1) Research Your Venue’s Preferred Vendor List: There’s a reason caterers make a preferred vendor list but that doesn’t mean all the homework is done for you. Take the time to research each company, talk with their catering department and brides that have used their services. Get a feel for who fits your style, personality and budget best. Make sure you check that their company is licensed and insured. This means they will have a business license, be licensed with the health department, have a health department approved production facility and be insured against any unforeseen damages that might occur during an event or production.
2) Space: When checking out possible venues remember that you’ll need space for both your guests and for your caterer to work. You don’t want to try and squeeze 300 people into a venue made for a max capacity of 150 and you also don’t want your caterer to be serving food from a broom closet. That being said, most caterers will not need an on-site kitchen to work in; however they will need adequate room to move around in, plate food, set up/break down etc and good lighting.
3) Service Style: You’ll also want to tie in the venue with the style of food service you desire and the formality of the event itself. Will your venue be large enough for a plated dinner or will passed hors d’oeuvres work best? This definitely ties back in with the space issue. If you’re having a lot of guests in a smaller venue, a reception where they can mingle and move around would work better for both the guests and the service staff than one in which they are seated for the majority of the time. Different food items will also change the look and feel of a venue (think passed sliders vs. plated salmon). If you keep this in mind when checking out venues, putting a menu together for your reception will be super simple!
4) Site Visit: Make sure your caterer will do a site visit to your venue before the event or has previously catered events there and knows the layout of the venue. A good caterer or one who is part of a preferred vendor list will already have done this, but it doesn’t hurt to double check!
5) Bar: Ask your venue manager whether or not they will allow you to bring in your own alcohol or if you have to use their in-house services. If you can bring in your own beverages, talk with your caterer about organizing the bar setup for you. An experienced caterer will help you coordinate everything from providing certified bartenders to bringing mixers, ice and glassware.