Caterers are the foundation to your wedding in the Philadelphia area from the menu to the linens and decor. Finding the right one to match your unique style and taste is an important task on the wedding ‘to-do’ list. You’ve booked the tasting… now what?
Photo credit: Pictures by Todd Photography/Perfect Setting Catering
We turned to Perfect Setting Catering, a premier custom wedding caterer for more than 20 years, for advice on asking the right questions before hiring a caterer for your Philadelphia area wedding. Here is what they had to say:
Be sure to arrive prepared! While the food is obviously a huge component, make sure that you are asking all of the right questions to ensure that your caterer is full-service…. a full-service caterer should handle much more than just the food! If you had nine questions to ask your caterer, what would they be? Don’t worry, we have you covered.
1. What is the staff to guest ratio?
Important Because: You want to make sure that your guests are getting the proper attention from the moment the event starts. Guests should all have access to hors d’oeuvres during cocktails, and have full water glasses with their dinner. One of the worst complaints a caterer can receive is ‘My guests did not get enough x, y and z.“
2. What do your packages include?
Important Because: They all vary. While catering packages have many similarities, no one catering company is exactly like the other, so you cannot assume that all of their packages are alike either. Some caters may include rental equipment which may offset your needs from the venue, this defining characteristic can make or break your bank. See number 4. Also, you may notice the cost per guest being rather high, such as $84 per head for Beef Tenderloin or $75 a head for Chicken Santa Fe. This cost per head includes a lot of the overhead for the caterer and you should ask each caterer what your cost is covering, some may offer you more perks than others.
Photo credit: Pictures by Todd Photography/Perfect Setting Catering
3. Given my budget and guest count, what are your suggestions?
Important Because: Caterers do this for a living, they have an endless wealth of experience that you need to tap into. Trust that your caterer has probably worked an event in the past with the same (or approximate) guest count and budget. Utilize them as a resource. Tell them what your vision for the event is, and see what their suggestions are. Once they are aware of your budget, they will be able to provide you with realistic expectations and creative ideas that you probably have not thought of yet. Caterers want your business! If you work with them they will try to accommodate your individual situation as best they can in order for both parties to get what they want.
4. What rental equipment does your package include? Do you own equipment?
Important Because: You want to be prepared. Usually, packages end up getting shaped to the needs of the client. If you book a venue and they do not have an oven, you’ll need to make sure that your caterer is aware of this, and that an oven gets tacked onto your package. Some caterers may be able to provide the oven or chairs that your venue does not include. Renting equipment is more expensive than owning equipment. It can be a boon for your budget if your caterer can provide equipment and offset the rental and venue pricing.
Photo credit: Perfect Setting Catering
5. Do you provide licensed bartenders?
Important Because: You want your guests to safely enjoy themselves. Many venues require liquor liability insurance to be provided by the caterer, for good reason. You want your catering team to have your guests’ safety in mind throughout the evening. At Perfect Setting Catering we have learned over the years that there are many benefits to having a licensed bartender: they will know when to flag someone, can answer questions regarding alcohol service, and can work cohesively with the rest of the catering team. *Attention PA Residents: It is PA State Law that you provide all alcohol, and ensure that a licensed and insured bartender is serving it. It is important that you follow the law because if there is an accident with legal recourse then typically the venue, caterer, liquor & alcohol provider (you) and any party affiliated with the event can be liable!
6. What will the service staff be wearing?
Important Because: It makes a big difference. It might seem silly to ask this question, but if you are hosting a black tie event, you want to make sure that the catering team is not showing up in jeans and t-shirts. Talk to your caterer about your dress code, and be sure that they sign off in the contract that their staff will look equally presentable the day of. Catering has become a very large industry. Everyone from corporate catering to corner store deli’s advertise that they now cater. It is important to make sure that your caterer is what you envision.
7. How many events do you book in one day?
Important Because: You want quality service. Make sure that the caterer is not overextending – you want the staff to be able to show up feeling confident and prepared, and thinking of your event.
8. How long will set up and breakdown take?
Important Because: It overlaps. You want to make sure that your contracts with all the vendors match up. If one offers a package for 4 hours, and another offers 5 hours, you’ll probably end up paying the difference. Make sure that everyone is on the same page with arrival, set up, event time, and breakdown. You also want a caterer who prides themselves on being set up early. A sure sign of amateur catering is if your guests arrive a bit early only to be presented with the early stages of set up. Professional caterers will try to arrive earlier than they initially plan for just to make sure your day runs smoothly.
9. Where do I sign?
Important Because: You don’t want to be rushed. Make sure that you are scheduling your tasting with enough time to sit down and review your contract. You want to work with someone who makes you feel comfortable and that you trust. You have no obligation to sign a contract at a tasting and are well within your rights to go home and think things over. This is your wedding! If you feel pressure to sign a contract then perhaps this caterer may not be right for you.
Be sure to bring a copy of this list to your next tasting. It is important to sit down and discuss your needs for your party before you go to a tasting. If you have a well thought out list you can avoid much of the sales pitch and get right down to business. Wedding caterers in Philadelphia have a bottom line like all businesses, sometimes they may not be able to budge on their markup because their margin is so thin and their overhead can be quite daunting. But there is always at some juncture room to negotiate a more comfortable budget for your Philadelphia wedding or event.