Thursday, June 21, 2018
Dining

To choose wedding caterer, eat your homework

By Laura Reiley

Times Food Critic

While the cost of a wedding can vary widely, an average price tag for getting married runs around $27,000, nearly 40 percent of that taken up by the reception alone, much of it food and drink. But how do you select a caterer?

"Word of mouth" is always a good way to choose, but just "mouth" will do quite nicely — think about meals you have eaten at other people's weddings or functions. That delicious Vietnamese fresh roll bar at your co-worker's birthday, the stunning whole salmon with cucumber scales for your uncle's retirement party. Many restaurants also provide catering, so give your favorite one a call. Once you've found a few caterers you're considering, start asking a lot of questions.

What to ask

There are the nuts and bolts questions: Is the quoted price all inclusive? Are there additional charges such as gratuities, overtime fees and sales tax? You should have a written list of these standard questions to pose to each prospective caterer, and they should all be answered in writing, with dates, times, prices and descriptions of services spelled out clearly.

But more important, the question to ask yourself is, how does this caterer's style mesh with your own; how simpatico are you?

To this end, you need to have a rough idea of what your dream reception would look like. Sit down or buffet? Heavy hors d'oeuvres? Do you want a cash bar or an open bar, premium beverages or something more budget-conscious? What do you want on the tables — flower centerpieces, linens, silverware, china, etc.? At the core of many of these variables is one word: price.

In order to keep the price down, here are some things to bear in mind:

• Saturday night is the most expensive time to schedule a reception. A weeknight or weekend afternoon event might save money on the site rental and caterer. Also, there are seasonal differences in cost. Hit a caterer off peak season and the prices reflect that.

• Ask your caterer about "guaranteed counts." Ordinarily, you have until 14 days prior to the wedding to change the guest count, which you are then obliged to pay for, regardless of who is missing on the big day. Remember to include workers (photographer, DJ) in the final head count for the caterer.

• Ask how they determine the portions for each guest. If hors d'oeuvres are planned, how many do they count on per person? The number may vary from as little as three to as many as eight.

• Generally speaking, a lunch is less expensive than a dinner; buffet is less expensive than plated meals; the more courses, the more money.

The menu

Plan the reception to satisfy your own style. Like the song — almost — says, "It's my party, I'll eat Thai if I want to." But remember that as the host, your goal is to throw a good party.

Thus, consider the guest list. How many kids? How many older people? How many known food-phobes or timid eaters? Now envision a menu that embodies the "greatest good for the greatest number."

Still, if you're a strict vegetarian, it's okay to express yourself. Substantial and hearty vegetarian food is increasingly a way to satisfy most guests (or consider serving a single vegetarian entree to which kebobs of protein — steak, shrimp, etc. — can be added). On the other hand, a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore has to understand that not everyone will share an enthusiasm for filet mignon. Give enough choices to accommodate people's food likes, aversions and allergies (gluten issues mean pasta is no longer the universal solution).

Matter of taste

Caterers will all provide references, but the best way to make a decision is to sample their wares. Most caterers will put together a formal or informal tasting of potential dishes for you and your betrothed — perhaps your only opportunity to eat your dream meal without your mother-in-law around.

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

Comments
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Published: 06/20/18
Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

ST. PETERSBURGThere are a lot of decommissioned gas stations across the country. Some have been reinvented, cleverly made over as upscale restaurants. There’s Big Star in Chicago, Elaia & Olio in St. Louis, Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va., even Bi...
Published: 06/18/18
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but let’s start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

LAKE BUENA VISTA Disney Springs has swiftly become a playground or trial balloon for the country?s celebrity chefs. Art Smith, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless, Guy Fieri, Tony Mantuano, Wolfgang Puck and others are already on board, with names like ...
Published: 06/13/18
A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

Going fishing is like doing your taxes. If it’s something you dive into just once a year you end up relearning the whole thing every time. Jake Whitfield eyed me, no judgment, and decided to cast for me the first time, my little wriggling greenback z...
Published: 06/11/18
Ceviche closing in South Tampa

Ceviche closing in South Tampa

TAMPA – The Ceviche restaurant at 2500 W Azeele St. is closing.Caledon Concepts, which operates Ceviche restaurants in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, said the restaurant’s last day at that location will be June 16."The expiration of the lease for...
Published: 06/08/18
Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

SAVE THE DATE: HARD ROCK B-DAYOn June 14, 1971, the founders opened their own American-style diner in an old Rolls-Royce dealership and called it Hard Rock Cafe. They had a vision to combine music, memorabilia and all-American fare. Here’s a tip: To ...
Published: 06/06/18
Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

GULFPORTWhat do we know about El Chapo, a.k.a. Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán? He ran the Sinaloa Cartel, even from prison, and first appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list in 2009. He’s 5 feet 6. He’s the father of 12 or 13 children. He has a talen...
Published: 06/04/18
Updated: 06/07/18
National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

Believe it or not, Friday is already June 1, which means National Doughnut Day is back with sweet deals.The day was created to celebrate the Salvation Army’s "Doughnut Lassies," who served the treats to American soldiers on the front lines during Wor...
Updated one month ago
A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

TAMPAThe executive chefs all fly into Columbus, Ohio. Before they step into the kitchen, before they sharpen a knife, they sit down and have a meeting, an open dialogue. They examine the whole menu: What’s working? What needs fixing? And then they ge...
Updated one month ago