Top 10 frequently asked questions for your wedding caterer...part one!
Meeting the many happy couples planning catering for their wedding day as we do, we have built quite a list of common questions and concerns from brides and grooms to-be. We thought it would be helpful to share our top 10 questions to give you a head start and hopefully make your planning process a little easier. As there's a lot to share, we've made this a two-parter, so here are our first five questions for you...
It’s reassuring for many engaged couples to know that they’re not the only ones with the same questions. The planning of your wedding day is a big deal and we’d always encourage our clients to ask as many questions as possible, regardless of how simple or strange they may seem to be.
Your wedding day will be a day you talk about forever, so make sure you leave no stone unturned and get the best out of your wedding suppliers’ knowledge and experience.
One thing is for sure - not all wedding caterers are the same and some will have set-menus or specialist cuisines that they do really well. Others, like ourselves, will have a bespoke approach and tailor the menu and format around the food and drink that you enjoy. Whichever caterer you choose to meet, a good starting point would be to establish which approach the caterer you’re speaking to prefers to take. That way both of your expectations are managed and you’re ready to start refining your menu.
1. Where shall we meet?
Pretty much nine times out of 10, we’ll be asked where do we meet, or how do we start the process of discussing the wedding breakfast menu. In our case, we travel all over the UK and having a bespoke approach gives us the flexibility to meet our clients for the first time in whatever way suits their circumstances.
The answer to this question, is whatever situation makes you feel most comfortable. If we start off with the least committed dialogue exchange, then you can begin with simple back and forth of emails, attempting to answer some of your starting questions. This can be a quick and easy way to get some of your basic questions covered and try a few different caterers, testing their responses, in quick succession. The downside to email communication is that it can be open to misinterpretation and you’ll always benefit more from meeting face to face or at least speaking on the phone to really get to know your supplier.
We’ve spoken to many couples on a conference call or speaker phone together so that we can devote some time to getting to know each other and share examples of weddings that we’ve catered for in the past. It’s a good opportunity for you to gauge immediate responses and get a feel for the caterer’s enthusiasm and commitment to your day and can be a good time saver if you struggle to find spare time in your day to meet.
One thing we’d encourage is to make your wedding planning process as enjoyable as you can. It can be quite a stressful process, so always take advantage of opportunities to bring enjoyment your decision making. We often meet prospective clients in their home or at a café or bar and this can be a nice way to turn your meeting into a social occasion. Meeting your caterers in these situations can accelerate your relationship and you’ll quickly establish whether they’re the caterer for you.
There have been many meetings we’ve had in this way, where the bride and groom to-be thought that they wanted one particularly menu, but when we’ve explored their interests and favourite foods and memories, we often come away with a much different brief and a very personal menu.
Conversation can go in different directions and drawing pictures, or sharing images can be a good way to get creative and into the detail of the day. It’s also a great way to ask loads of questions and as you get to know your caterer better, you’ll be surprised how they can help and support you with other suppliers and the running of your day.
2. How do we decide on our wedding menu?
We’ve had very different experiences with couples planning their food and drink on their wedding day. From couples who know exactly what they want and how they want it served, through to couples who know they want to cater for their guests, but haven’t a clue where to start.
Don’t feel you need to have all of the answers for your caterer. If you’re struggling for ideas, then turn this around to your caterer and ask them for suggestions or past examples that might give you a starting point.
Often a determining factor can be the venue choice for your wedding ceremony and reception. Sometimes we use the setting to influence the menu – for example, rustic barns can lend themselves well to relaxed and informal sharing platters, whilst stately homes can inspire distinct dishes and fine dining experiences. Wedding breakfasts outdoors using a marquee or tipi can be influenced by the kitchen facilities (or lack of), but a good caterer should be able to prepare your menu in whatever setting you throw at them (within reason!)
Time of day can also be another influencer of your menu and how much or little food you provide for your guests. If you’re looking for a morning ceremony, then consider a canape reception for lunch time and a late wedding breakfast for the main meal. If you then have evening guests joining you for the party, you may want to consider providing less formal food that lends itself well to your venue and party theme into the night.
You should have a good idea of your guests in terms of their approach and preferences to eating and drinking. For example, we recently catered for a vegetarian wedding where all of the dishes were vegetarian and the bride and groom to-be explained this in their wedding invitations.
We’ve also had couples describe their menu as being a fusion of their heritage. A good example of this is a couple where the bride to-be was from Peru and the groom was half Chinese and half Scottish, so we included Peruvian and Chinese canapes and then moved through to the wedding breakfast with influences of Scotland on the menu.
Seeing the potential dishes for your wedding breakfast written into a draft menu can be a really helpful starting point and then add some timings next to each course or aspect of the day. You’ll soon realise if the foods go well together and if you’re allowing enough time and this can be a good process to go through to refine your menu.
Many caterers also offer a menu tasting and our approach is to prepare your menu for you like a small dinner party, so you can share the experience with close friends and family and get their input into the food and drink that you’re choosing.
3. How much will my wedding catering cost?
Catering for your wedding will take a good proportion of your wedding budget, so do be prepared for this. For some couples it’s the most expensive part of their day, but for most it’s in at least the top three most expensive of all of the things you may prepare for on your day.
