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Catering conundrums

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Catering is crucial.

True, everyone has different priorities when it comes to their wedding, but chances are the bulk of your budget is going to what’s going on your guests’ plates. Therefore, a key part of your planning is finding a caterer that’s a good fit for you.

In order to find your perfect caterer, it will take a combination of figuring out what you specifically want (laidback barbecue, fancy five-course meal, or a molecular gastronomy experience where guests eat barbecue that taste like cake and a layered cake that tastes like a fancy five-course meal?) and then doing some research (that goes beyond Googling “barbecued cake”).

Keep a few key points in mind while on the hunt:

What’s your style?

Formal or casual? Plated, family style, or buffet? Is sustainable and organic a must? The answers to these questions will help point you in the direction of an appropriate caterer, whether you’re doing your own research, asking your other vendors or friends for recommendations, or working with a wedding planner.

“Some caterers do family style really well, some do plated,” says Melissa McNeeley, a wedding planner with more than 15 years of experience in the Brooklyn wedding industry.

“I can narrow down who I’m recommending based on my clients needs.”

Look at resumes

Employers look at a prospective candidate’s experience to see if they’re qualified for a job and you should too. If you’ve locked down your venue, for instance, find out if the caterer has worked there before. This is especially relevant if the space is a bit bare bones, such as a farm or a kitchen that needs additional equipment.

“Anyone that’s good can work in any environment, but it’s definitely a bonus if they’ve worked in your venue before,” says McNeeley. “A good caterer has already wrapped their head around needing to rent all the right equipment.”

The number of guests you will be feeding is also a key factor, so it’s good to ask a potential caterer if they’ve served the same amount before.

“Feeding more than 100 people is not easy,” says McNeely. “Ask what’s the biggest wedding they’ve done. It’s nice to know what the caterer can handle.”

How far can they bend?

Chances are you’re considering certain caterers because you like what they make. But it can still be helpful to see how flexible their menus are, especially if you’re on a budget and want to swap out certain products or meats for more affordable ones.

This can also be helpful if you, your beloved, or your guests have certain dietary restrictions such as food allergies or vegetarian or vegan preferences that you would like to accommodate.

“I feel a caterer should be flexible on menu choices,” says McNeeley. “Unless it’s an ingredient that’s impossible to get.”

Do a tasting

You will find that most caterers do tastings, whether held a few times a year, by request, or at wedding expos. Still, some don’t, so as you search for a caterer, a tasting is something you should schedule in.

“I personally would want to taste any food I would serve at my wedding,” says McNeely.

Some caterers may also apply the cost of a tasting towards the bill as credit, so that’s something you will want to find out as well.

Go over the bill

Make sure you understand exactly what you will be charged for. Beyond the food itself, caterers often have additional service or gratuity fees. If something isn’t clear to you, ask.

Take time to find the right fit

Just like a florist, band, or photographer, you will be spending a good amount of time with your caterer in order to figure out the menu and how to make everything just right. You will want to find someone you can work with so you’re on the same page.

“They could have all the talent in the world and experience, but you have to make sure it’s the right fit,” says McNeeley. “You want someone who understands your needs.”

Lock it down early

You don’t want to drag your feet on hiring. Unlike bands or photographers, caterers sometimes can do more than one wedding in a day, but they can still get booked fast. So once you find someone you like, make it official.

“I think the sooner vendors are nailed down, the better,” says McNeeley. “Once you find someone that you really like, sign them on. That’s one less thing you have to do.”

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