Everything You Need to Know About Finding a Wedding Caterer

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by  Kate Parker | Last Updated: 
wedding caterer image

So, you’re getting married! Congrats! 

Now the fun part begins—the planning. 

One of the most important decisions you’ll make is who will cater your wedding. There are so many caterers to choose from, how do you go about finding the right one for you? Don’t worry, I’ve got everything you need to know about finding a wedding caterer right here.

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What Does a Wedding Caterer Do?

A wedding caterer is usually known as the chef of your event. They’ll work with the bride and groom to create a menu that suits their tastes and budget, and then cook and serve the food on the day of the event. 

However, wedding caterers don’t usually just cook the food at your wedding. Wedding caterers can also provide staff to help with set-up, clean-up, and serving during the reception. 

In addition to the food, they may also be responsible for decorating the venue and providing linens, tableware, and other rental items. 

Wedding catering services are sometimes included as part of your wedding planner’s service package. Alternatively, you could book a venue that only offers in-house catering for your guests. The final option is to hire a wedding caterer on your own.

Most couples hire a wedding caterer for the convenience of having an expert bring their vision to life. 

Of course, preparing food at home is less expensive, but before you forego hiring a wedding caterer, here are a few things to consider:

Service Package

There are no hard and fast rules for hiring a wedding caterer. They come in all shapes and forms. These are the most common service packages available.

Drop-and-Go Catering

Drop-and-go catering involves hiring a caterer to prepare your meals at their location and with their equipment. They will then deliver the food in trays so that other staff members can set things up and serve it to your guests. 

Consider drop-and-go catering, similar to ordering food from wherever you are. But, while drop-and-go catering is usually a cheaper option to consider, you should keep in mind that the staffing company responsible for storing, presenting, and serving your food may charge a little more than you may have planned for.

Food Trucks

How cool would it be to have an ice cream truck or a mini taco truck at your wedding? 

They’re mobile and can essentially move wherever you need them, plus they can prepare food right from the truck. Typically, your guests will order their preferred meals through the food truck window, then wait a few minutes for the catering service to whip up their order.

Alternatively, you could have a buffet-style food truck where guests can order an all-you-can-eat sort of dinner party. And since food trucks typically provide disposable ware such as paper plates or plasticware for drinks, it can significantly reduce the overall cost of purchasing luxury kitchen or dining ware. 

At the end of the event, the food trucks put the icing on the cake by cleaning up the trash through a trash removal service.

Full-Service Catering

Want a full-service catering company to take care of everything for you? Here’s how a typical full-service catering experience would go. So, first, you meet with them to plan your wedding meals and drinks. 

Then, months before the wedding, they will invite you and your fiance to a menu tasting to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Only after that, they’ll obtain the ingredients and seasonal treats you have requested and begin the preparation process. Feel free to work with your wedding caterer to provide the necessary equipment on-site, or your wedding caterer can set up an entire kitchen using their own equipment, with the bill racking up, of course. 

And after that, they’ll need to set up the tables and chairs according to your preferred reception style, whether it’s a buffet-style wedding or a cocktail-hour event. 

Full-service wedding caterers also provide wait staff and bartenders to serve guests, bus tables, and refill drinks and water. They should serve the food on time and clean up the dining and kitchen areas at the end of the event. Thereafter, they will pack up any leftovers and dispose of the garbage. 

Remember that a wedding caterer comes in all shapes and forms, so make sure to have a sit-down with your wedding caterer and map out all the services they will provide and what they will not.

Also, make sure to ask whether they can include additional services like providing the tables, chairs, table linens, drinkware, and other services that you may need for the reception within their full-service package.

Reception Style

Nowadays, couples are breaking the mold by hosting receptions that need staffing and creativity to pull off. For example, if you want a buffet-style reception, you’ll want to create a memorable all-you-can-eat experience that caters to all of your guests’ needs. 

Some guests may need help with their servings, so you may have to hire well-spaced wait staff to attend to their needs.

A cocktail-style reception, on the other hand, will need prompt wait staff to constantly mingle with the crowd and refill drinks every now and then. 

Alternatively, if you want to incorporate finger foods into your event, you’ll need to prepare a variety of delicious treats that will keep your guests’ juices flowing. 

Whichever reception style you decide, taking time to assess the benefits an expert wedding caterer will bring to your event is crucial, so everything runs smoothly and all your guests leave with happy smiles.

When to Book a Caterer for a Wedding

You should book a caterer for your wedding as soon as possible. “As soon as possible” is usually 6 to 12 months before the wedding. You don’t want to wait until the last minute and end up with cold food or no food at all! 

So, ideally, you should begin your search for a suitable wedding caterer who will bring your vision to life as early as 10 to 12 months before your wedding. 

Once you’ve decided you’re on the same page, book them so you have more than enough time to plan your dream menu and execute it flawlessly. Most couples hire a caterer as soon as they book a venue. 

And, if your venue is a popular destination, hiring a caterer as soon as possible is critical to avoid the chaos of peak-season weddings.

How Much Does a Wedding Caterer Cost?

A wedding caterer’s fee is usually charged per person. So, as a rough estimate, you could spend about $70 per person on food or $85 per person on food and drinks. Food trucks are typically less expensive than traditional catering services, so expect to spend between $20 and $35 per person, excluding setup and travel costs.

