Wedding catering or any event catering does not have to be hard. If you know how to cook, or can follow recipes, then you already have what it takes to get started. Some states require that you be licensed to cater, while others don’t require it unless you take in over a certain amount of profits each year. Whether your state requires it or not, you should still know every law and food preparation rule that you can to insure the health and safety of the people to whom you will be catering. You should always follow proper guidelines for preparing and keeping food, and know what you are doing.
I have grown up in a wedding business doing photography, decoration, and occasionally small catering jobs. I even went as far as to cater my own wedding, which wound up being ok, but lets just say, planning a wedding and getting married is tiring enough, but adding to that that preparation of all of the food, was a complete and utter mess up. Other weddings and events aren’t as tiresome; you just have to be ready to fix the food. Most food can be prepared the night before, but meats and things should always be prepared just before the event. My experience was not great, because it’s very hard to peel shrimp while you are getting ready for the wedding!
There are a few tips that should always be followed and I have my own personal rules that I like to go buy to insure a good catering job.
Always prepare for your reserved number of guests, plus 20. People always bring someone, and to make sure you have enough food is key. If you wind up with more than you need, then the bride and groom usually appreciate a plate to take on the road with them anyway, so that is a good way to make a good impression. It’s always better to have more than you need than to not have enough. It’s never easy to explain to the bride that she had 10 extra guests and they don’t have anything to eat.
Always check about allergies before beginning to fix any food. If you don’t check and make sure that no one has an allergy before beginning the food preparation, it could become a BIG mistake. Most people think “ok, so the brides best friend is allergic to shellfish, so we just don’t put any on her plate”, but NO, if you touch anything that has touched shellfish or sometimes even cook shellfish in the same room as the food that the person allergic will be eating, its already contaminated. You need to prepare that persons food before anything else is done, and set it aside in a place that will not be in contact with shellfish, otherwise the brides best friend is going to get a nice surprise and ride in an ambulance during the reception!
Run all menus by the bride and groom before deciding upon anything. We all seem to think that we know what’s best, we know what foods are easier when catering and we know what will be in season, but despite this we need to insure that we only have things on the menu that the bride and groom request. They need to feel like they are in charge of everything on their big day, and its always a good idea to let them tell you what they would like to get out of the reception.
Having a tasting is great to insure the bride and groom like the food, but don’t overdo it. Everyone loves food, and everyone loves to know exactly what is going to be served at their wedding, but lets face it, no one likes to eat, and eat, and eat, and eat some more. If you overdo the tasting then the bride and groom will be stuffed after a couple of things, and you won’t get through all of them. The ideal thing to do is split it up, do the appetizer tasting on Monday evening, then the side tasting on Wednesday evening, and the main course tasting on Friday evening. This splits it up and allows them time to think about the previous tasting and not have to make too many decisions at the same time. If you are also doing their wedding cake, it is a good idea to add it to the main course tasting, as something sweet always goes good after the main course.
Make sure that the couple understands the prices before you get close to the big day. Some caters think its ok to go over budget, but the couples they are catering to do not seem to think so. You need to make sure and then make sure again that for every decision they make, it may change the price. Let them know this upfront, to cut any upset later on.
Charge enough to cover yourself, the food, and any workers you have and make sure that you know what your outgoing price will be ahead of time to insure that you don’t loose money on an event. Some caterers get nervous when quoting a price, but you should always be sure that you are covered if the price of anything goes up, or you wind up needing an extra worker. You also need to put a line in your contract that states “the price will be ______ and will only change if any changes are made to the menu, guest list, or seasonal items go up in price, upon which the customer will be notified as soon as this information becomes available”, this shows people that only these things should raise the price, and that they will know before they are charged that the price change has occurred. You don’t want to hand them a bill at the last minute that has a $500 difference, this is not good for you, and is not good for the couple!
When possible, get them to agree on a buffet style meal, its much easier, but its also cheaper. Always give the option of a buffet style sit down meal. Its easier for them, its easier for us, and its easier to insure we have more than we need. Its much easier to keep warm, and if the wedding lasts longer for any reason, its ok because the food is safe, covered, and at a set temperature. Don’t however force them to have one or tell them its buffet or nothing, which is definitely not good for business!
I have seen a ton of catering mistakes in my short 24 years of life, one of which was extremely upsetting (e-coli poisoning of my daughter at a baby shower) so please be sure that you stay in control of the food prep, and know how to properly prepare the food! You also need recipes, and something that makes your catering business popular, whether it’s your grandma’s hot tea, or your mamaw’s potato salad, something has to be different and separate you from other caterers. Don’t get down if you make a mistake, it happens, however you also need to have some type of insurance to cover you if anything bad happens!