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by Robbin Montero            Brides, like it or not, the truth is this: After the wedding, the food at your reception will be as much a topic of conversation among your guests as how beautiful you looked. Reception food is an integral part of the wedding celebration.

            You need a good caterer who also specializes in weddings—someone who understands how to accommodate your requests and the unique aspects of wedding receptions. The last thing you want is somebody who prepares fussy foods that won’t hold up in the event of a minor delay or who becomes impatient with typical reception festivities. Visit local bridal shows, peruse the internet and wedding publications, and ask for catering referrals.


Telephone checklist

            Your next step is to compile a list of caterers to call about availability and pricing. If they are available, ask that pricing information be forwarded so you can review it and generally compare caterers. As you narrow down based on price, make a list of questions based on these guidelines:


            Table service add-ons. Ask whether the prices are for food only or if they include costs of staff, linens, china, and silverware.

            Site familiarity. Ask if the caterer has ever worked at your reception site. If not, ask them to conduct a site inspection to give you a complete quote.

            Health department regulations. Determine if the caterer works out of a licensed, health department-approved kitchen, a requirement in most counties and cities.

            Included services vs. extra costs. Is set-up and clean-up included in the basic cost? What is the charge for staff overtime if the reception runs longer? Will the caterer take care of the equipment layout, set-up and breakdown, if required by the site?

            Cake and beverage service. Is here is a charge for beverage service staff and cutting/serving the wedding cake?

            Garbage removal. If your site (especially outdoor weddings) requires garbage removal, ask the caterer to include this service in the price quote.

            Tax and service charges. Find out in advance how much these add to your total cost.

            Savings tip. Ask if the caterer offers a discount for children’s and vendor meals.


Guest food service guidelines

            Caterers staff reception food service according to the number of guests, usually one server per 16 guests at a sit-down meal and one server per 25 or 30 guests at a buffet meal.

            Inquire whether the caterer will decorate the buffet food tables or whether you need to involve your florist. If the caterer is handling it, provide information so the look of the food tables can be coordinated with the look of the rest of the reception decor.

            Once satisfied with the pricing, staffing and answers to your questions, set up an appointment for tasting. Some caterers charge for this service, but many credit the tasting cost back to you in the event they are hired. And ask exactly who will be your contact person from this point forward, through the day of the wedding.

            Carefully read and review contracts before signing to ensure that all provisions agreed upon are included. Double-check the minimum number of guests on the contract – there may be a price increase if the guest count falls below the minimum. Once the contracts are signed, changes will typically cost you more money. For example, failure to give the final count to the caterer as per the contract can result in your paying for guests who will not attend.

            Yes, the eyes of your guests will be on you, but soon after the reception begins, their stomachs will focus on the food. Wise selection of a qualified caterer will make the food and service at your reception just one more pleasant memory of the day.


“Stress Free, Leave the Details to Me,” is the tried and true philosophy of Robbin Montero, California Wine Country wedding planning expert and owner of A Dream Wedding.  Robbin is the premier wedding planner in the Northern California Wine Country, transforming any vision into the perfectly designed wedding creation. Robbin and her weddings have been featured in The Knot, Brides, Elite Magazine, Your Wedding Day and Vine Napa/Sonoma magazines, and ImportantOccasions.com. Travel & Leisure magazine calls Robbin, “The expert wedding planner in the California Wine Country.” www.a-dreamwedding.com

Robbin Montero is a wedding coordinator and special events planner in Northern California.

©2006 Robbin Montero

This article cannot be reprinted without Robbin Montero’s expressed written permission.