For the majority of our clients, contacting us about their big event is the first time they've ever dealt with a caterer. Not to mention the fact that with the kind of investment a wedding represents, for example, it's always wise to get more then one competitive quote. It's a daunting prospect with all the different types of menus and quotes, so here's a few things to think about.
1) Are they genuinely like for like quotes?
So you've narrowed down your food choices so that in theory your potential suppliers are quoting on a like for like basis. Before you make a decision based purely on price, arrange a tasting with the chosen short listed caterers, and make sure the food quality and presentation styles are the same.
If the companies you're looking at are of similar size and market area, there will be a reason why one is several hundreds of pounds cheaper and it could well be the standard of the ingredients they use. Remember, budgets notwithstanding, you get what you pay for.
2) Added value
Once you've worked out the quotes all include the same equipment, staff, and other fixed costs, find out what extras the supplier will be giving you that you're not being 'charged' for.
For instance, when you want a meeting, how flexible are they on times and places, and how many times will they be willing to meet you?
Equally, how willing are they to provide additional advice about elements of the day, particularly if it affects their profit margin. For example, if you're about to invest time and money in sourcing vintage crockery for your wedding for 150, will they be willing to provide you with a list of what you need, and advise you whether items will be suitable for the use you're planning?
Can they recommend additional suppliers, such as florists, bands, venues etc, and at what stage of the process will they offer that advice - from the beginning or strictly once the contract's signed?
3) Flexibility of menu
Weddings and events are undoubtedly expensive things! When you're working with the caterer to decide a menu are you getting what YOU want, or are they telling you what you can have?
Obviously there are parameters within which everyone has to work, such as budget, venue restrictions, practicality of producing the finalised menu for 200 guests in a tent in the middle of a field!
But that aside, if you want to incorporate elements into the day, such as the national dish of your fiance's Finnish homeland (yes, we've done that!), how willing are your short list to let you do that?
4) Event Management
Many caterers will say an event manager is included in your quote, but make sure you find out just how broad the service is - is it just where the food service side is related, or will it cover other things?
For instance will they make sure all your other suppliers have their mobile number so if the band gets lost on the way to the venue, none of your wedding party has to interrupt the enjoyment of the speeches to go and deliver directions?
What happens if someone runs over the cable to the portaloos, and suddenly they stop working? Will the event manager deal with that discreetly so you never even know about it, or will one of your ushers be crawling through the flower beds in his rented morning suit trying to find the problem...?
Tastings are fantastic - we recommend them to all our potential clients as it makes a huge contribution to establishing a warm working relationship.
However, any caterer should be able to produce a menu for two in their production kitchen. The big question is whether they can do that for 80 in a village hall with no kitchen facilities.
Ask them for contact details for previous clients who have had similar events and menus to yours and do take up the references. (Bear in mind, of course, they are going to give you the names of clients they know they did a good job for!)