hello! questions about choosing a caterer....

Joined Aug 27, 2010
hello everyone!

my brother is getting married next year. as the family cook and resident taster, he's asked me to help him find a caterer, which is choosing to be more difficult than i thought!

i've done about 6 tastings now and i'm wondering - how indicative is the tasting of what you're going to get on the day of? 

specifically, i've met with a bunch of companies with great reputations but the tastings had technical issues - i.e., overcooked fish, undercooked cheese sauce where i could taste the flour, overcooked beef, overly salty sauces, salads wilting because they're drowning in an overly acidic vinaigrette.

my sister says that if the tasting isn't perfect, then forget about it.  i know from personal experience that everyone can have a bad day...

i'd love to hear from the professionals out there :)

Joined Sep 18, 2008
Chances are VERY good that it will NEVER be better than the "tasting"!

Think about it, they KNOW you are coming to taste their food and they are THAT careless?
Joined Aug 11, 2000
hmmmm interesting topic....how people choose caterers.

Pete is dead on right....will not get any better than the tasting.   BUT if you are working with local food caterers they may not provide tastings.   You should be able to get an idea of the quality of their work by talking to them.   Who do they buy from?  what's made in house? photos of past events.....
Joined Feb 8, 2009
I agree with Pete, If they screw it up on a few, what the heck are they going to do with 200..........ChefBillyB
Joined Feb 13, 2008
You want to do a great job for your bro, but you've got to keep some perspective.  No one's coming for the food.  The typical wedding menu means choosing two out of the three: fish, poultry, and mean; plus making sure there's a vegetarian option, etc., etc., etc.  Admit it.  Kids' birthday parties are more interesting.  

You've already tried six with good reputations and all have presented food with egregious technical flaws?  You may have hit them on bad days, or you may have very high standards.  Speaking as an old (ex) caterer, after four or five I'm wondering about you. 

What are their favorite restaurants?  Some provide catering or may be able to point you to a relative... I mean someone they know who's outstanding.  One of the good thing about choosing a caterer based on the wedding couple's choice, is that if something goes wrong it's their fault.

If the wedding is not too large, you don't need an enormous amount of wedding-specific technical support from your caterer, and it's possible in your area, you may want to consider an ethnic or specialty caterer (Chinese, or Soul Food, e.g.), and not be afraid of ethnic places when you go through the list of potentially appropriate restaurants.  In any case something they both like. 

The idea here is that the food will be exotic enough that if there are complaints you can chalk them up to what a bunch of unsophisticated, intolerant, ignorant hicks HER side of the family is. 

Who doesn't like Thai? 

Have you ever been to a Chinese wedding banquet?  Oh. My. God.  Not cheap, though.

In all seriousness, it's the specialty caterers who are all about food -- as opposed to service, presentation, co-ordinating your rentals, and so on that the big guys do oh so well along with doing a decent job on more mundande menus. 

Speaking of the big guys, they probably won't be able to meet your highest foodie expectations (have you ever cooked for 200?) in terms of providing a "fine dining experience" (it's usually a mistake to ask for one) , but you should be able to work out a seasonally appropriate, not too hackneyed menu which will at least please you conceptually.  The simpler you keep it, with the fewest number of cream sauces and passed hot apps -- the better it will all work out. 

Try and get at least one dish on the menu just for your lovely new sister in law and one for her PITA vegan friends.   She'll appreciate the thought.

For God's sake serve decent champagne.  That will cover a multitude of sins.  Korbel Brut at a minimum.   No "black-bottle" Freixnet; no Asti-Spumante; no Prosecco; no $5 Trader Joe's specials; nothing too sweet or too cheap. 

Joined Apr 3, 2010
Having been in the social catering business in years that exceed your ages. I can tell you tastings mean nothing. Your function will never be like the tasting because he or she is prepping for only you not 125 plates of the same. It may also be noted that the chef who prepped it may not be there the day of your function. best thing to do ask the caterer at random to give you names of 3 former parties or clients and ask them. Ask people who have attended his parties. The biggest problems usually occur the day of function,like truck breaking down or power failure or a giant storm  etc. You have no guarantees. You may also want a caterer who has vast experience in your area and not some cheaper fly by night. Don't try to cut corners, if it sounds to cheap, it is. Another factor is don't you try and be the caterer. Don't ask him to do things he has not done before or can't produce. In other words keep it simple. Don't try and impress the Jones'es as they will find fault anyway.  Serve premium good liquor and plenty of it, then no one will notice anything else anyway. I wish you luck in your search.
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Joined Aug 27, 2010
hey all!  thank you for the feedback! 

lucky for them, the venue lets us BYOB and bride's uncle is a wine afficianado who will be ordering everything /img/vbsmilies/smilies/drinkbeer.gif

i guess what kinda bummed me out was the uneveness...price point wise, they're all in the same range so i think the menu's within reason.  i guess i just don't know what to think when some things are good and others are so not!

thanks again!



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