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Questions To Ask Your Wedding Caterer

a group of people standing around a table eating food

From an interview of Chef Anja Lee

Written by Kasia Grobelny with The Motherland Blog 

Ahh wedding season is officially upon us. Chances are your calendar is full of wedding weekends for the next few months. From the cake to the dress to the venue (and the love between two people of course!), there’s nothing quite like a wedding.  

Wedding season might be especially meaningful for you if you happen to be freshly engaged or currently knee-deep in planning your wedding. If so, you’ve probably been inundated with the wide variety of decision-making that goes into putting together an event as big as wedding! From flower selection to music, there are A LOT of details that go into making a wedding a wedding.

One of the most important decisions you’ll make for your special day is what food you’ll be serving. Sure, we may be a bit biased, but while every element of a wedding should be heavily considered, food is one of those things that should definitely take center stage. After all, who wants to go hungry at a wedding right? 

Food has a way of bringing people together in a unique way. The cuisine you serve will set the tone for the wedding, tie in the celebration and really bring a whole new level of awesome to an event. 

Chef Anja and the team have amassed quite a bit of wedding experience. From the catering perspective we decided to chat with Chef Anja and learn the types of questions you should consider when making the all-important decision of food for your wedding. 

Here’s what you should think about when hiring your wedding caterer:

1) What should clients consider when deciding which direction to go with catering?

Get to know your caterer, if you can! You have the option of going with a bigger or smaller company. You go big - they have it done, they do it every week, the staff is used to the drill. You go smaller - the caterer will likely be spending more of their time on your wedding than any others, the staff will learn your story, and there will be love in the food! Meet your caterer in person and get to know their story and their excitement for your particular wedding.

Also, food is often one of the most expensive parts of a wedding, so be prepared to consider all factors in pricing such as appetizers, desserts, rentals, staffing (VERY important to have enough staff) and your style of flavors and presentation. It can add up, so be sure to consider that when budgeting for the entire wedding, looking at venues, deciding your headcount, etc.

2) What is included in the services offered?

What is included can vary significantly between caterer to caterer. Some are all-inclusive, others charge each piece of the puzzle individually so that you see where all of your money is going. If it is all-inclusive in the beginning, make sure to clarify what that means! We prefer to show all pieces (staff, rentals, food and gratuity) so that you can see where resources are allocated, just in case you would like to add on more or cut costs.

3) What kind of events have you catered previously? Are you experienced in catering weddings?

We love catering special events that require extra love! We only accept a few weddings per year (this year, we have 3), because we want to take the time to get to know our clients and make sure we allocate enough planning and prep to their special day.

Experience - Chef Anja Lee has been catering weddings since she was 13, helping her local caterer Melanie back home in Tahoe City (my inspiration!). 

4) Do you offer tastings?

We love getting free food, but unfortunately cannot always offer it! We offer tastings after a 30% deposit has been made on a booking of $10k or more. Since we are small, we need to know our long hours of prepping for the tasting are more for choosing the dishes they would like to serve, and not for something that might not eventually be a job. We offer testimonials, referrals, photos and in-person meetings to help clients get to know our style prior to making a decision. 

5) Can I customize my menu or do you have something pre-fixed to choose from?

We are open to requests, but we will start by providing a menu with options for each course. We do not build menus (unless requested), but instead, we list all options under each category (apps, salad, main, side, dessert) and you can mix and match! However, we are always willing to guide you to a very successful pairing of each course.

6) What is the most important factor when deciding who to hire to cater your wedding?

Get to know them! When it is the week before, and you have a lot on your plate, will they be flexible when there is an unforeseeable change? Will they be responsive throughout the process? Will they listen to your requests and get to know your fiancé and you? Will they calm your stress or cause you more stress? Is their food your style, and will it get you excited to eat?

7) What advice would you give to a couple deciding on the food/catering direction of their wedding?

I would recommend doing your research, taking your time to get to know the caterer in person.

I recommend having your venue chosen, so that you know that they will allow caterers (without a fee), what the kitchen facility is like and what budget you have allotted to catering. Bring your caterer as much info as possible!

Be clear to your caterer about what you want - the caterer will know right away if they can make your dream come true or not with the food and budget you hope to have. If they can’t you likely will be able to find someone else who can (within reason). But paint your picture and describe every aspect to your caterer so they can get to know your style and you.

Consider all options - plated, family style or buffet.

Plated is often most expensive - it requires more staff and more time. It makes a decision for your guests, which may seem to be helpful, but also means the guests might want more of one thing and less of another and not receive what they are looking for.

Family style is usually in the middle price-wise - it will require more platters and bowls to be rented for serving the food, but will require less staff and any extra fees than plated. It also gives your guests options, without having to stand up and wait in a buffet line!

Buffet - simplest option, requires less equipment and is often equipment the caterer can provide. However, it causes long hold-ups for hungry people waiting on food, and it makes people stand up and have to sit and begin eating at different times than others around them. It can seem easier, but can also be hard to manage timing-wise!

8) Any other thoughts?

Weddings are fun! The more of a kitchen available at your venue, the cheaper the price will be. If they have to build out a kitchen, it will be a more complicated bill!

And here are some more questions to consider:

- Do you want a wedding cake? Cake made out of cheese? (I have a photo) Other dessert?
- Who will be doing the decorations? Wedding planner? Caterer? Florist? Your family (can be hectic on the day-of the wedding!)?
- Does the venue allow you to start setting up the day before and rental pick-up the following Monday? (Can be very helpful!)
- Who will be in charge of setting up rentals and setting tables (important to note up front with the caterer, or whoever is doing that)?
- Do you have a preferred rental company? Are you willing to manage your own rentals? (Often the caterer will charge more to manage your rentals)
- Would you like coffee and tea service after the party?
- What color linens will you be looking for?
- Do you want disposable plates and napkins for cocktail hour? For desserts? Disposable or linen napkins for dinner?
- Will you need a bartender? Will you be providing the alcohol or will they? (BYOB is cheaper, but can be more complicated on a busy day!)
- Does your caterer need to provide bartenders? Equipment? Mixers?
- Will you need bussers for the bar drinks? Will that be provided by the catering company or the bartender?
- Does your menu require extra kitchen equipment from the equipment you already have at the venue? (Often, an electric hot box is needed)