How to Choose the Best Caterer for Your Wedding
Choosing the right caterer for your wedding is a crucial step in the wedding planning process. If your family is anything like mine, food is a big part of any event especially a wedding. Some venues have their own in house caterer, but other venues, particularly raw spaces, allow you to bring in your own caterer. So hiring a caterer who not only serves delicious food, but who also understands your expectations is key. I’d suggest meeting with a few different caterers and do tastings with each before making a decision on which one to hire. It’s important to have a personal connection to the company and feel confident that they will provide an unforgettable culinary experience for you and your guests.
Asking the right questions when meeting with different companies is imperative to hiring the right caterer. I caught up with Brooklyn based caterer Jill Freiberg from Jillicious Foods & Events and asked her a few questions every bride should ask when hiring a caterer. As someone with a booming business and years of experience in the industry, she provided information about her company and gave very helpful tips for all brides!
Check out my interview below:
1. What’s some advice you have for couples when deciding on their food
First and foremost, pick the foods you love. You can have the foods you love no matter what your budget.
Here are a few questions I always ask the couple at our first meeting to uncover what they really love about food:
If you could pick one restaurant to go to where would you go?
If you are going out for ethnic food, what do you choose?
What foods don’t you like? It seems like an obvious question but caterers don’t always ask this.
Where are your families from?
Are there family food traditions that you’d like to include in your wedding?
Even if your caterer isn’t asking these questions, start by knowing what your answers are.
2. Do you specialize in a certain cuisine?
We don’t. This may sound corny but we specialize in telling the couple’s food story. I have cooked everything from New American to classic French to an Indian feast. The one thing all my food has in common are the products that we use. We work with local farms, meat purveyors, dairies and other vendors to find the best seasonal ingredients.
3. Does Jillicious Foods & Events provide any packages/what’s the average price range?
We don’t provide packages. We’ll never make you pick one from column A and one from column B. Every menu I design is done with a specific client in mind. Because we create each menu directly with the client our menus cover a wide price range but the low end is around $50/head for simple weddings.
4. Is Jillicious Food & Events a full service catering company? (providing everything from food, wait staff, bar service, table settings, cleanup etc.)
Yes! We handle all of the couple’s needs including rentals, wait staff, bar and are also available for wedding planning services.
5. Where does the food come from? (locally sourced, organic, fresh not frozen etc.)
Such a great question and something every couple should find out when working with a caterer. I work with a lot of local farms and purveyors, everything from chocolate makers to maple syrup to cheeses and other great artisan products. We also source our meats, poultry, dairy and fish locally whenever possible. We are very lucky to have such fine products available in the area.
6. Is the food prepared on-site or off-site?
The short answer is both. Much of the food is prepped in our kitchen then finished on site.
7. Are you licensed? (health permits, liability insurance, etc.)
We are a fully insured catering company and work out of a commercial kitchen that is licensed by the health department.
8. What is the server-to-guest ratio?
Also a great question, and one that every client should understand. Server-to-guest ratio depends primarily on service style. In general, four service styles are common. Starting with the least expensive then going up in cost are buffet, family style where the food is brought to the table and served on platters, a cocktail station party wedding, and lastly a formal sit down wedding. I can’t give a specific range for each style. It depends on too many factors: the layout of the venue, the food, how many bars, etc. This is something to discuss with your caterer. Look carefully at your contract and ask questions about cost per hour and overtime charges especially if there is an after party.
9. Is the wedding cake included? If not, are there any bakeries you recommend?
Wedding cakes are an art form and honestly not my forte. We are happy to make recommendations and we do include desserts to compliment the cake but wedding cakes really should come from a baker who specializes in wedding cakes.
10. Can you accommodate dietary restrictions?
Of course. We want everyone at the wedding to have an amazing meal and that includes anyone with a food allergy or restriction such as those who are gluten free, vegan or vegetarian, pescetarian, dairy free, etc. We make sure everyone at the wedding gets a full meal whatever his or her dietary restrictions. It’s always a good idea to give your caterer as much information as possible about dietary restrictions ahead of time so Cousin Frank doesn’t end up hungry at the end of the night.
