10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Caterer


words by | Eve Green

The catering company is one of the most important vendors you will hire for your wedding. The style, presentation, and quality of food offered at a wedding is essential to many couples. They want to treat their guests to a lovely meal to celebrate their nuptials. In addition, the cuisine can be a fun way for the couple to express and share their personal tastes and culture with their friends and family. Consider the Toledo Wedding Guide’s 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Caterer to assist you and your fiancé in finding the perfect catering company for your wedding reception.

1. Do you have my preferred date available?

This question is vital when hiring any wedding vendor, but is particularly important when it comes to the caterer. Many caterers service multiple weddings on the same day but you may find it helpful to know just how many weddings are booked for your wedding day.

2. What type of event outfitting options does your catering company offer?

It’s important to find out if the catering company provides all the necessities for the event or if you will need to be responsible for renting items such as table linens, crystal, and china. We spoke with Leslie Bailey, general manager at The Pinnacle about the options offered with The Pinnacle’s catering service.

Leslie states, “The Pinnacle offers china service, or plastic ware. We also have stainless flatware, glassware, and linen napkins available to our clients. Well-trained servers, bartenders, and chefs are also available to be on-site during events. Full setup and cleanup is taken care of by our team. Stainless serving equipment is included in all buffets and stations, rather than disposable pans and utensils.”

3. Does your catering company offer the meals buffet style or plated?

Some couples have no preference whether the meal is served buffet style or plated. Buffet dinners tend to be more cost effective as less staff is required to serve the meal. On the other hand, plated dinners can also save you money with less food waste, but may result in higher service charges for the extra wait staff. While plated dinners are the most formal option, buffet style dinners aren’t as casual as they used to be. Today many catering companies offer specialized stations like a filet mignon carving station or chocolate fountain.

4. How do you charge for catering and are packages available?

Most catering companies offer packages that allow you to “cater” the food and services to your desired budget. Additional options and services (like alcohol, cake  and table decor) can be added on a la carte for an additional fee. Also be sure to ask what the difference in cost is between buffet and plated meals. As we have previously noted, until you speak with the catering company, it’s hard to know which option will be the most cost efficient for you.

5. Does your catering company offer alcohol services and how do you charge?

The bar is one of the larger costs of the evening, so you will want to know exactly what you are paying for and how it’s broken down. Find out if the catering company charges by the amount of  alcohol that is consumed or as a flat fee per guest. Make a note of how many bartenders will be working too as you will want to be prepared with gratuity. Also consider asking if you are allowed to provide your own alcohol, which could result in a huge cost savings.

6. Will the catering bill include any extra charges?

Extra charges can include anything from the security deposit to sales tax and service charges. These extra charges may seem minimal but they add up quickly and can drastically affect your bottom line. Make sure you know exactly what you are paying for and how much it costs.

7. Does the caterer provide specialized meals for certain dietary restrictions?

Many couples opt to provide a vegetarian option and a special meal for children. If you know that any of your guests have more specific dietary restrictions like food allergies, gluten-free, or kosher, check with the caterer to see what options are available and if it will result in an added charge.

8. Does the caterer offer taste testing and if so, when will the tasting take place?

We love this savvy tasting tip from The Knot; “Reading reviews of a wedding caterer is one thing, but you'll need to taste the food yourself to be sure. Definitely opt to do it beforehand if possible—it will allow you to make an informed decision and prevent you from getting locked in with a second-rate caterer.” Presentation isn’t everything - it also needs to taste good!

9. When is the final guest count due?

Once your RSVP’s start to come in, you will begin to have an idea of how many guests will be in attendance. Caterers will usually have a deadline for your final guest count so they are able to order and prepare an adequate amount of food for your reception. This deadline may affect when you state the RSVP deadline on your invitations. We recommend leaving a bit of a “buffer” between your RSVP deadline and the final guest count deadline, you know, for those last minute stragglers who mail in their RSVP’s a little late.

10. What is your refund or cancellation policy?

We recommend asking all vendors this essential question: What is your cancellation policy? If you are required to give the catering company a security deposit, find out if it’s non-refundable. It’s important to read the fine print with vendors like caterers, as they may charge up to 75% of the total event cost if the couple cancels within 2 weeks of the wedding.

One of the best parts of your special day is when you take your place beside your new spouse and soak up the celebratory air around you, as you enjoy a delicious meal. And we promise your guests will appreciate that you took the time and effort to find a talented caterer!