Hands down, one of my absolute favorite parts of planning my wedding has been working with our on-site caterer to select our menu, cocktails and do the tasting. But I also realized just how important it is to be on the same page as your caterer—from the style of service you choose to where your food is sourced. So we’ve partnered up with one of the greats in the industry, Paula LeDuc Fine Catering (who’ve been whipping up gorgeous bites for years) to round up some of the key questions you should be asking.
1. ARE RENTALS USUALLY PROVIDED BY THE CATERER?
It is possible for event rentals to be provided by the caterer, the planner or even the client; however we recommend that the caterers contract and manage the event rentals. This is especially helpful for a variety of reasons. We at Paula LeDuc Fine Catering offer, as part of our management, the service that we meet the rental provider, direct load in and count in all rental equipment as well as inventory these items at the end of the event. This reduces/eliminates the question of loss and breakage; ultimately saving you money. In managing this order from the beginning, your caterer is able to make sure that they have everything that they need for service to be successful.
2. WHICH STYLE OF SERVICE IS RIGHT FOR OUR WEDDING?
Style of service refers to the overall flow of the culinary portion of the event. Are guests sitting with served plates, is it family style service or is it a roaming food station event. Knowing this information and talking through what that means affects staffing, equipment and cost to the client. An understanding of the client’s goals for the event helps to steer this decision. Do you want to imbibe a familial atmosphere? Then maybe family style is for you. Do you want your guests up and mingling because they have been traveling all day or maybe you want different groups to have a chance to meet each other? Then a food station event might be just the thing.
3. DO CATERERS PROVIDE THE COCKTAILS AND BARTENDER? ARE THERE CORKAGE FEES?
Understanding whether your caterer provides alcohol is important to your planning process. If your caterer does have a license, it streamlines the planning and creative process to offer a beautiful food and beverage event that is fully cohesive. Having a trained bartender is extremely important, not only for your guest experience but also for licensing issues. Corkage can vary widely based on wedding location, if the caterer is providing liquor and you are providing the wine, etc. At Paula LeDuc we offer our dinner wines on consumption which is often a cost savings since many clients would need to purchase the wine that they may not fully consume.
4. WHAT SHOULD WE KEEP IN MIND WHEN CONSIDERING OUR WEDDING CATERING BUDGET?
Knowing a client’s price range is so helpful and really is imperative to creating an accurate proposal. At Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, since we do customize every proposal, we have the ability to tailor the menu and equipment and even staffing ratios to fit a client’s budget. For example, creating a menu that features a delicious roasted game hen as opposed to a filet of beef can have a great affect on overall cost – but is a delicious and very San Francisco option for dinner. Looking closely at things like chair styles, flatware and glassware styles also can help have some control over cost. And while we always want to staff an event comfortably for the ultimate in 5 star service, depending on the layout of the venue (how close the kitchen is, etc) and the seating specifics (are we seating for 8 or 10) there can be some ability to adjust staff for cost savings.
5. DOES MY CATERER NEED A LICENSE?
Every caterer should be operating under a license and out of a health inspected and certified kitchen. However, some caterers also have liquor licenses and that is an important question to ask. Selecting a caterer with a liquor license helps you to streamline your preparations and enables the food and beverage to be in perfect harmony for your event.
6. SHOULD WE HAVE A TASTING WITH OUR CATERER?
A tasting is the perfect opportunity for a couple to test drive their wedding menu. We recommend doing this once you have selected your caterer (based on reputation, recommendation of your planner, etc), narrowed down your menu and within the same season of your wedding when possible. The purpose of the tasting is to decide between items that you aren’t sure between and to, where necessary, taste items for palate adjustment (a bit less spice; we love the fresh herbs, can we have more?, etc.) If there is an item that you have tasted before or just know that you want it as is – don’t taste it. Instead, focus on the decisions that you are trying to make to solidify your menu. It isn’t a good idea for the tasting to have so many items that everyone walks out too full and overwhelmed to make decisions or even remember one item from the next. Also – don’t forget about the beverages! At Paula LeDuc Fine Catering our Sommelier sees the tasting as the perfect opportunity to finalize wine pairings for the dinner, and our mixologist loves to shake up those featured cocktails. Be selective but thorough in working with your caterer to select your tasting menu and it will be a successful rehearsal for your event.
7. WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FOR TIMING AND FLOW OF SERVICE?
The flow of your service is an important discussion point. May service continue quietly during toasts or a presentation or no? This will affect the length of dinner service. Also, important aspects such as toasts can often be shifted 5 minutes here or there. But a seafood entrée will suffer if it sits 5 minutes. Have a plan, discuss your plan with your caterer and then be flexible.
8. DO CATERERS USUALLY PROVIDE STAFF?
This is an important question to ask. Not all caterers provide staff or if they do, the staff is subcontracted from a staffing agency. While there are pros and cons to each, we at Paula LeDuc Fine Catering do provide our own staff and feel that the training and certification of this staff is part of our brand and part of your experience. Your guest may not come in contact with our chef or our sommelier, but will most definitely interact with the staff throughout your event. It is important that the interaction and experience is consistent with our brand and with the goals for your event.
9. SHOULD WE TIP OUR CATERER?
Gratuity is such a personal discussion and should be based on your ability to add this cost, your overall feeling about your experience, etc.
10. WHERE DOES THE CATERER SOURCE THEIR FOOD FROM?
Paula LeDuc Fine Catering sources seasonally, locally and sustainably. The company has long been convinced that the best tasting and most nutritional food is organically grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound. With this understanding, we began cultivating an organic garden in the center of the Napa Valley to produce seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs for our dishes. How your caterer sources should be a part of every food discussion and part of your decision in selecting your caterer. However, remember that geography, cost and availability can affect this. We are fortunate to be located in the Bay Area which has long growing seasons and a wide variety of local culinary options, but every region has reasons to shine.
11. ANY ADDITIONAL FEES WE SHOULD KEEP IN MIND?
Additional fees can occur when venue challenges arise, special requests (which we love!) necessitate additional work hours/coordination/shipping fees etc. However, at Paula LeDuc Fine Catering it is important to us that your proposal as closely reflects your actual cost as possible. We enjoy having a phone call or even a personal meeting with every client so that we can ask these questions, determine your food, beverage, aesthetic and budgetary goals and then build your proposal based on your answers. We do not provide immediate and cookie-cutter proposals as this is a disservice to our clients in the long run. We enjoy that personal touch and look forward to it as part of the planning process.
12. CAN WE USE A SEPARATE VENDOR FOR OUR CAKE? ARE THERE CAKE CUTTING FEES?
This is an important question as it varies widely by caterer and hotel banquet department. As a full service caterer, Paula LeDuc has a full-time Pastry Chef and Pastry Department, continuously developing and creating innovative and delicious dessert options. We do not specialize in wedding cakes and realize that this is a niche in the pastry world already filled with incredible talent. We are happy to coordinate, manage or recommend someone to craft your ideal wedding cake. We do not charge a cake cutting fee — our staff is working hard to make your event perfect and are happy to cut your wedding cake for you!
Catering Expertise Provided By: Paula LeDuc Fine Catering