How to Find the Best Catering Option for Your Wedding Reception

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Illustration by Robert Flip

In a city of foodie fare and catering abundance, how do you find the caterer that’s right for you? These guidelines will set you on the right track.

 

Insider Tips for Hiring a Caterer

First things first: does the venue you’ve booked allow you to bring in any caterer, or do they only work with a select few? If the latter, your options are narrowed down. If the former, ask any caterer you’re considering hiring if they’ve worked in that venue’s kitchen before, says Jerry Boehner, president of Vonderhaar’s Catering. “Combine that with asking if they’ve catered a wedding the size of yours, and that’s a good test of whether they’re an experienced vendor or not.”

When choosing a menu, it’s important to consider all your guests and whether they have dietary restrictions. Can the caterer accommodate those comfortably? “Some have so much going on in their kitchens that they can’t guarantee, for example, that it’s nut-free,” Boehner says. You’ll also want to think about aesthetics. If you have your heart set on serving a particular dish—say, your favorite mac and cheese—it can be worth asking how that dish would look plated, or whether the caterer has ideas for a similar entrée that may look more visually pleasing when served.

And it’s not all about the food.“ A reputable caterer will have the ability to also provide a bartending package, do butler-passed hors d’oeuvres, serve plated dinners with serving staff, and provide linens,” Boehner adds.

Lastly, you’ll want to ask about cleanup. “Sometimes, if people are on a budget, they’ll try to do it themselves, but we don’t recommend that,” Boehner says. “A good caterer will handle that.”

PRO TIP: For extra-particular dietary restrictions, Boehner says, you can ask your caterer to make a special meal for some of your guests, even if it’s just for a few people.

Thinking Outside the Cake Box

From quadruple-decker showstoppers to simple naked cakes to…no cake? Today, it’s not uncommon for brides to forgo this traditional mainstay altogether. But not to worry: Sweet treats haven’t totally gone away.

“There are lots of options for brides who want to do something different,” says Molly Martin, co-owner of A Spoon Fulla Sugar. Think cheesecake, mini bundt cakes, dessert bars—mini versions of popular sweets of all kinds, from gourmet candies to chocolate-dipped fruits to pastries. Martin 
has even seen flaming doughnuts (eye-catching!) and milk-and-cookie spreads. She notes that even if you do choose cake, you’re free to experiment design-wise. “We had a couple whose wedding cake was in the shape of a stadium, with their names in the end zones, a meaningful number on the scoreboard, and a cake topper of them at the 50-yard line,” Martin says. “It’s about making it meaningful to you.”

Don’t Forget the Midnight Munchies

These days, there are more catering options than ever, including these unconventional fun fare offerings for when your friends and fam have hit the dance floor.

Food Trucks: Serving everything from tacos to cheese coneys, food trucks 
are a great way to add some personalized
fun to your reception. They’re best utilized in spring or fall when the weather is pleasant, and to keep lines short you should aim to have one truck per 75 guests.

Snack Buffet: You can go sweet or savory here, but you’re looking for handheld bites people can nosh on without missing a beat on the dance floor. Popular choices include sliders, popcorn, mini coneys, and pretzel nuggets; bonus points if it can soak up the alcohol.

Order In: Just because you’re hosting a formal event doesn’t mean you can’t end the night with a local (or personal!) favorite guilty pleasure. Think Skyline, LaRosa’s, Holtman’s Donuts—inexpensive, tasty, and nostalgic, delivered right to the dance floor.

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