A good time to pick a caterer is usually anywhere from 10-14 months out from the big day. That way you have a good selection of caterers to still be available but be sure to note that those more popular dates (AKA 10/22/22 - the day I chose) can go well in advance!!
It can be hard picking a caterer because it can be such a big ticket item but it's obviously super necessary to feed your guests. The good thing is there are so many unique and creative caterers out there now that there is definitely flexibility in what you can choose - whether it's a traditional catering outfit, a food truck, or even just heavy hors d'oeuvres! We just highly recommend that you use someone who is licensed and insured and please - please have them staff the event. It never works out if you have your family self serve or have a few of them serve everyone. It runs a lot smoother if the catering team is there to work the event - believe me!
I think selecting a great caterer depends on three questions you need to discuss with your fiancé:
1. What type of food do we want?
2. What is our budget?
3. How important is food to us?
Once you've decided those things, you can get started looking for a caterer. Corban and I knew that we wanted Italian, we needed to keep it under $5,000, and we wanted all of our friends and family to be well-fed! Since we have invited 200 guests (expecting between 150-175 to show) this was a tall order! As a coordinator, I always recommend barbecue for my cost-conscious brides because traditionally it's more affordable than other food from caterers. On that same note, I did NOT want barbecue at my wedding since I'd had it at so many others. Our favorite food is spaghetti so it just made sense that that was what we would want to serve on our big day!
We talked to several caterers, getting plenty of bids, and tasted with two of them - Grapevine Restaurant and Riverwood Events and Catering. Rita with Grapevine is amazing and we have loved working with them in the past. Plus they have a mobile bar with a roving ABC license which is pretty rare in this area! Unfortunately, we got ahead of our horses and completely forgot to confirm that they were available before doing a tasting so it was a big letdown to figure out that they actually had an event booked that day and wouldn't be able to work with us. I still would recommend them to anyone - they're a family business as well and it shows in their work ethic!
That left Riverwood Events and Catering as our top choice for a caterer! I was honestly shocked they had the date which is why I hadn't come to them in the first place but they had a cancellation so it worked out!
The tasting was super fun and relaxed - we came by Rachael's (the owner) office and she had prepared a few appetizers and dishes for us to try based off of a phone call I'd had with her the week prior. We tasted her amazing chevre tartlets with different toppings (I'm still thinking about that sriracha and honey drizzle) for appetizers and her famous chicken pasta with a white sauce and her spaghetti and homemade meatballs. YUM!
(As an aside, I have shocked many with my decision to serve red sauce spaghetti at my wedding but I have a solution - a wedding apron. I'll put it on and be good to go!)
We loved the food of course and I knew Rachael was an incredibly hard worker (I remember her mopping the floors of our event kitchen on her hands and knees because we needed to get a new mop and didn't have one that week - she said she always leaves a place cleaner than she found it) so it was just a matter of signing on the dotted line!
What's really great with Riverwood is their range! Not only do they do catering, they also have coordinating/planning services and rentals! So we got to spend some time at the end of our tasting trying out different linens and water goblets for the big day.
My advice to you is be honest with your caterers when requesting a bid. I told Rachael the budget we were working with and she helped us create a menu and service level that would work within that! By doing the extra work searching for the right caterer in the right price range, we were able to use the extra money to rent the linens from Riverwood!
Don't be afraid to talk numbers with your caterer and ask for cost break downs. It may be that something you're asking for is causing the price to raise a lot higher than you'd want. Also do listen to your caterer's advice. Originally Corban and I wanted to do family style serving (where all of the food is placed on platters and sat on each table to be self-served) and Rachael dissuaded us from the idea. She said that it's tricky because you don't know how much of each entre the guests at each table will want, the food is more difficult to keep warm, and you have to add a lot of extra staff to keep things running fast and smooth. However, Rachael found a great compromise for us - we're going to have the salad family style with the rest of the meal served buffet style - this will keep our guests happy while they are waiting for their table to be called and will help everything run like a well-oiled machine.
I hope this helps and happy wedding planning!