As a venue manager one of the first question I always get is:
Can I choose my own caterer?
While some clients are looking for their own caterer for cultural or religious reasons, for the most part, those I talk to don’t actually have a specific caterer in mind. Asking this question isn’t so much about the catering services we use, but rather about cost and flexibility. For the most part, these clients are just looking for ways to save a bit of money here and there, and assume that the venue’s catering service is overpriced and lackluster. Does this sound like you too?
Trust me when I say, that when you’re getting a quote for catering there is a lot more to consider than just your menu selection and the price per person. If you are comparing quotes that you’ve received on your own to those provided by your venue, you may actually be comparing apples to oranges instead of apples to apples.
Today we are going to review some issues that come up when you decide to hire your own catering service, and how to avoid common problems. As a venue manager at Estate Weddings and Events, I’ve seen my fair share of mishaps due to vendor negligence, especially with catering services, so I’ve put together a list of things to take into account if you’re set on hiring your own catering service.
Hire a professional.
This should be a no-brainer, but often enough I am asked whether a family member can cook for their wedding. At the estates that my company manages, this is simply not allowed...and for several great reasons. For one, what kind soul is volunteering their precious time in order to prep food for your entire wedding party? They realize they won’t be able to enjoy any of the festivities, right? Not only would they be working for months prepping for the occasion, they wouldn’t get to relax and let loose on your big day! Not only that, but they probably don’t know the first thing about catering for a large party, how many people to hire, what items they need to rent, etc. Beyond that, if anyone gets sick at your wedding from the food, you are liable. Caterers are trained in proper cooking and serving techniques specifically for this reason. No one wants to get sued over food poisoning! Professional caterers know how to cook for a crowd, will do so in a timely manner, provide all the items and equipment needed, and will reduce your stress level significantly.
Where do they cook the food?
This may seem like a question you wouldn’t need to ask, but then again, if you haven’t asked, you should! Catering companies have their own kitchen facilities where they prep and cook food, but others cook for you on site. Depending on your preferences, you may want to have most of your menu created fresh on site instead of transported in to be served. Caterers that cook onsite can do live cooking stations and also set up a field kitchen at your venue for preparing your party’s meal. If this isn’t important to you, you may be able to save some costs for having it prepared elsewhere and just plated and served at your venue.
Have they catered at your venue before? Or do they have experience with a similar venue?
If you choose to hire your own caterer you need to make sure they are prepared to work with any type of venue. They might be used to typical event venues that have huge catering kitchens, but if you’re getting married at an unconventional location without a kitchen, for example, there is a lot more they need to think about!
Caterers will likely need to do a walk-through of your venue at least once to check out what facilities they have access to and understand the rules and policies of the space. Working with an unfamiliar venue can create unforeseen problems. Caterers may not have access to running water and may have to build an entire kitchen at your venue. Do they have enough lighting? Will they need a generator or do they have enough outlets/power? What happens when it rains, do they have a tent? If they aren’t prepared, this could be a disaster. Hire a caterer that is skilled at working in unique settings.
Compare quotes carefully.
If your venue provides you with a quote from their in-house caterer and you compare it to a generic quote you got from another caterer, you’re likely to notice differences. Maybe the caterer you found has a lower per person price, but did you look into why that is? Look over both options with a careful eye. Do they both include the same amount of menu options, rental items, kitchen equipment, etc.? Is there a significant difference in the quality of ingredients or how and where they prepare your meal? What type of tables, chairs, and linens are included? Your venue’s quote should be all inclusive of everything you will need like a full onsite catering kitchen, extra lighting for the kitchen area, protective flooring, sink rental for running water, extra staffing, etc. They’ve thought of everything because they’ve worked at the venue countless times.
If your quote seems low, it probably is. This can be a costly mistake the closer you get to your big day if you need to rent items at the last minute that your caterer forgot about. But worst of all, if your caterer caused damages at the venue because of their lack of experience or negligence, that cost will likely come out of your security deposit.
What is most important to you?
For most of us, it might be a matter of time vs. money. If you’re concerned about money it makes sense to shop around for low-cost catering, but just be aware of the issues that can cost you money after the fact. And is your time worth all the hassle? Educate yourself on what is included and prepare yourself for unexpected damages or last minute changes that can cost you both money and time.
If time is more important to you, then I highly recommend choosing a caterer that your venue recommends. You don’t have the time to coordinate every single detail, so it may be worth spending a little extra to have your venue handle all the catering details for you.
If the quality of food or service is most important to you, then cost may be no object. High per person rates and outside catering fees might be worth it for you to have your favorite chef prepare a catered meal at your venue.
No matter which caterer you choose, they should be more than happy to customize your menu choices and consider your budget when recommending options. Communication is the key to the success of your event so communicate your needs with your caterer and venue to make sure that no detail falls through the cracks.