When to schedule: as soon as you have determined your date and your venue. Many popular catering companies book popular weekends more than a year in advance, so don’t wait too long once the major details are in place.
What to expect: You may encounter prospective caterers at wedding expos or “bridal” shows. At these events, you may have a chance to sample some of their more popular items or latest creations. They will often offer you some basic information and to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your event in detail.
At your initial consultation, you should have your date and venue information available. If your venue is new or has not previously worked with the caterer you are considering, bring any logistical information provided to you about set up times, rental delivery, and items included in your agreement (tables, chairs, etc.).
Your prospective caterer will want to hear what you have in mind for service style (buffet vs. sit-down vs. stations), bar service, and of course, the menu itself. DO bring your real budget thoughts to the table. It is impossible to accurately evaluate your needs and compatibility without knowing your expectations and means. It is far better to have a vendor (any vendor) tell you that your budget is unrealistic for your vision then offer to help you refine your ideas or refer you to someone who can best meet your needs, than to get your hopes up over something that will never work out the way you want it to.
Follow up: If your meeting is promising, the caterer may offer to put together a proposal or quote for your event, or at least to provide you with further information. Some will wait to provide a custom quote until you are willing to provide a deposit on a date – custom menus are highly involved and require the input of chefs, catering managers, and sometimes rental companies and other professionals. Understand that this is a major time investment, and for certain caterers, it may not be possible to provide such an in-depth quote to every prospective couple. Before you leave your initial consultation, ask what the next steps are and when you can expect any promised follow up.
Adherence to these promises is a good indicator of what you can expect down the line. If your quote is exceptionally late (and there hasn’t been a legitimate personal emergency…and they DO happen), you have to decide if it’s the kind of hold up you are willing to deal with in the future. Look for other signs of a good match – is your quote accurate to your event and specifications? Are there too many errors for comfort? It’s not possible to slam-dunk every proposal every time, but is there a willingness to revisit anything that you find needs adjustment?
When you find the caterer of your dreams, ask what is necessary to secure your date and take care of any deposits and paperwork as soon as you are able. Some larger caterers are able to (successfully) manage multiple events on the same day. Other boutique caterers will limit their events, and you don’t want to miss out on your perfect match.
Future Fun: Look forward to tastings (either private or offered as special invitation-only events), refining your selections, final confirmation meetings, and the meal of your dreams!
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