Who and Where
By Laurin Fegley
You’ve got the ring! Maybe you’ve even looked at a few dresses, but ultimately you’re about to embark upon one of the most difficult, costly and important components of your wedding. Choosing the right venue and caterer can make or break the design of your day.
Quality venues cost money! Anywhere between$1000 -$7500 in the Lehigh Valley is in the ballpark. Here comes the confusion! No two venues are alike and include the same things. Some are a blank pallet with nothing included. Others include tables, chairs and maybe a dance floor. Most do not include the china, linens, table wares and accessories needed to create a proper reception. Many caterers are capable of providing those items but usually for a fee.
Some may offer a “free” item, like chairs that don’t match you’re design and aren’t usually worth trying to work into your plan. Replacing that chair with a nicer one is worth doing rather than losing sight of your vision. Chair covers are an option but can create an overwhelming amount of fabric quickly.
Choosing linens, china and a table top design should all be done with your caterer. Employing a separate rental company is an option, although frequently third party companies offer more than a caterer might need or would suggest. A good caterer or event planner is able to help you design a look and select the right rentals to achieve that look and take care of all the rest! The choices should always be yours, but don’t hesitate to ask for guidance if you are questioning your thoughts. An honest banter back and forth is good for so many reasons and may give you piece of mind with your decisions later! Keep in mind that the venue you choose should somewhat match your vision – it can become extremely costly to drape and cover things that you don’t really like or a carpet whose color isn’t complimentary to your color scheme.
One other thing to keep in mind is that the venue of your choice may have limitations for cooking or heating which will hinder some of the options you will have available to you when it comes to picking your caterer. Some venues will not even give you an option for an outside caterer you must use their in-house caterer. Some venues don’t permit open flame whereby sterno under a chafing dish might not be permitted at a buffet or hors d’Oeuvre station. Some caterers offer a mobile catering kitchen which can eliminate some of these issues. Also ask the venue about the possibility of candles on your tables or in centerpieces.
Ah yes catering…. Where to begin!
One of the most memorable things that guests take away from a reception is the food. Whether with some constraints or with a sizable budget building a creative menu that suits your personality is a must! A simple chicken dish or a creative stack or duet entrée are all memorable if the quality and presentation are all there in the final product. Reputable caterers care about a budget and aren’t there to waste your precious dollars on lack luster items that are only profit based. Fresh not frozen food, handmade, custom produced, sustainable, eco-friendly, organic and uniquely designed plates are all factors in determining value at any caterer you might meet. If you can purchase the same foods in a club store, you’re probably not willing to pay good money to a caterer for your wedding menu! On the other hand, if the items are handmade, interesting and yummy… it’s not just about money any more – now you can hire a caterer who your guests will want the name of as well! What better compliment could a guest pay than to ask who your caterer was after your wedding because they are having a party and loved what you did? Caterers are experts in pulling off your wishes, and a caterer worth their salt won’t over promise and underperform!
Today, most clients start on the internet to locate a caterer. It’s important that you can see some sample menus, pricing, etc. so that you have an idea of the food that a prospective company you are thinking about working with is capable of creating for your special day.
Next, make the phone call or send an email. First and foremost, ask the questions. Is the company you’re considering available on your date? Has the company catered for a group of your size before? What does this caterer do best? Remember things like, a barbeque caterer rarely produces a high end white linen affair with the attention to detail some others might be able to. Do you have a venue in mind? It’s always useful if the caterer has experience in the venue you’re considering or is at least willing to do a site visit to your special place. Ask some questions in this first phone call but don’t expect that caterer to be able to give you an immediate price! A wedding is composed of hundreds of details and more information and choices are needed than what can usually be done on a phone call. If the phone call goes well proceed with a scheduling a time to meet. A site visit may or may not cost money depending on the caterer’s fee structure.
Communication and honesty are imperative! If the caterer takes weeks to get back to you – MOVE ON! A lack of interest in you as a client doesn’t leave people with a warm fuzzy feeling when you’re going to be spending thousands of dollars with this company if they are not interested in getting back to you they are not the people you want to entrust with one of the biggest days of your life
If you are planning your wedding from out of town, most caterers will diligently work to obtain details from you over the phone or via email, to create a menu and give you pricing (which may have some gaps in it to allow for choices later) but should give you a good idea of what you are looking at cost wise. Then, hopefully, around an upcoming holiday or a time when you might be in town, you can meet and finalize the remaining details. Another thing you might want to consider is booking the caterer on a contingency of meeting in person or based on a sampling later. Make sure you get the details of that contingency in writing before placing a “save the date” deposit!
If you have a creative mind or a specific vision, a caterer who doesn’t want to work with you in creating a menu of your choosing is probably someone you want to leave behind. When you’re creating a menu for 50, 100 or more of your nearest and dearest, there’s no reason why the menu shouldn’t be a custom menu rather than being forced into a package. Cookie cutter menus where you pick 2 from column “A” and 3 from column “B” don’t fit every client. Maybe you find that you love a menu package from a caterer, but you want to tweak it a bit to match your tastes? Most caterers will gladly allow that to happen with whatever cost differences may be associated with your changes.
An initial meeting with a caterer will leave you with the knowledge you need to decide if this company is one you’d like to consider on the short list for your wedding. No two companies build an invoice, handle samplings, or even do consultations the same way. Initially, a budget of sorts should be considered. Knowing what might be affordable is useful and saves both parties some time. This isn’t a car buying experience, so the “test drive” is more verbal and visual than pedal to the metal! The first meeting should be to gather details, preview additional images other than those on the website, maybe select a menu and rentals, and ask about staffing, fees and charges. After all this, some caterers will now be able to finalize their pricing. Asking approximately how long it will be before you can expect a proposal isn’t unreasonable – after all, you have a wedding to plan! More than a few days is not reasonable, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
So, now you have a menu and some pricing! Is it affordable? Did you like the experience you had meeting the company representative? If all of these things make sense and you’ve narrowed it down to your favorite foodies – have a taste! Tastings are the last step before you sign the contract, as a final assurance that this is the right choice for you. Some caterers don’t charge for samplings while others do but credit you later for those fees if you book their services down the road for the same date and time.
Whether an upscale reception with china, floor length linens and flatware or a more casual affair with plastics, bamboo or other eco-friendly products – let the caterer do their job! They will understand the needs on site, have adequate quantities without overages and will make your life much easier and the day enjoyable. Caterers are responsible for rentals every day and know the ins and outs of your specific menu and the exact items you will require.
So everything else has been worked out and now it is time to – GET IT ALL IN WRITING! Do not place a deposit with any caterer or facility without a written agreement and a signed contract! If the menu isn’t complete, you want to get as much as you can in writing before you place a deposit. A fair deposit is usually either a flat fee or a percentage of the estimate total up to about 20%. A later deposit, possibly 30 days before your reception, of an amount up to 50% can be customary. Most caterers require final payment in full somewhere around 2 weeks prior to your reception date. Follow your contracted payment schedule and all should be fine!
All the way through your process, remember to follow your instincts – they tend to be right!