Kissing Up to Your Caterer:
Six Tips to Fine Food and Fantastic Service at Your Wedding

by Susan Hawkins

Think about it. The last person whose feathers you want to ruffle is the caterer of your wedding reception. We're talking about your food here-your hors d'oeurves, your breads, your entrees, your desserts-and the people who serve them to your guests. We've all heard the horror stories about what sometimes happens to their food when people irritate chefs and waiters in restaurants by impolite complaining or sending their food back repeatedly. Antagonize your wedding caterer, and you'll have dozens of your guests eating badly seasoned food—or worse.

Okay. Just kidding. Caterers have a reputation to maintain, so they're not going to ruin your wedding reception at their own expense. Jordan Schwartz, director of catering events and marketing for several famous New York City restaurants, says there are six specific things you can do to keep things running smoothly between you and your caterer, so your event is everything you dreamed it would be.

  • Be Realistic About Your Budget
    If money is no object, lucky you! If you're like most brides, you're working within a specific budget, especially in these shaky economic times. Consider all your costs (gown, officiant, ceremony/reception venue, catering decorations, wedding favors, etc.,) decide what's most important to you, and budget accordingly. When you've determined how much you want to spend on catering, find the best caterer who can work within your budget.

  • Plan for Bad Weather
    Having a garden or patio reception? Unless you're having it in a desert with no possibility of rain, excessive wind or unusually cold weather, you need a back-up plan. You can decide this with your wedding planner or a representative of the venue you've selected. Yes, your dream wedding may get doused, but at least the show will go on, and your guests will be dry and deliciously fed.

  • Give the Caterer Enough Time
    You might want to operate under the theory of Good, Fast or Cheap—Pick Two. If you wait until the last minute to hire a caterer (and good luck finding a good one who isn't already booked,) you'll have the following options: If you want your catering fast and good, it won't be cheap. (Rush charges can be astronomical!) If you want it fast and cheap, it won't be good. And finally, if you want it good and cheap, it definitely won't be fast. Do yourself a favor and give your caterer as much time as possible.

  • Don't Change Things at the Last Minute
    If you knew how many hoops a caterer has to jump through to accommodate last-minute changes, you'd never even ask. Your caterer has every detail meticulously planned so your event is spectacular, seamless and above all, successful. When you throw an eleventh-hour wrench into the machinery, you run the risk of a less-than-perfect affair.

  • Stick to Your Guest Count
    Here's where responsible communication on your part can make all the difference. Caterers always prepare for a few extra guests, but if you spring 20 or thirty additional guests at the last minute, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Instead of setting up the event and adding the final touches, the catering staff is scrambling for more cases of wine, making hundreds more appetizers and looking for 20 more pounds of smoked salmon.

  • Let the Staff Do Their Jobs
    Simply put, don't micromanage the staff during your event. You can spell out everything you expect from the caterer in the initial planning. In fact, caterers welcome that kind of input. Again, responsible communication is key. So, at your event, relax, celebrate and let the professionals handle it all. That's what you're paying them for. It's your day. Enjoy!