After you get engaged, there are so many important decisions to make about your upcoming wedding: “Where should we get married?” “What month should we get married?” or “How many people should we invite to our wedding?”.

But after you’ve decided when and where the ceremony and reception will be and about how many guests will be attending your wedding, the most important thing to decide is “What are we going to eat?”. Think about it—everyone loves seeing the first dance or the bouquet toss, but the thing your guests are most looking forward to is that long-awaited meal. Because the food at your wedding takes center stage and will be one of the biggest pieces of your wedding budget (experts recommend that reception food be about 15-20% of your budget), you need to make sure you’re hiring a trusted caterer.

So what things should you look for in a wedding caterer? How do you go about booking one? Here’s a short guide to everything you need to know about booking a wedding caterer.

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Research Local Wedding Caterers

The first thing you need to do when trying to book a wedding caterer is to research all of the local wedding caterers in your area (or the city in which you are getting married). Figure out what kind of food you would like to serve at your wedding and what kind of service you want at your wedding—whether that’s dinner served buffet style or actually having servers hand out a plated meal.

Once you determine which caterers fit the bill, schedule a tasting and a meeting with their catering director who should be able to answer any questions you may have.

Go for a Tasting or Two

Going for a tasting is unarguably the best part of booking a wedding caterer. After you call to inquire about booking wedding catering services, most caterers will invite you in for a small sampling of the catering menu so that you can get a good idea of how the food tastes and what the service will be like.

Although it might be tempting to set up as many tastings as you can—hey, who doesn’t like free food?—it’s better to set up no more than three so you really remember how the food tastes and can make an informed decision.

Before the tasting, try not to have a full stomach (so that you can really enjoy all of the bites you’ll get) and be sure to have a notebook filled with catering questions you need to ask and write down notes about the food.  

Ask Lots of Questions

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During the tasting (or during a regular meeting with your potential wedding caterer), be sure to ask in great detail about everything that’s included with their catering services. For example, will your caterer provide the chafers and serving utensils? Will your wedding caterer be providing plates, cups, and eating utensils or will you need to buy those yourself? You also should ask about whether or not they will bring their own tablecloths and napkins.

Additionally, you’ll need to know how long they’ll need to set up before the reception and how many servers they’ll be providing on the wedding day. If your food caterer will also be providing bartending services, be sure to verify that they have liquor liability insurance.

Lastly, you’ll need to know about cleanup and leftovers. Will you be charged extra for cleanup services? What happens when you have leftover food? Will they pack it up and give it to you at the end of the night or will you need to do that yourself?

Be sure to write all of these questions down and more in a wedding planning notebook so that you can be prepared for your meeting with the catering director.

Sign a Contract

Once you decide on the caterer you want for your wedding, they will likely require that you sign a contract to nail down the date in their calendar. Legal-ese can be quite boring and difficult to understand, but try to really read and understand the contract. Watch out for clauses about extra charges and any other questionable language. You’ll also want to make sure that the menu you’ve decided on is written down in the contract somewhere.

After you sign the contract, keep a copy for yourself and put it in a safe place to go over in the coming weeks before the big day.

Instruct them on Setup

If your caterer has never catered a wedding in your chosen venue (it’s very likely that they’ve been in it several times and know the routine), then you’ll need to let them know of any special instructions on setup and how you would like everything to flow during the reception.

A couple of days before your wedding it’s a good idea to just confirm everything (times, menu, etc.)

Looking for a wedding caterer in the Santa Barbara area? Jack’s Bistro offers a large catering menu and we would love to be part of your celebration.

For more information or to set up a consultation, call Justen Alfama, Catering Coordinator, at 805-566-1558 x4 / 805-319-0155 cell /