While other aspects of party planning go on behind the scenes, the food happens, well, right in front of your guests' faces. Select with care; the right morsel could tip your party from just another fun evening to the conversational topic of the season.

Whom to Hire? 


Selecting the right caterer can be almost as challenging as putting together the right menu. There are so many options and it can easily get overwhelming. The first step is easy: relax and ask yourself a few basic questions:

Do you even need a caterer? If you're hosting a very small or informal event, you may be able to manage the food by yourself. Most catering companies not only prepare the food, but will also oversee the setup, serving, and cleanup, so make sure you have these jobs covered. Be aware, though, if your guest list is larger than the number of people who would fit comfortably in your living room, large-scale catering is a different beast entirely. Professionals have the resources to keep everything unspoiled and served at the right time and temperature, and they're excellent judges of exactly how much food to prepare.

Will you have a buffet, a sit-down dinner, or hors d'oeuvres? Sit-down dinners lend a more formal and elegant atmosphere, but can become complicated if you've invited picky eaters. A buffet is less formal, but allows guests to eat exactly what they like. Your decision will affect the cost; the more servers and staff you require, the more expensive it will be. You may opt for a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception instead of a full meal. This is usually less expensive, and the lack of tables encourages more mingling. Hors d'oeuvres are best for an afternoon or networking event.

What aspects are the most important to you? Providing large portions? Presenting a variety of foods? Using seasonal/organic/vegetarian ingredients? Incorporating dishes from a certain tradition? Your caterer can help make sure the bulk of your budget is directed towards the most important things. Similarly, you should only hire a caterer who specializes in what you value. The best BBQ chef in the world is a poor choice if you will be ordering pasta.

Do you trust the caterer? You should only hire someone when you have confidence in the value of their work. Ask friends and family whom they have used for their own events and weddings. Look for positive (and negative) customer reviews online. Ask potential caterers for references as well. Professionals should be happy to provide them on request.

What foods do you like? What will be appropriate for your guests? It helps to go into your caterer interview with specific ideas of what you want to serve. However, keep an open mind. As professionals, caterers sometimes have ideas that take your vision in a direction you like even more. Be sure to taste samples and ask for prices before committing to anything.

What services does the caterer provide? Wait until you're clear on all the details before you sign a contract. Does the caterer have pre-set menus, or are they able to sculpt a menu around your needs? Does the caterer provide their own setup and cleanup? Can they cater to specific dietary needs? What do they consider their specialties? Do they have experience serving the number of guests you are planning to invite? There is a significant difference between small-scale and large-scale caterers, so choose someone who's a good fit for the job.

Is the caterer a good match for your venue? Buildings with smaller kitchens or less storage room will affect the amount of food that can be prepared and stored there. If you hire a caterer who has worked with your venue before, they will know what to expect. Conversely, check with your venue before you hire your caterer. Some venues don't allow outside catering, or charge an additional fee if you don't use their in-house staff.

Planning Your Menu

Let your event's theme dictate the menu. Delicate tea sandwiches work well with a pastel-decorated afternoon event, whereas richer fare compliments a lushly appointed ballroom. Chic mixers delight a crowd with sushi and cocktails. Whatever your theme, try to have a variety of foods available (including vegetarian and allergen-free options) so every guest will find something they like.

Be sure to sample all of the food you plan to serve at your wedding or event. You don't want to be surprised on the big day. All professional caterers will allow you to sample the foods you are ordering ahead of time; if not, take it as a warning sign that you may not be dealing with a professional.

What foods are in season or grown locally? Taking this into consideration can drastically affect the price. Sometimes, working within restrictions gives you ideas beyond what you initially imagined.

Consider how easy certain foods are to eat neatly. You may opt for bite-sized tortilla tarts instead of sloppy burritos, for example. Guests will gravitate towards food options that are more manageable when they're wearing their nicest clothing.

After discussing the timeline of your event with you, your caterer will be able to suggest a menu that will work well with your specific needs. It's best to consider logistics before you create the menu. If there are foods that need to be served cold or that get soggy, for example, you will want these distributed as soon as they are made.

Are you planning on catering any portion of your wedding yourself, or do you have relatives who want to contribute?  If so, let your caterer know as soon as possible so they can plan around the contributions and help you integrate the food into the menu.
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Tara Davis | Report Abuse

We briefly considered doing our own catering but I think it's just too much with getting married, too.

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Katie P. | Report Abuse

Food is the one thing we're blowing our budget on. You just can't invite people to have a good time without giving them good food! Only the best caterer for our wedding. I'm getting a cheap dress and that's fine by me!

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