smaller dishes, you have a few larger ones. Often these are placed at stations (for example, a mashed potato bar, a salad bar, and a carving station for meats). Be careful though! Sometimes a buffet can cost more than a seated meal because larger quantities of food must be prepared. It depends on the caterer.
- Seated Meal. The guests remain seated at their tables and their courses are brought to them by servers. Much more expensive. Why? You're paying the servers to be waiters instead of allowing guests to serve themselves and you're paying for the presentation of each dish. The chef is going to make sure each dish is beautifully garnished and decorated. That takes time.
Make Sure Your Wedding Venue is Good to Go
- Ask friends, family, and coworkers for recommendations.
- Ask vendors you've already booked. Josh Jones, my photographer, gave me a great base list for caterers he's worked with at my venue and numbered them from favorite to least favorite.
- Ask your venue for suggestions. They'll be able to recommend who worked well in their space and who didn't. Zen gave me a decent base list as well, a few of which were also on Josh's list. This narrows it down a lot!
- Use sites like The Knot to find vendors in a specific area. With this you can select your state, city of interest and what type of vendor you are looking for. They'll give you a list with ratings, approximate prices, types of service, etc.
- Of course there's Google. I recommend using the above methods first to create a list to start from.
Call Your Top Picks
Ask these 22 questions to help you decide if they are right for you. Ask them to send you their menu options and pricing (if you couldn't find it online). If it's too much, cross them off.
Schedule a Tasting
Know that this is the pricing for the food. Rarely does this include dishes, clean up and set up, and service fees. Your wedding venue may require you to get tables and linens for the food displays yourself. Ask the caterer if this is included. Some caterers will even bring in props to make a beautiful presentation that matches your wedding. Ask.
For hors d' oeuvres, make sure you know if the price is per person or per item. If it's per person, this allows for a few servings. If it's per item, your price will double or triple if your guests have more than one serving.
- Skip the desert option. Let your cake be the dessert or create a dessert bar yourself with pies, brownies, etc. that you and your friends made.
- Cocktail Hour. If you're having one, don't do passed hors d' oeuvres. Instead, have a small display of food. If your guest list is 100, order enough for 60-65 guests. Not everyone will eat a full portion because they know dinner is coming up, nor will everyone be there. You'll be away with the family and bridal party taking pictures during this time.
- Have a smaller guest list? Perhaps you, your family and friends can create the meal yourself. Have a pot lock dinner for an intimate wedding where each guest brings a different dish.
Have some more suggestions or unique ideas for food? Let me know!