photo courtesy of: Blue Plate Catering.
“The ceremony was lovely—so heartfelt!” “And the bride was beautiful. That dress—gorgeous!” “But the food—“
The words that follow could be an exclamation of delight or a groan of despair, depending on the kind of culinary experience your guests had. You want your special day to be memorable—in a good way!—and great food is a big part of making great memories.
That doesn’t mean you have to have to serve prime rib or a seven-course dinner, though. “There’s no such thing as a traditional wedding anymore,” says Roxanne Larson of Ambrosia Events in Milwaukee. “Weddings are being geared toward what the couple wants to include or exclude, and with all the different ethnic groups marrying into other ethnic groups, weddings have become more shared, having a bit of each tradition incorporated into the wedding ceremony and reception.”
That means the options are unlimited—it’s all up to you!
Where to begin?
Some venues have a specific caterer they work with; if so, the choice has been made for you. Otherwise, a good first step to finding the right caterer is to consult a wedding planner who can help you from start to finish. Ambrosia Events, for example, can set up meetings with vendors, get cost estimates and help you manage a budget.
The first question: How important is food to you on your big day? Are you and your beloved the foodies in your circle, who visit the newest restaurants and try the latest food trends? Maybe you’re into comfort foods and want to serve some childhood favorites. Or perhaps you’re all about appetizers and desserts and want a wide variety of each. You might even decide you’d like to have brunch.
Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to serve, decide how you’d like to serve it. Maybe you and your crowd have a go-with-the-flow style, so trays of passed hors d’oeuvres, a buffet table or food stations are the answer. On the other hand, now that COVID concerns have eased, “people are really enjoying plated meals again,” says David Porto, owner and director of events at Blue Plate Catering in Madison. “But we have also seen a lot of family-style and food-station weddings. You want pasta, tacos and a supper club at your wedding? Go for it!”
“Aside from cost, couples’ main concern is making sure they have something for everyone,” Says Nicollette Haynes of Chef Jack’s Catering in Waukesha. Her company offers menu styles that you can customize. “We have seen a trend with desserts going outside the normal cake—for example, ice cream stations and carts, hand pies, cookies.”
Once you’ve decided on some must-haves, it’s time for research. Again, wedding planners can be especially helpful, because they’ve worked with a variety of dining options and caterers and can provide suggestions.
A good planner can also help you determine your catering budget. It may be a matter of priorities: Do you plan to invite everyone from Great Aunt Sally to your second cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend? If so, you might opt for economy over quantity. Or is a sumptuous repast something you’d really like? To make that dream come true, you might be looking at a smaller guest list and a bigger food budget.
The search continues
If you don’t go with a planner’s recommendation, do your research. See if your friends have any recommendations, but the web is also a great way to find some that fit the bill. Obviously, if you want French cuisine, you can cross off the ones who specialize in barbecue and burgers, but also consider whether their food presentation on social media looks delicious and inspired, and, of course, check out reviews of their services.
When you’ve narrowed down your candidates—five to seven is a manageable number—it’s time to start contacting them. This is likely to take longer than you expect; caterers have been inundated now that weddings and events are flourishing once again, so start early and don’t anticipate immediate responses.
Keep in mind that your caterer will be an integral part of your wedding day, so the relationship you build with your caterer is crucial. That means good planning and, in particular, effective communication. “If the communication is on time and helpful, expect that through the process,” Porto says.
Says Blue Plate’s Porto, “From day one, our focus is on the client, and the overwhelming feedback from so many of our couples is that they felt cared for, and just as importantly, heard, throughout the process.”
The final countdown
Once you’ve got a shortlist—three is a good number—it’s time to meet and talk details. The first question is whether they can accommodate your wedding date and how far in advance you have to book—it could be a lot longer than you expect. You’ll also want to get some idea of cost per person.
Among other questions to ask:
- Do they serve a specific geographic area?
- Do they have a minimum or maximum guest requirement?
- Do they offer a menu tasting?
- Do they provide beverage and bar service?
- Can your venue accommodate the caterer’s needs for food prep and staffing?
- Do they provide their own kitchen equipment, servingware and servers?
- Do they furnish table linens and place settings, tables and chairs, or do they work with rental companies and have recommendations?
- Do they use locally sourced meat, dairy or produce?
- Do they use environmentally sound practices such as recycling, composting and eco-friendly tableware?
- Can they accommodate special dietary needs, create custom menus or follow a special family recipe?
- Do they have an on-site coordinator or day-of captain who can assist with any unexpected issues?
Choosing the right caterer might seem like a lot of work, but it’s time well spent. You’ll be glad for your guests as they enjoy the fare—and amid all the meeting and mingling, don’t forget to take a moment and enjoy it for yourself, too.
Photo by: Dennis Felber Photography
Photo courtesy of: Chef Jack’s Catering