Guests are attending your wedding to watch you marry the love of your life, but that doesn't mean they're not expecting a great meal, too. Gone are the days of standard wedding fare, with limited choices and bland offerings. But with so many creative caterers out there, how do you know who is best suited for your big day? To help you narrow down your choices, we asked Susan Gage, a caterer with 30 years of experience, to share her best tips for choosing this important vendor. Here, her simple dos and don'ts to keep in mind during your initial catering meetings.
Don't: Jump the gun.
Don't begin talking to caterers until you have a good idea of how many people you'll be inviting to the wedding. The number of guests is a key determining factor in your overall catering budget, so any conversations without this information will be very hypothetical and very unhelpful.
Do: Know what your priorities are.
What's most important to you? It doesn't matter if it's having a gourmet experience or having as many friends in attendance as possible—you just need to know the answer. As any bride in the thick of wedding planning can attest, it's hard to have it all. Knowing where you're comfortable cutting back will make comparing catering services that much easier.
Don't: Try to skimp on service.
We're talking menus here, so it seems obvious that the most important factor is the food, right? Wrong. "In this order, the three things that are really key in choosing a caterer are service, food, and presentation," says Gage. "If you don't have good service, the rest doesn't matter because that's what people will remember."
Do: Ask to attend an event they're catering.
It can be tempting to blast off 200 emails and gather as many menus as humanly possible, but the truth is it probably won't be useful. Instead, Gage advises couples to attend an event with the caterer you're considering to experience their service. "You can see the vibe and see how it feels so you're making an educated choice. So many people say they just want a tasting and that's only one part of it." Pay close attention to the staff's demeanor, their attentiveness to guests, and how they handle any bumps in the road. On the day of, you won't be able to be at 12 tables at once, so knowing your guests are in good hands ahead of time will give you one less thing to worry about.
Don't: Get too caught up in food fads.
Offering your guests some twist on the "standard" wedding menu is always appreciated, but there's no need to fret over modern versions of your favorite foods just to make an impression. "There's such an emphasis put on having expensive food, or super gimmicky food, and it can get in the way of a good experience," notes Gage. "I've done million dollar weddings and I've done more affordable weddings—throwing money at it doesn't make it any better."
Do: Trust your gut.
Aside from the food itself, your budget, the presentation, and the team's service, there's one factor that can go an even longer way: your gut. Choose a caterer you enjoy working with, one who understands your vision and concerns, and is generally personable. You're inviting this person to be part of your big day! Make sure they're worthy of the honor.