By Ursula O’Neill, Catering Connection

Photos by Elizabeth Messina

So you’ve heard good things about the caterer, tasted their food and found it delectable.  They say they do weddings.  You’ve seen them advertised in many places and they have good reviews.  Is there more?  What’s next?

Santa Barbara is full of amazingly qualified and talented caterers.  We count ourselves among the luckiest professionals in the world to work with such esteemed colleagues.  And contrary-wise, there are those “caterers” who provide good food, but do not know what it takes to produce an event – let alone a wedding – which is a production involving careful timing, full working knowledge of event set up practice and procedure, knowledge of the venue’s policies (to save you from incurring unnecessary penalties and fees) and also proper serving and wedding etiquette.  Many think that if a caterer has good food , then they are a good “caterer”.  There is so much more.

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We have compiled a list of the top 5  questions that will help you prioritize the caterers you may wish to consider for your Santa Barbara wedding.

1.  How long have you been in business?

Recommendation:  Minimum of five years to really get saturated in what it takes to be a professional caterer and earn a reputation and reviews.

2.  How often have you worked at the venue at which my wedding will be held?

Recommendation:  The caterer should have at least 10 events’ experience at the venue.

3.  Are you on the location’s Preferred Vendor list and do you know their set up, service, clean up and striking policies?

Recommendation: This should be non-negotiable.  If the caterer does not know proper clean up procedure for the venue, you could be stuck with hefty fines after the wedding, an unwelcome surprise after a happy day of celebrating.  Many venues have very strict load-in, set up and tear down (“striking”) scheduling requirements.  Your caterer should be very familiar with the scheduling requirements – if not, heavy overtime charges both from the venue and the rental and catering companies could be implemented and be a last minute addition to your wedding budget.

4.  What do you define as “Full Service”?

Recommendation:  “Full Service” means that they are a “one stop shop” for almost every aspect of your wedding.  While many “full service” caterers vary in what they mean when they say this, at absolute least, they should coordinate all your rentals for you, know proper staffing ratios (guest to server), have a policy for proper attire for service staff set up as well as serving attire, know proper serving, clearing, table and wine service etiquette, assist you with creating a schematic for your event that suits the venue and your vision, assist you with a preliminary event timeline, provide clear and concise written contracts, policies and procedures.  If anyone ever just tells you verbally that “they’ll take care of it”, insist on them describing in detail – in writing – what “it” is.

5.  Will the same Catering Event Sales Representative (or “Catering/Event Coordinator”, as some caterers call them)  who helped plan your wedding be there the day-of?

Recommendation: planning something as intricate and emotional as a once in a lifetime event like a wedding means that you will bond with your Catering Event Coordinator for months preceding your wedding day.  He/she will be aware of all of your personal preferences and carry through your wishes with a strong contract and communication to the catering staff, of course, but having his/her presence there the day of the wedding should be a requirement.  Barring an act of God or illness, every Full Service Caterer who has you working with a Catering Event Coordinator/Sales Manager to help you plan your wedding should be one and the same person to be there the day of your wedding to add that personal touch and see you through your special day until the very end.

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