How to Choose the Perfect Caterer

Prime Rib or Pulled Pork? Cognac or Coors? Here’s How to Choose the Perfect Wedding Caterer

Not every caterer is right for every wedding. Some caterers are perfect for a relaxed, rustic affair, while others excel at the grandest gala. But whether your wedding is high-end or totally casual, or something in between, there are some basic rules for creating your ideal meal. Let’s get started.


What do you want your caterer to provide? Some caterers bring only the food, utensils and napkins. Others can provide everything from tables, chairs and linens, to a full bar and even your wedding cake. Know what you need, and choose a caterer that can fulfill as many of your needs as possible. The fewer vendors you need, the less complicated your planning will be.

Get references, referrals and reviews. Ask friends who they hired, and how satisfied they were. Sites like Wedding Wire, Yelp and The Knot are full of reviews by couples who are happy to share their experiences with their caterers. If a caterer gets several complaints about a particular aspect of its service, perhaps you should look elsewhere. A single bad review can usually be dismissed. But several bad reviews paint a picture of a company that’s risky.

Be sure your caterer specializes in your type of event. Some caterers are great for corporate events, or festivals, or picnics. Others specialize in weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. If you’re having a wedding, pay special attention to the reviews and referrals of recently-wedded couples. 

Taste it for yourselves. A good caterer will invite you to a tasting, where you can sample its menu options and choose your favorites. Many caterers excel at everything from a country barbecue to a white glove ball. And they have menus in all price ranges.

Get it in writing. Don’t assume that your caterer will do everything you want as part of its basic contract. Slicing and serving your wedding cake may cost extra. Keeping the bar open during dinner may cost extra. Be sure your contract includes a full list of what the caterer will provide — linens, bar glasses, napkins, flatware, whatever — and don’t assume it’ll provide anything else. There’s nothing worse than getting a bill for things your caterer had to add on the fly because you assumed they were included when they actually weren’t.

Get to know your caterer. If possible, meet with the actual person who will manage the catering staff at your event. Spend some time describing your needs, and let your caterer offer ideas on how to make the meal go more smoothly.

What type of meal do you want? Heavy appetizers? Buffet line? Family style? Plated dinner? Each option requires different skills for a caterer. If you want dinner to go fast, so you can get to your dancing early, choose a buffet. Family style dinners take a little longer. Plated dinners take the longest of all.

How will the servers be dressed? Does your caterer have pictures? If your affair is formal, and your servers will be dressed formally, there’s a good chance that they’re experienced and professional, not just people who work a few parties and quit. The best caterers retain their staffs for years, not weeks.

The more you know about your caterer, the greater the likelihood you’re going to have a great dining experience. 

© Fourth Estate Audio, 2017 – Jay Congdon is president of Fourth Estate Audio, a professional Chicago DJ and Chicago Wedding DJ company. 

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