In all cases, it depends on how important the food and drink aspect of your day is to you both, but we’d always advise to start with what you’d ideally like and then work back from there. This way you quickly get to know what truly is important to you both and then you can prioritise.
It may be helpful to give you a peak behind the curtain on some of the costs that go into your catering for your wedding day. We can only talk about our service, but at Caviar & Chips, we don’t charge for the menu consultation or menu tasting, as these are the aspects of your catering that we feel you shouldn’t have to pay for.
When you consider going to a restaurant for an excellent meal and well served dining experience, you’ll quickly get an idea of how much you may be prepared to pay for that. Then when you multiply that by the number of guests you’re attempting to host, your cost quickly goes up.
Factors that may differ from a restaurant include economies of scale, such as ingredients for your menu. If you’re going for a bespoke approach, then the ingredients are bought to order, which is quite different from how a restaurant would buy their supplies.
We also explain the preparation time that goes into preparing a menu for 100 plus guests and many don’t realise that we start our preparation at least three days in advance in the kitchen – preparing vegetables, roiling pastries and organising the components of each dish so that it can quickly be put together fresh on the day of your wedding.
We recently made 180 individual craft ale and beef pies by hand as well as a further 20 vegetarian alternatives with a different pastry – and this was just the main course. We hand-make our sauces, pickles and gravies and whilst this is more time consuming and more expensive, the difference will soon be recognised in the taste and presentation of your food.
Kitchen facilities at your wedding venue can sometimes be a determining factor and in some cases your caterer may need to hire in extra ovens, fridges or other equipment that the kitchen doesn’t have.
Time and skill set of serving staff can also be a cost worth paying for. We’ve seen and heard too many experiences where staff that haven’t been briefed properly serve the dishes to the wrong guests, or plates get cleared during the speeches and your guests can’t hear the punchline due to the clatter of cutlery.
One of our pet hates is a distracted server on their mobile phone and all of these background pieces can make such a difference to yours and your guests’ experience of your wedding menu. It’s definitely worth exploring how your food will be served and how your caterer briefs their serving staff, so you’re confident that your guests will be hosted in the way you would expect to host yourself.
4. Do I need to serve canapes?
A quick answer is, no, you don’t need to serve canapes at your wedding reception, but they are a great way to show-off a variety of dishes and help your guests soak up the early afternoon alcohol, or ward off hungry stomachs if you’re serving your wedding breakfast later in the day.
The important thing to remember here, is canapes are really flexible.
If you’re stretched for budget, then resist choosing six different canapes and just go for two or three. It will be more cost effective for your caterer to prepare fewer ingredients if you still want your guests to enjoy some bite sized snacks before they sit-down for lunch or dinner.
We’d always look at your timings on the day. Sometimes, couples go straight into the breakfast after the reception, whereas others have two or three hours after the ceremony and so offering canapes can be a great way to break up the day.
Canapes can also be a good way to break the ice with your guests and get them chatting amongst themselves whilst your having time with your photographer or videographer. From a caterer’s point of view, we always find the reception with canapes a really good way to get to know guests. It’s a good opportunity to build rapport and understand any preferences that may help during the wedding breakfast, so that your guests feel even more special and looked after throughout the day.
I think the concluding remark here, would be to have a look at your timings and see how far your budget can stretch. You can easily indulge in a fantastic array of finely garnished canapes, but you can also serve some homely, simple snacks that give you a little more flex on your purse strings if you need it.
5. How can we entertain our guests when we’re having photographs taken?
It’s always fascinating to watch the dynamics of a wedding unfold with guests getting to know each other and getting familiar with their surroundings.
With such a build up to your big day, there’s almost a release valve after your ceremony when you consider the organisation for you and your guests to attend your day with new dresses, suits, hats, weekends away and your wedding planning stories and anticipation of ‘will it be sunny!’
After you’ve tied the knot and have rings on fingers, it’s common to dive into your photographs to capture your forever moments and leave your guests to mingle and enjoy your wedding venue. It’s at this point we get asked what we’ve seen work well at different weddings in terms of entertainment and breaking the ice.
I think our short list would certainly start with canapes (of course) and to which point we’ve already covered, so let’s say that’s a given!
Garden games can be a nice way to spot the competitive bunch in the group who can provide good spectator entertainment over a game of croquet, bouls or giant jenga!
Magicians like our friend Gloucester Magician are great value for moving around your guests and sharing some close up magic that is not only exciting and engaging, but get your guests laughing together and creates a real buzz amongst the group.
Street performers like Book a Street Artist can also be a similar nice way to entertain your guests and some performers even get guests involved and teach some of the basics. Sword swallowing may take a little more practice though!
Venue tours can also be a nice way to show-off the venue that you’ve lovingly chosen and spent a good part of your budget on. Some venues will be happy for guests to wander and others will give a brief history and insight into the buildings and grounds which can be an interesting way to make the most of your wedding venue.
I think one last one we’ve enjoyed doing in the past is a gin and cocktail tasting. We have our piano bar that can come with gin, rum, whiskey, vodka selection, cocktails, or all of the aforementioned! Choosing some of your favourite drinks or experimenting with new ones can be a nice talking point and makes a nice feature and display at your wedding venue.
So there's our first five top questions as a starter for your wedding caterers. Look out for part two of this blog where we'll tackle speeches, the bar and when to leave your wedding!