Feeding your guests is an essential part of the reception. Before putting on their dancing shoes and boogieing down to your masterfully crafted playlist, they’re going to need a bit of fuel - and so will you! While working on the perfect blend of appetizers, mains and desserts for your soiree is important, there are a few other details you’ll want to consider.

Here’s everything you need to know about wedding catering.

Set your budget
The first thing you should do is nail down your budget (and don’t budge!). Hosting a reception meal is kind of like taking all your friends and family out for dinner - it costs a pretty penny. But don’t worry! There are a few easy ways to cut costs. Choosing seasonal ingredients, less expensive cuts of meat and offering fewer courses could drop your fee a few hundred dollars. You can also opt for less expensive catering styles like a buffet or cocktail style eats instead of a plated dinner.

Stick to your theme
Everything from your decor to the food you serve (and how you serve it) should suit the theme of your wedding. If you’re hosting a laid-back outdoor event, consider serving family style meals out of baskets and bakeware. Hosting a upscale hotel soiree, but want to cut costs on the food? Serve a few elegant types of canapés and crostini.

Start early
You don’t want to try to hammer out your catering at the last second, so give yourself plenty of time to book, sample and hire the caterer of your dreams. Remember to consider all the different cuisines that may suit your big day. Pinterest can come in handy during this phase.

Pick the perfect caterer
Now that you have a vision, it’s time to find the right man or woman for the job (hint: our vendor tool may come in handy). The first order of business is locating a guy or gal who’s well-versed in the cuisine that you plan to serve. After all, you wouldn’t send a French chef to handle an Indian buffet, would you? You'll also want to know if they are familiar with your venue's facilities so your food service will run smoothly (tip: many venues have a preferred list of caterers that they work with). Once you think you’ve found “the one”, book a few tastings to get a feel for their cooking - then you can start working on your serving style and menus. Remember to schedule a Q&A with them to get a feel for their professionalism and personality.

Select a catering style
Speaking of serving styles, there are a few popular ones to consider for your big day. Each will affect the ebb and flow of your reception, so choose wisely. The plated dinner is the most traditional and will add an extra layer of formality to your big event (but remember, it also comes with the heftiest bill). If you’re looking for something laid-back, try family-style catering or a buffet. Alternatively, if you want to go with a more modern option, think about using food stations or only serving hors d’oeuvres to your guests.

Plan your menu
Now onto the fun stuff - choosing your menu! You’ll want to keep your theme, budget and taste buds in mind when figuring out what to serve. While you may love a meal of steak frites and caviar, it may not suit your rustic barn soiree so well. Maybe opt for some comfort food instead, like a buffet of cornbread, chicken and waffles and seasonal veggies. Of course, it’s your wedding so feel free to go against the grain. Note: you’ll want to check with your guests about food allergies and sensitivities before setting your menu in stone.

Make sure your vendor is properly equipped
If you’re hosting your reception in a hotel, home or restaurant, you won’t have anything to worry about. These venues typically have designated kitchen spaces with all the tools your caterer will require to whip up some truly amazing eats, from spatulas to stand mixers. However, if your post-wedding bash is being held outdoors or somewhere off the beaten trail, you may have to splurge on getting your caterer’s workspace in order.

Read the contract
As with all your vendor contracts, you’ll want to make sure this one includes all their necessary services - from setup to breakdown. You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for additional costs like travel, bartending and clean up as they could tack hundreds of unwanted dollars to your bill.

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