How do you choose a wedding caterer? Since you’ve probably never hired one before, it can be hard to know what to ask. Here are our tips as a wedding venue, with input from one of our favorite catering partners, Root & Stem.
HAVE THEY WORKED AT YOUR VENUE BEFORE?
We highly recommend choosing a caterer that has worked at your venue before. Your venue is a great source of recommendations for vendors in all categories, since we have seen it all. We know who is punctual, organized, and reliable. Or who runs out of food and has staff that leave a bit to be desired.
After all, vendors are just people, and having a vendor team that already knows how to work well together makes the day easier for everyone!
WHAT MENU OPTIONS DO THEY OFFER?
Before choosing a caterer, make sure their selection of appetizers and meals meets your needs and the needs of your guests. Are there a lot of options? Can they handle custom requests? Is their full menu available at every venue location (including yours)? Most professional wedding caterers are adaptable to all kinds of needs, but it’s best to make sure they can accommodate what you need right from the start.
ARE THEY A FULL-SERVICE CATERER?
What does it mean for a caterer to be full-service? Root & Stem, for instance, has a team of chefs, waiters, and bartenders. They handle setup, staff the bar, and replenish food and water glasses when they run low. At the end of the night, they break everything down, clean up, and even take care of the trash. Ask the caterers you interview whether they handle all of these important roles. Keep in mind that while you may have a favorite restaurant, restaurants typically don’t make great wedding caterers when they have to work in off-premise locations (i.e., your wedding venue). They may be able to shine in their own space, but they often aren’t accustomed to excelling in new environments with different demands.
DO THEY PROVIDE RENTALS?
You will also want to ask if the caterer provides rental items like dishware, glassware, utensils, and serving pieces. If so, ask if they offer multiple options. Many caterers have partnerships with rental companies that can streamline the process of renting these essential items. This will make your life easier since you won’t have to coordinate delivery and setup with an additional vendor on your wedding day.
Ask if your catering package includes dishes and flatware in the estimate. For instance, Root & Stem’s catering packages include the white coupe plates and flatware seen above, with the option to upgrade.
WHAT IS THEIR TIMELINE?
Before reaching out to a caterer, try to nail down a basic outline of your day. Root & Stem says it is always helpful if the couple has a timeline before calling them, because staffing is based on the ceremony start time and what time the night ends. They typically arrive 2 hours before the ceremony and stay 1 hour after guests leave to clean up.
DO THEY OFFER A CHOICE OF PLATED MEALS OR BUFFET?
Depending on the experience you want to create for your guests, you may choose one large buffet, several buffet stations, passed hors d’oeuvres, or plated meals. To avoid mishaps on your day, make sure the caterer you choose has all the staff, equipment, and experience to execute your preferred scenario. And, of course, don’t forget to ask your venue if there is a certain meal service style that works best or is more difficult in their space.
CAN THEY ACCOMMODATE DIETARY RESTRICTIONS & ALLERGIES?
Most professional caterers should be able to provide meals for guests with dietary restrictions. However, especially in the case of guests with severe allergies, it’s always best to double check. For vegetarian or vegan guests, don’t just ask whether the caterer has an option for them, but ask what it is. Some caterers assume guests who don’t eat meat will be fine with the sides from the other meals, leaving them without a substantial meal.
CAN THEY PROVIDE DESSERTS?
Some caterers have pastry chefs in-house, others partner with bakeries, and some do not offer dessert. Root & Stem, for example, has an amazing pastry chef and can provide everything from cupcakes to crème brûlée, including tartlets, pies, mousse cups, and full wedding cakes.
WHERE WILL THEY SET UP AND WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE?
While most experienced caterers are accustomed to bringing everything they need for food prep, others may require a kitchen on-site. Make sure your caterer’s needs and abilities align with what your venue offers. Once you know which spaces you will be using at your venue, make sure your caterer can work within the space, including your rain plan locations.
CAN YOU BRING YOUR OWN FOOD AND ALCOHOL?
This is a question for your venue first, and once you know their policies, ask your caterer what they can provide and what you may bring from outside the venue. For our weddings, 48 Fields provides cider, wine, and champagne while the couple and/or caterer supplies other beer, liquor, and mixers.
Thank you once again to one of our favorite Northern Virginia wedding caterers, Root & Stem, for sharing their expertise. We hope this list helps you feel more prepared to choose a wedding caterer! Next, read our tips to decide if you should hire transportation for your wedding.
Photos by Stefanie Kamerman Photography, Photography by Marirosa, and Wolfcrest Photography
48 Fields Farm is a Leesburg VA barn wedding venue for celebrations of all sizes.
Our countryside barn and vast fields are peacefully set in the heart of Northern Virginia wine country.