So you’ve found your dream wedding venue – only to discover that catering isn’t included in the package or that the menu options aren’t what you had in mind. Fancy some unusual wedding food, or perhaps you’d dreamed of a vegan wedding menu?
Whatever your reasons, you can hire a wedding caterer – we asked Hannah MacLennan from At Home Catering to explain what it entails and to answer some FAQs about planning your wedding food.
What does booking a wedding caterer entail?
Booking a caterer for your wedding should be a really straight forward and exciting process (provided you choose a good one!). ‘At Home’ provides a full event planning service alongside catering so we can help with everything from venue finding to flower arrangements.
In the beginning expect an informal and no pressure conversation from your caterer to get an idea of who you are, what you like and don’t like. This could be over the phone or at your home depending on locations. We like to meet in person to get a feel for who are clients are and what they are really looking for, rather than guesswork. Then a proposal will be created with menus and costs for your initial consultation.
Does my venue not just do the catering for me?
A lot of venues do have an in-house team but some venues, especially ones that are unique and not purpose built event spaces, are simply a structure without a catering team onsite. Some venues have kitchen facilities that can be used and others are blank canvases waiting to be transformed. Don’t worry about hiring in your own ovens though, your caterers will look after all of that!
What do I need to ask them?
Check their availability to start with. Ask which venues they are recommended caterers for as this will give you a sense of their status in the industry. I would even recommend going one step further and make a few phone calls to venues and see who they like to work with. It’s always good to get a first-hand opinion from people who see caterers all the time. Who would they choose?
Ask your caterer if they specialise in any one type of cooking as you may want to have a traditional style of cooking for your wedding. Also ask for a rough indication of costs upfront so you’re not wasting your time. Every menu is completely bespoke and each piece of catering equipment would have to be hired in for your specific menu which a lot of people don’t realise. Cost is also very dependent on the venue itself – the size, the equipment onsite, how many levels, where it is etc. So don’t expect an on the spot exact figure as this isn’t realistic.
What kind of food should I go for? Is it just a standard meal?
Unless you want a very specific style of catering such as kosher or halal, a lot of caterers are more than able to deliver current, trendy and non-traditional menus. At Home have a superb tapas menu as well as lots of options inspired by the orient as well as Africa and Latin America.
Good catering companies will have good chefs, and good chefs are worth their weight in gold! They have extensive knowledge of seasonal produce, local produce and flavours and ingredients we mere mortals may consider ‘alien’. So it’s always a good idea to pick their brains to see what they can come up with if you’re looking for something unusual. Here are some unusual wedding food options to consider:
- Live cooking – such as paella, lamb spit roast, or stir fry
- Middle Eastern – tagine, couscous, rustic breads
- Sharing boards & antipasti
- Street food
- Dessert tables
Do I get meal choices? Do my guests?
This really depends on the caterer’s rules and the number of guests you have. As a general rule of thumb there is no choice for wedding menus unless your guests have dietary issues preventing them from eating what you have chosen. Common in other countries, some couples have dishes served in an alternate pattern around the table so guests can share or swap as they wish, instead of everyone choosing a dish they want. Normally this is more hassle than it’s worth as people struggle remembering their orders! This can get very confusing and create a complicated dinner service.
What about dietary requirements?
Every caterer will willingly oblige to catering for dietary requirements. Keep in mind, this is for guests with allergies and your caterers are unlikely to cater for individual preferences.
I have actually seen wedding invitations before that state ‘lots of chicken’ in the ‘dietary requirement section! Some things are taken with a very big pinch of salt….and tequila. It's a basic wedding guest rule that you accept what you're given, unless you're intolerant to it.
Do caterers have references?
They will most likely be able to acquire references from venues where they are listed unless they already have. Take a look at their past clients to see who has employed them as well as checking the internet for reviews.
Do caterers provide service too or is that extra?
Caterers will 99% of the time provide a full service including staffing and equipment hire as they will know what they need and how many staff they need to execute their menus. ‘At Home’ work on roughly 1 waiter for every 10 guests for a sit down dinner and a little less for a buffet to ensure that every element of your event is covered from start to superb finish.
Everything from opening the door, hosting a cloakroom service for your guests, serving drinks, canapés and final breakdown. We also provide a full event planning service too which is not as common for catering companies. We like to form personal and long-lasting relationships with our clients and are on hand to assist with every detail, no matter how big or small as required.
Do I really need evening food?
YES! Unless you’re having an evening wedding reception, then yes you do. Extra evening guests or not, if you’re drinking and dancing into the night, it’s always a good idea to have some nibbles arranged for peckish guests to refuel after a long night of ‘dad dancing’.
If you have evening guests coming, then something more substantial will need to be arranged. Some people are of the opinion ‘they should have eaten before they came’ but my personal view is ‘if you don’t like them enough to give them a bacon roll or a cone of chips, why are they at your wedding?’
You’ve spent a small fortune entertaining your day guests, show your evening guests they’re valued by laying out some nice cheeseboards, a charcuterie table or even some bowl food. That’ll line their stomachs before that sugary sweet wedding cake.
So how much evening food should I provide?
This is a difficult calculation – you’ll often hear people say 75% as a rule of thumb. Largely this is correct because you don’t want to run out of food but prepare to have some leftovers – don’t let this get you down. It means none of your guests went home via the kebab shop – you put on a good spread!
Extra evening guests will need feeding, so count 100% of them. Day guests are usually too full from your main meal but again depending on what this is, you may want to add a little extra on for them too. I’d recommend catering for 40-50% of day guests if there aren’t extreme variables telling you otherwise. For ease, I have broken it all down for you:
You should add evening food for day guests if…
- You only had a canapé reception
- You had an afternoon tea reception menu
- You had an early wedding breakfast
- Your wedding guest list is littered with large and burly men (often rugby players, policemen or firemen)
You shouldn’t add evening food for day guests if…
- You had a late wedding breakfast (finishing at 7pm)
- You had a 4-5 course wedding breakfast or buffet
- You’re finishing at 10pm without dancing
- You have a cheese wedding cake (this will double up nicely as an evening snack)
- Your guest list is largely older guests.
How much should I expect my catering to cost?
This is like asking how long a piece of string is. Some caterers focus on lower costs and higher volume, some have much higher costs but do significantly less events. It’s always good to understand why some caterers are more expensive as they are likely to provide a different level of service and have a longer standing reputation than others.
Having said this, there are some great caterers who don’t cost the Earth. It really depends on your personal style and what you’re comfortable with. ‘At Home’ have been established for over 30 years and as such have an enviable reputation for incredible food and fantastic service. We come in at the high end of the market and with that, an exceptionally high standard of fashionable and delicious food.
Now you know what you need to do when you’re planning your wedding food, why not check out these delicious wedding canapé ideas for more inspiration?