Today, Wil and Kris from fabulous White Pepper are writing about what questions you should always plan on asking your caterer. This duo definitely brings out the best in food. I had the privilege of working with them at A Classic Affair and I was so impressed by their delicious treats!
12 Questions for your Caterer.
Congratulations - you're engaged! One of the most thrilling times of your life is upon you - there's little that compares to the celebration of love and commitment between you and your spouse! While planning your wedding with your fiance is fun and exciting - it's likely that you'll be navigating waters you've never seen before, and catering is a big part of the puzzle. No matter what your budget is for your event - couples will spend anywhere from 30% to 50% from their whole budget on their caterer. With such a large chunk of money headed to one part of your big day - it's important to be fully informed and confident before making a final decision. Below are 12 questions I would expect any of my clients to ask me. These questions will give you confidence in hiring your caterer, or.. they'll give you confidence in moving on to the next.
1 - Are you licensed and insured?
All professional catering operations should be licensed to do business in the state and county that they serve, and they should be insured as well. They should also be happy to offer proof of their insurance policies and their business license. Hiring a caterer that does not hold insurance and isn't licensed is a huge liability for the bride and groom. Not only does it offer zero credibility to the caterers operation, but liabilities could fall on the bride and groom if something were to go wrong. For me, this is the first question, because if the answer is "no" - it's a done deal to move along.
2 - What type of service styles do you offer and what's included in those?
It's always important to know whether a caterer is the right fit for you and your wedding. Some caterers offer limited styles of service and before wasting your time - find out if they even cater the type of style your looking for. Some caterers only offer buffet meals with limited on-site staff, some offer fully plated and coursed meals. Know what styles of service you're looking for going into the meeting, and ask how the caterer plans to execute that on site.
3 - How much of your food do you make fresh in house and how much do you purchase pre-made?
Catering a wedding for 150 people is no easy task. Many caterers have tricks to pull something like this off. But one trick, should never be cooking all the food and holding it hot for several hours. This definitely works for some foods, but expensive items, like meat entrees and seafood, should be cooked on-site whenever possible. A great caterer will be able to speak to this and why it's better for everyone. They'll also have specialized equipment that ensures their ability to do it well.
4 - Where do you source your food?
If you're like me, you know that food is best when it's grown seasonally and regionally. If that's something that's important to you, ask your caterer how they feel about that and where they source their food. They should be able to speak to their different food vendors and why they've selected them. Good food is expensive to source, but the end result at your wedding will speak volumes.
5 - Will we be able to have a tasting?
There's no better way for you to understand a caterers food style and quality that at a tasting. The tasting should be outstanding. If you have a sub-par tasting, think about how that will reflect when they're cooking for 100+ people vs. 2 people. The tasting is a great chance to meet your caterer if you haven't done so already. It's a great chance to ask questions about the operation, food service options, menu cost differences, food sourcing, and anything else you want to know!
6 - How are your buffet/bar/beverage stations decorated? Can I have say in how they're decorated?
Every client has a style that is as unique as they are. It's important to know if your caterer has a setup style that will blend well with your wedding style. For example - a very modern caterer probably wouldn't look great with a very rustic themed wedding. Ask if your caterer will blend their style with yours to find something that will complement your wedding day, instead of detract from it.
7 - How much time is needed for setup and tear down?
Many clients think that since they're having a 5 hour reception that they should only be billed for 5 hours of staff. Don't forget that many caterers require at least 2 hours of load-in and setup and at least 1 hour of break down and load-out. That 5 billable hours just turned into 8 and if you weren't expecting that up front - you may be caught off guard!
8 - How do you handle headcount changes when it comes down to the event week?
If you start with a headcount of 125, then, then month before your wedding you're only at 75 - how will the caterer work with that. Do they offer to bring the contract price down since you'll have less guests? What if your guest-list expands by 10 or 15 people in the last few days? How will your caterer handle that? Be sure to ask how that changes the contract price and if there's any penalties that come with late headcount changes.
9 - What are some other fees charged that I should know about up front?
When a caterer presents a menu with pricing, that often doesn't reflect the full price you'll be paying. If your caterer hasn't sent you a full and formal proposal, ask about extra fees. Are rentals included? Do you have a travel fee? What is your service charge? Does that price include non-alcoholic beverages? Does it include full service staff? This will help to avoid last-minute charges and surprise expenses!
10 - How many events do you cater in 1 day?
Some caterers are set up to do multiple events in 1 day, some are not. Regardless of how they go about doing multiple events in 1 day, it's good to know if you'll have their full dedicated staff, or if you'll have 1 team of staff. If they do handle multiple events in one day, they should express confidence in their ability to do so and should be able to speak to that ability.
11 - Who will be my main point of contact?
Sometimes you'll need to contact your caterer with a question or a concern - and sometimes your point of contact will change while you're working with them. Once you've decided to work with them and sign a contract, ask if you should contact your accounts manager directly with questions, or an accounts assistant. If a caterer does book multiple full-service events on the same day - ask if you can have to contact information for the catering manager that will be at your event. Reaching out to the right person often means getting a quick solution to a question or problem. If they don't have a catering manager for your event - that's probably a red flag and should cause concern.
12 - Will you refer some previous clients to me?
When I hire someone for a job, I want to know that they will do outstanding work and have a great reputation. Be sure to ask your caterer for a couple references. Ask if they have a wedding coordinator AND a past client who will be able to speak to the integrity, quality and value of their business. Any decent caterer should be more than happy to do so!
Don't be afraid to ask your caterer questions. You're paying them a lot of money to feed everyone coming to your wedding - you should feel very comfortable and confident in their ability to do so! A great caterer sees themselves as a teammate with you. We're working together to bring your vision to fruition - it should never be a battle of wills - and if it is, they're probably not the right caterer for you.
Who is White Pepper?
White Pepper is not only a marriage between a chef (Wil’s second love is his cast iron skillet) and a visual artist (Kris has credentials as an interior designer); it’s a marriage between good food and great presentation. It’s a marriage between fresh, local ingredients and creative vision.
Portland based and inspired by Pacific Northwest cuisine, Wil and Kris work with you to create custom menus featuring fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. We are real people, making real food, creating real experiences; and we want you to eat well.