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Your Caterer: 16 Questions to Ask

You'll spend more money on food than any other aspect of your event, so you'll want to work with a professional. When making appointments to interview caterers, try to schedule a tasting of their wares at a later point. Don't forget to ask them the questions below, and choosing a caterer will be as easy as pie - just make sure your taste buds have a say in the matter, too.

1. Does the caterer specialize in certain types of food or service? (They should provide you with sample menus to review.)

2. Can the caterer arrange for a tasting of the specific foods you're interested in prior to hiring? (They should.) Schedule a tasting if you get a good vibe.

3. What is the caterer's average price range? Are costs itemized depending on the foods you choose, or is there an all-inclusive flat rate? What would that include (linens, tax, gratuities, etc.)? Does the caterer have printed price sheets for food selections?

4. How involved is the caterer in a typical event - does he or she work like a banquet manager, (in cases of a wedding reception for example) cueing the band, telling the couple when to cut the cake, adjusting the schedule if guests don't seem ready to sit down to dinner? (You will need to find someone to fill this role - if your site manager or caterer isn't going to do this, think about hiring a wedding coordinator.)

5. Will the caterer provide tables, chairs, plates, table linens, silverware, salt-and-pepper shakers, and more? Ask to see these items to make sure they're acceptable. Do you have to rent tables, place settings, and/or other equipment or will they arrange for the rentals?

6. Who is the main contact? Will the same person you work with when planning also oversee meal service on the day of the event? (You want this to be the case.)

7. Is the caterer working any other events on the same weekend, on the same day, or at the same time as yours? (You want to be sure they will devote sufficient attention to you. You may want to pass on a smaller outfit who indicates they have another job or two scheduled for that day.)

8. Does the caterer handle all settings of tables? Will they put out place cards and favors?

9. Will the caterer provide wait staff? How many would they recommend for the size of your event? What will the wait staff wear?

10. Will the caterer be willing to include a recipe you provide, like a special family dish, or an appetizer with some sort of sentimental significance? Can they prepare vegetarian meals for just a few of your guests?

11. Where will the food be prepared? Are there on-site facilities, or do you, the caterer, and the site manager need to make additional arrangements? If the caterer must bring in his or her own equipment, is there an additional fee?

12. Does the caterer work with fresh (not frozen) food (within reason of course)?

13. Can the caterer provide alcohol? Or can you handle the bar separately? If you can provide it, is there a corkage fee? How and when do you get the alcohol to the caterer? If the caterer will provide it, do they have an inflexible wine list, or can you make special requests? How is this list priced?

14. How will the caterer arrange the food on the buffet table or on plates? Can you see photos of previous work displays?

15. Can you speak to previous clients? (Get at least two references that had a similar number of guests and a similar menu style.)

16. For weddings, does the caterer also do wedding cakes? Can you use an outside baker if you desire? Is there a cake-cutting fee?

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