OK.  We’ve touched on freshness, freshness times 2, service staff ratios, and presentation style in {part 1} of Culinary Smarts to help prepare you during your search for a wedding caterer.  Now let’s delve into the final four facts that my colleague Meryl Snow of Feastivities Events shared with me.

5.  Menu design does not involve picking your food from columns.

Now bear with us on that one.  Some couples come to a caterer with definite menu ideas, but far more come wanting the planner to take the reins.   And justifiably so.  But this shouldn’t mean that you have to be locked into A, B or C packaged food.  Your caterer’s event planners should be well versed in menu design, and should be able to guide you to consider a number of factors that will lead to a customized, seasonally and preference appropriate menu.  What time of year is the reception?  Are sustainability and organic foods of importance to you?  What type of crowd is it?- “meat and potatoes,” or more cuisine receptive to try new things?  Budget should also be considered to allow for variations.  For instance, if a raw bar at cocktails is not in the budget,  butlered shrimp may be a less expensive alternative.  SEARCH FOR A CATERER THAT OFFERS YOU CUSTOMIZED MENU OPPORTUNITIES THAT WILL SUIT YOUR TASTES, GUESTS, BUDGET AND SEASON.

6.  Customer service counts.

How long did you wait for your information after you made your initial contact with a prospective caterer?  Once received, was it the information you requested?  Are your calls and emails answered in a timely manner?  Do you feel important? In a time when customer service seems to be a thing of the past, the good old days really were better and it’s this old-fashioned customer service that you want from your caterer.  Planning a wedding is a big job and you should have your catering planner’s attention when you need it.  Additionally, feeling as if you are important to their office team as a whole, will ensure that your catering planner has a whole support system behind them that ensures a team approach to facilitate your event going without a hitch.  GAUGE THE RESPONSE TIMES AND CUSTOMER SERVICE FROM YOUR INITIAL POINTS OF CONTACT WITH PROSPECTIVE CATERERS TO ENSURE YOU WILL RECEIVE THE SERVICE YOU DESIRE THROUGHOUT THE PLANNING PROCESS.

7.  Your caterer should be a know-it-all.

I know that sounds obtrusive, but…being a know-it-all involves ongoing education and involvement in industry organizations that offer educational opportunities.  From new food trends, menu preparation and event planning to wedding styles and vendor relationships– a good caterer never stops learning or evolving.  There are numerous organizations such as NACE (National Association of Catering Executives), ICA (International Caterers Association),  or ISES (International Special Events Society) that offer seminars and the benefit of the experience of industry leaders within the membership.

Hand in hand with education…is also the knowledge of your venue.  When it comes to your specific venue, you will want a caterer that is familiar with the ins and outs of it.  This cuts down your learning curve for what will work best there for a seamless event.  You will also benefit from a caterer that has a good working relationship with the facility directors and on-site personnel at your venue.  So — LOOK FOR CATERERS WITH PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS THAT SHOW THEY ARE EDUCATING THEMSELVES IN THEIR FIELD, AND THAT ARE RECOMMENDED BY YOUR VENUE.

8.  Word of mouth is the best advertising.

Simply stated:  What is your caterer’s reputation?  Look at the list of caterers for the facilities you are considering.  If you see the same names at many up market locations, chances are those caterers are doing something right.  Venues have reputations to uphold so the caliber of the caterers on their list has to be high.  Ask the venue directors who they use for their own events.  They have seen the companies perform time and time again, and thus their own choice for service providers should be very telling.  Check out sites like WeddingWire.com and view the realtime responses of brides regarding the services they received from your prospective vendors.  Ask your other contracted vendors– photographers, dj’s, bands.  They are at many weddings and eat the food, experience the service just as a guest would.  CHECK OUT THE REPUTATION OF YOUR CATERER THROUGH YOUR VENUE, OTHER VENDORS AND BRIDAL REVIEWS.

It was so fun to delve into smart practices for choosing a wedding caterer.  I’d love some bridal feedback– did you use any of these tactics when searching for your caterer?  How important were freshness, quality and style to you over price?  Did reputation and affiliations make a difference in your choice of caterer?

Happy caterer shopping!

Thanks to Meryl Snow of Feastivities Events!
Photo credits: JPC Event Group– Jody Wimer, and Laura Ruppersberger Photography