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Inspiration » Food + Drink » Wedding Catering: Your Essential Guide

Wedding Catering: Your Essential Guide

by Allison Hata
Wedding Catering: Your Essential Guide

Feeding all of your guests can be one of the more logistically challenging aspects of wedding planning. You don’t just have to worry about the food itself, but also the tables and chairs your guests will sit at, the dishes, glasses, and flatware they will use, and how to clean everything up when they’re done. It’s no surprise, then, that having their wedding catered by professionals is a goal of many couples, at least before they start researching the cost! If you decide to go for full-service wedding catering, you’ll need to have your guest count and budget in mind. And you may want to start searching soon after you have those, as there may be a limited number of caterers in your area.

When you first start calling caterers and asking about prices, you may feel a bit of sticker shock. It’s important to remember all that hiring a full-service caterer entails. Wedding caterers don’t just cook the food. They also provide waitstaff, serve the food, and clean up. They usually also set up the chairs and tables and take out the garbage. Essentially, you’re paying for someone to handle all of the logistics of feeding your guests. If that seems like an incentive not to hire a caterer, remember that you’ll likely end up paying for some of that extra stuff anyway, possibly at a higher rate. If you’ve decided that hiring a wedding caterer is for you, here’s our guide to finding and confirming the right one for your wedding.

It’s important to be realistic about wedding catering

Before you start talking to caterers, it’s important to consider that the cost will depend in great part on what kind of food you want to serve. This may seem obvious, but the cost of serving lobster to 200 guests may still surprise you. How you serve your meal can also affect how much you pay (check out our guide to food service options here). With this in mind, you may want to get creative with your food choices. If you find a caterer who is willing, going with less traditional cuisine and creating a custom menu can be a great idea.

Finding wedding catering options

First off, your venue may be able to help you find the right caterer. In fact, they may even have an in-house caterer that they want you to use. Even if your venue doesn’t have in-house wedding catering, they may have a list of  preferred caterers. (In fact, this is one thing you should definitely ask about when choosing a venue.) If they have preferred caterers, your venue may actually charge you a fee for using someone not on that list.

If you do want to go with an outside caterer, you can find them by asking around or by searching online. Whether you find out about a caterer by word of mouth or by web search, read plenty of user reviews. Before you take the next step, you want to make sure they have a reputation for being professional and serving food on time. Yelp is a great place to search for caterers and see reviews.


Once you’ve found a caterer you like, contact them to discuss the details of your wedding and get a quote. When talking with a caterer, start with your budget and make sure they are able work within it. You can also get food recommendations and discuss food service options that would work best for you. It’s also important to know if they offer wedding packages or if everything must be ordered à la carte. Packages can be a great deal if you aren’t worried too much about customizing the menu!

If you’re satisfied with a caterer’s options, set up a tasting. Just as you’d ask a photographer or florist to see a portfolio, you’ll also want to get a sample of the quality of food your caterer offers. If the price is right, the details work out, and you like the food, you may have found a winner.

Some other important questions to ask when vetting a caterer:

  • Do they provide linens, glassware, and flatware, and what type?
  • Do they provide alcohol and bartenders?
  • Will they be able to provide and serve a cake?
  • How many servers will there be per guest?
  • How much do children’s meals cost?

Billing and contract

When it comes to billing, remember that the per person charge usually doesn’t include everything. That said, if you’re concerned you should ask to see a price breakdown of how much goes to what. 

Before signing a contract there are other details that you’ll want to have clear:

  • How much is the deposit, and when do you have to pay it?
  • When is the final menu deadline? What is the fee for changing the menu after that?
  • When is the final guest list due? Is there a fee for changing it, and how much?
  • Are there any other extra fees you should know about?
  • What is their cancellation policy?

And before you hiring any vendor, we recommend you take a look at our vendor guide for more tips on reviewing contracts.

Once you’ve thoroughly reviewed the contract, agreed on the details, and paid the deposit, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve done the hard work of finding the right wedding catering option, and now your caterer will handle the hard work of making sure you don’t have hungry guests!

Get Started – Joining a Wedding

While you’re spending time planning the right meal for your guests, you may have friends who are getting engaged. If they have a Joy wedding site, you can easily join their wedding from your account! And if they don’t have a Joy wedding site yet, feel free to let them know about us 🙂

Adding a wedding from your main page:

  • When you log in, you should see the option a section that says “Weddings I’m Attending” on the right side of the page.

join wedding

  • You should see your wedding, of course, and any other Joy weddings you have joined.
  • Adding weddings is easy! Just click the rectangle at the bottom where it says “Join a Wedding.”

join wedding

  • If the wedding is private, remember to ask your friends for the event code to join!

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