11. How many weddings will your company cater on my date?
One. Just yours. I spend a lot of time working with each of my couples and as the Executive Chief of the company I don’t want to miss their wedding.
12. What will the wait staff wear?
That depends on the style of the wedding and the look the couple wants. Our standard uniform for wait staff is black slacks and a white or black button down shirt. You can add a long bistro apron for a more formal look. I’ve also done barn wedding where the wait staff all wore straw hats. It is a question, I find, that few couples ask but really should.
13. Presentation is everything, how will the food be presented? Can I see pictures from previous events?
I work closely with the couple to create a unified look for the wedding. The food’s presentation needs to match the overall style and aesthetic. That can mean anything from using elegant antique silver platters to serve perfect one bite canapés, each one a perfect gem, to overflowing Hudson Valley harvest tables presented on beautiful wood platters and slabs of slate. If the couple has a very sleek, modern aesthetic, I will present the food in a way that looks sleek and modern. Each plate should be a work of art.
Taking pictures of my food and the events I cater has become my favorite pastime. Check out my Instagram feed here.
14. What additional fees do brides have to be aware of? (vendor meals, additional wait staff, service fees, taxes etc.)
As I mentioned, overtime for wait staff is a big one. Check your contract to see how many hours are allotted for wait staff. Caterers assume five hours is the standard length for a wedding. If your wedding is seven hours, make sure your caterer is aware so that sufficient time to set up before and clean up after is included in the quote.
In terms of vendor meals, standard practice is to charge 50% for vendors working at your wedding, e.g., photographer, DJ, wedding coordinator, etc.
I am very straightforward with my clients and spell out everything in our contract. The only thing I don’t include is a tip. Keep in mind that tips can add up quickly. Most catering companies are reputable and do not try to hide fees. One thing to look for is a “catering fee.” If a company charges you a “catering fee” find out what it’s for.
15. What’s your process for coming up with a menu for couples?
This is my favorite part. When I first speak to a couple, it’s my job to find out that person’s food story. Often the couple doesn’t know the answer to this question. I spend a half hour or more just talking to the couple about food loves, favorite food memories, etc. Then we create a menu which is often just a starting point. The menu reminds the couple of something or sparks a great idea. We repeat this process until the menu includes everything the couple wants on it.
16. What’s your opinion on a sit down style versus a cocktail style, buffet, or family style reception?
I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other. So much depends on the venue and the couple. Each results in a very different party. A cocktail party with stations can be very elegant but also saves money as you will need fewer staff and spend significantly less for rentals. Family style can be a great middle ground and creates great conversation and interaction at the table. Also, the guests get to try everything and don’t have to choose between three entrees. Of course a sit down dinner is always incredibly elegant.
17. I’m on a tight budget, what are your tips for getting “more bang for your buck” when it comes to catering?
You can save a ton by having a winter wedding. Both caterers and venues are looking for clients during the winter and are willing to work with you. The same idea applies to having a wedding on any night but Saturday. If you can be flexible, have a Thursday night or Sunday afternoon wedding. Many caterers and venues have great off peak pricing. If the date is already set, prices can still be negotiated. Once you have a proposed budget, be direct with your caterer. Figure out where you can take off a little here or a little there.
Another way to save money is with décor. Have a rehearsal dinner the night before and bring 20 of your friends to the venue to help decorate. It may sound counter intuitive but hiring a wedding planner can, in the long run, save you a ton of money as well. She can negotiate vendor contracts for you and do much of the decoration and sometimes even the florals. You can also save by buying your own liquor and mixers. A little trick to know: remind your caterer to open bottles only as used. Most people don’t realize that anything unopened can be returned to a liquor store.
Thank you so much Jill for taking the time to answer my questions and giving some great advice to all brides!
Photos | @jilliciousfoods