Of course, these are only rough estimates that are highly based on the type of wedding you’re planning. For your reference, here are some wedding factors that tend to rack up the bill.

Factors that Can Affect Your Wedding Catering Cost

Here are a few things to keep in mind when budgeting for your big day:

  • Guest Count: More guests means more mouths to feed, so naturally, the cost of your wedding caterer will be heavily influenced by the number of guests you have. Essentially, the more guests there are, the higher the price.
  • Location: When it comes to wedding caterers, location is extremely important. When you have a local wedding and hire local caterers, you will save money on travel costs for both the staff and the food. 

It will also be much less expensive than in-house catering, which some venues specifically enforce. Having a destination wedding, on the other hand, can quickly add up costs, depending on how expensive the location’s cost of living is.

  • Staff:  The number of employees required also has a significant impact on catering costs. If you’re planning a plated sit-down dinner, you’ll need wait staff to serve your guests. In a cocktail-style reception, you may hire bartenders to serve drinks. A self-service station, on the other hand, can cost much less.
  • Reception Style: Your reception style matters. Formal dinners usually have expensive dinnerware. A food truck, on the other hand, will use paper plates and plastic cups, which are much less expensive.
  • Food: It’s perfectly alright to spend a significant amount of time deciding what to serve at your wedding, partly because the meals you select will determine the catering cost. Luxury meals, such as lobster, will be significantly more expensive. 

Choosing fast food favorites like tacos or filling meals like BBQ, on the other hand, could help significantly reduce costs.

  • Hidden Charges: Once you have a quote from your wedding caterer, pay close attention to any hidden costs that may have racked up the bill. Perhaps the caterer forgot to include VAT, or you didn’t account for kitchen equipment. There is also a gratuity, which may slightly raise the cost.

Factor all these points in, and you could spend anywhere from $20 to $200 per person, or even more.

What Should I Tip My Wedding Caterer?

While calculating how much it will cost to hire a wedding caterer, set aside some money in your budget for tipping your wedding caterer. 

There’s no pressure, as it’s completely understandable if you already feel like the costs are too much to bear. But it’s good to still want to express your gratitude to your caterer for a job well done. 

So, exactly what should you tip your wedding caterer? First and foremost, if you hire a larger catering company, tipping the owner isn’t as crucial as tipping their employees. However, if it’s a small business, you might want to tip the owner, who is usually just one person.

There is plenty of leeway in deciding what to tip your wedding caterer. You could send them a heartfelt thank you note with high-resolution photos of their work. You could also help them find the next job opportunity by writing them excellent reviews, sharing their contact information with your friends, or sharing and tagging their work on your social media pages. 

A common practice is to write a check to them right after the honeymoon for 10% to 20% of the service fee, up to $500, or send them a nice, thoughtful gift. It’s entirely up to you.

In general, wedding caterers do not expect you to tip them. However, if you give them a thoughtful token of appreciation, they’ll feel valued and perform even better at their next wedding. You should also confirm whether or not gratuity was included in your bill. In that case, there is no need to tip your wedding caterer.

10 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Caterer

You want to head into your first meeting with your wedding caterer having prepared all the right questions that will help you decide whether they’re a good fit. 

To get you started, here are some prompting questions you should ask your wedding caterer.

  1. Are there other guests you’re catering to in the days or months leading up to our wedding?
  2. Do you have a fixed menu, or can you do a custom one?
  3. Do you provide food for vegetarians, gluten-free, dairy-free, or other dietary restrictions or allergies for your guests?
  4. Are you planning to prepare the meals on-site or bring them in?
  5. Where do you get your ingredients and seasonal goodies from?
  6. Is there a plan for handling last-minute requests?
  7. What is inclusive and exclusive of your service package?
  8. Do you have photos, reviews, or references of any weddings you’ve done in the past?
  9. What do you do with leftover food?
  10. What is your cancellation policy?

Choosing the Best Caterer for Your Wedding

Food is one of the most important aspects of your wedding, so you should spend enough time researching and selecting the best caterer for your event. The ideal wedding caterer is adaptable, available, and willing to work within your budget. 

A menu tasting is a must because it allows you to determine whether the caterer understands your vision. 

Overall, the best wedding caterer should make the preparation, presentation, and serving of your wedding meals as easy and as memorable as possible.


What are the factors to consider in selecting the caterer?

When selecting the best caterer for your wedding, consider their cost, service package, and specialization. The best caterers will provide a reasonable service package compared to the cost and will flawlessly incorporate your wedding menu to bring your vision to life.

If you suspect your caterer is hesitant to deviate from their menus, you should either have them stick to what they know best or hire a caterer willing to branch out from their usual menu without sacrificing quality.

What should I look for in a catering service?

When looking for a catering service, consider the food quality, customer reviews, service cost, catering experience, and any specializations you can leverage for your wedding. You should also consider their availability and location for logistical purposes.

What are the qualities of a good caterer?

A good caterer will have a clear passion for people, food, and ingredients, as well as a track record of catering to successful weddings and special events. They will easily and creatively adapt to custom menus without sacrificing quality and will serve meals on time. 

They should also have excellent professional qualities such as communication skills, attention to detail, organizational skills, and proactivity under pressure.

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