Whether you’re planning your wedding reception, a fundraising event, or a corporate Christmas party, finding the right caterer is one the most important steps in your planning process. Before signing the contract, make sure you ask your caterer all the right questions to avoid any unpleasant surprises along the way.

  1. The first question to ask is availability. Get it out of the way. Popular weekends and a few weeks leading up to Christmas get booked up pretty quickly. Try being proactive and start making arrangements as soon as you confirm the date of your event.
  2. Make sure that the caterer you consider for the job is a professional licensed food provider. While it doesn’t promise you that the food will taste good, it will guarantee you at least one thing – food safety.
  3. Ask for references. There’s nothing wrong about asking a catering company for references. They might be great folks, but you don’t want your wedding reception to be the first one they cater. It is also a good idea to read through their clients reviews – and not just on the company website but in other sources as well. www.Yelp.com is always a great tool.
  4. Ask your catering company if they offer food tasting. Is it complimentary? How many options do you get to try? You don’t want to commit to a $10,000 catering contract without making sure that the food is exactly what you’re looking for.
  5. Does your caterer provide alcohol? Does your contract allow you to provide your own alcohol for your wedding reception? If you decide to bring your own alcohol, is there a corkage fee? How about service charges? You caterer might not charge you a corkage fee but will charge gratuity on the estimated cost of the beverages served.
  6. Does the catering company provide china, cutlery, linens, and napkins? Is it included in the price of the dinner? If not, how much is the rental fee?
  7. What is the payment schedule? There’s really no standard here. Most catering companies will charge you a deposit at the time of the booking to guarantee the date. The amount of the deposit varies. It can be a fixed number or a percentage of the total invoice.
  8. Cancellation policy. What happens if your need to cancel your function? Usually it’s a sliding scale and the cancellation fee will depend on how close to the event date the cancellation occurs. Be very clear of the cancellation policy and get everything in writing.
  9. Cut-off date. When is cut-off date for making the changes to the menu and number of guests? Normally a catering company will require all the information 72 hours prior to the event. At that time you will have to provide “guaranteed number of guests”.
  10. Inquire about additional charges. Don’t just look at the menu prices – get the full picture of the total cost. The items to ask about are:
    • rental charges for lines, napkins, china, glassware, and cutlery
    • delivery and set-up fees
    • corkage fee
    • labour charges (servers, bartenders)
    • gratuity (don’t mistake it for the labour charges)
    • taxes
  11. Ask you catering company to provide you with a quote that would outline all charges. If you consider a few different menu options, various set-ups, or levels of service, ask for a few full quotes, so you could compare them side by side.
  12.  Make sure that there is a price guarantee. There’s a chance that you sign your catering contract a few month prior to the event, and the cost of some food ingredients might go up. This should not be your problem. You want to make sure the price you sign today will be the price you pay.