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Questions for your Potential Caterer

1. How will you handle last-minute requests?

It happens to the most careful couples: A whole family who didn’t RSVP on time shows up anyway. Or the opposite: A handful of guests are MIA. Is your caterer prepared to adjust the food and the table setup accordingly?

2. Will you be there?

Who is the main contact? Will the same person you work with when planning also oversee meal service on the day of the wedding? (You want this to be the case.) Will the caterer work any other weddings on the same weekend, 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.

3. What’s your waitstaff-to-table ratio?

The most elegant service is one or more servers per table. The fewer you have, the more erratic or slow the food service will be. Find out how many staff members are included in the per person cost and how much extra staff might cost.

4. What’s included in your per-person price?

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, or other equipment? Or will they arrange for the rentals? If not, find wedding rentals in your area.

5. What happens to leftover food?

Health-department rules vary, but most on-site caterers cannot allow food to be taken off the premises. If this is allowed, arrange for the food to be donated to a local soup kitchen or charity.

6. Can we tour the kitchen?

A facility might look gorgeous enough to win you over, but any cracks in the organization or the cleanliness of a place will show in the kitchen.

7. Have you worked at our location before?

If you’re having the reception off-site, you’ll want to know how familiar your caterer is with the venue―and what he needs to know if he’s never been there. (How big is the kitchen? When can deliveries be dropped off?) Once you’ve settled on a caterer, put him or her in touch with the site’s manager so they can work out the details without using you as a middleman.

8. How does your staff dress?

Find out if they will dress in a specific way if you ask them to―say, in Hawaiian shirts for a luau wedding.

9. Can we see the banquet event order?

This is a list of all the information the caterer has gone over with you about your party. It’s given to the person who orders the food; the chef who’ll cook the food; the person responsible for setting up the room at the venue; and the director of the waitstaff. Review the details carefully so you know that, say, your request to have a separate table for two is on the list.

10. Do you take special requests?

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, kosher, kids, or halal meals for just a few of your guests?

11. Does the caterer have a license? (This means her business has met health department standards and has liability insurance -- make sure this includes a liquor license if you're having a bar.)

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

13. Does the caterer also do wedding cakes? Can you use an outside baker if you desire? Is there a cake-cutting fee?

14. Will you provide food for the photographer, videographer, musicians, and other "day-of" vendors? If so, is there an extra charge?

15. Do you work with fresh or frozen food? From where is the food sourced?

16. What deposit do you require to hold the date, and when will the rest of the money be due?

17. Will I need any permits for my event? If so, will you handle obtaining them?

18. What is the price difference between a buffet and a sit-down meal? Don’t automatically assume that a buffet is going to be the less expensive option. Ask your caterer which type of service is more affordable for you, given the menu you’re planning.

19. What is your policy on cleanup?

20. How much time do you require for setting up and breaking down my event, and are there extra fees for this?

21. If my event runs longer than contracted, what are your overtime fees?

22. What is the last date by which I can give you a final guaranteed guest count?

23. What is your refund or cancellation policy?

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