Choosing a caterer for your wedding is like choosing a new best friend. They must be knowledgeable, open to quirky ideas and totally committed to the success of your day. But how do you find such a friend?
You've spent months deciding the exact line of your dress, choosing the precise shade of lavender for the invitations and creating clouds of pastel chiffon party favours. But make no mistake. Ask a guest what they remember best about a wedding, and it will inevitably be the food.
It's therefore worth spending some time and a generous portion of your wedding budget on getting it right and to do this, you need the right caterer. Forget your dressmaker - the success of your wedding (as far as your guests are concerned) rests on the culinary skills, and more importantly the experience, of your caterer.
A good caterer will tell you, for example, that having your guests hang around for three hours before the wedding breakfast is not a good idea - an hour and a half is the maximum. They will advise you that most people drink far less than they think they do - four to six glasses of wine or champagne per person is average for a wedding.
It's up to you to check that they can work within your budget and can provide the meal you want - whether that's an al fresco picnic for 50 or a sit-down Thai feast for 200.
If you've got a strict budget, ask first off for the minimum budget per guest and be clear that you need to know of 'hidden' extra costs. All caterers price differently, so explain how you would like the costs broken down, whether it be a ball park figure, a cost per head or an itemised quote. For instance, some caterers charge separately for use of heavy duty pots and pans and service.
If you're planning a marquee wedding, find caterers who know the venue and talk to them in detail about what they will need. You may find yourself paying for hire of generators, fridges, cookers, even water supply on top of everything else!
What's more, if you're planning to bring a car load of cheap wine in from France, check first whether there the caterers charge a corkage fee if you supply your own wine and champagne.
Peter Curtis-Smith, Operations Manager at leading south-west caterers, Fosters Events Catering, suggests couples meet a prospective caterer for the first time at the venue itself.
"It gives people a chance to visualise their reception much better," he says. "When the caterer suggests where the head table should go and where the band should set up, they can see why."
Experienced caterers who know the venue can advise on anything from parking to ideas for inexpensive table decorations. Although your venue might have a capacity of 200 guests, your caterer may advise you that anything over 150 is a squeeze. Music, flowers, the cake - caterers will have tried and trusted contacts for all of these so if you're floundering, ask for some advice.
More importantly, they are experts on timing and it's worth consulting with your caterer before even booking the ceremony!
Of course, your caterers will really come into their own when helping you choose the menu. If you are on a strict budget, ask where you can take cost shortcuts - substitute Cava for champagne for a summery reception drink, for example.
They will suggest dishes appropriate to the season and will tell you if your choices need a bit more variety. They can also tell you about special diets and children's meals.
Be adventurous. These days guests are widely travelled and have sophisticated taste when it comes to food and drink. Some caterers, like Fosters, are happy to fix your favourite Jamie Oliver recipe, or take on an exotic dish providing ingredients are not too hard to come by.
"People are eating out so much more," says Curtis-Smith who worked as a chef for 15 years. "Gone are the days when you could get away with prawn cocktail starters. Today's weddings are much more informal and more of a party atmosphere."
Once you've chosen your menu, suggest that your caterers give you a food and wine tasting. Provided this isn't a buffet, they should be happy to oblige. And what better way to get into a romantic frame of mind - dinner for two with your favourite food and your new best friend hovering attentively nearby!
* Personal recommendations are best when choosing a caterer but don't feel shy about asking your caterer for letters of recommendation. Most will gladly produce a drawerful of thank you letters
* Visit the venue with the caterers at least three months before the wedding and talk to them about anything you can think of from what to do if it rains to where to set up the Punch and Judy show
* Don't be afraid to ask for advice - most caterers have years of experience to draw on