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Catering 101

August 31st, 2011 by Jeannine

Catering 101 - Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering

Our wedding was held at a restaurant so I didn’t need to do any research about catering… but now that I’m a wedding blogger, I felt it was important for me to know about this foreign aspect of wedding planning (foreign to me, anyway)… after all, how will I be able to give advice on things I don’t know? :) So I sought the help of the wonderful team at Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering in North Vancouver. This is what I’ve learned…

So… what does catering involve?

When you hire caterer, at the very least you pay for the menu and taxes; however, caterers who advertise themselves as “Full Service Caterers” can provide many more services including staff, rentals, décor and even some event coordination. Most caterers will even allow you to provide your own alcohol and serve it to your guests.

The number of staff caterers provide depends on the type of meal being served and the number of guests. Their rule of thumb is 1 server per 25 guests for a buffet or 1 server per 15 guests for plated. You need more servers for plated meals because they have to serve each individual guest, and you have to take into account how many trips to the back room they have to take to bring out plates, they can only carry a few per trip. As for setup times, if you hire full service caterers, they require about 2 hours before the event starts. If they’re only preparing the food, 1 hour of setup should be sufficient, but always doublecheck with the caterer you are inquiring with.

Catering menus vary from company to company. Some offer set menus that you can choose from, but the majority does fully customized menus. At Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering, they allow couples to do a quality tasting before giving up the deposit. This ensures that you are happy with the quality of food they produce. Once booked, there will be another complimentary tasting of the full wedding menu. Other caterers may do it differently, so it’s always a good idea to ask if this option is possible. After all, why would you book with someone whose food you can’t stand? Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions during quality tastings. Some caterers will be more than happy to do it for you to make sure that you’re happy. At Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering, they require the menu to be decided at the time the final deposit is given and a week before the wedding, the final guest count must be submitted. Doublecheck with the catering company you are looking into to see what their policies are.

I’ve asked their catering coordinator how they handle initial consultations for a wedding. The following questions are asked:

  • What are your favourite restaurants?
  • Do you want to include any ethnic food or traditions?
  • Do you and your guests have any dietary restrictions?
  • What kind of food do you NOT want to have at your wedding?
  • Is there a food you absolutely must have at your wedding?

Answers to these questions allow caterers to get to know your tastes a little better so they will be able to customize your wedding menu to best satisfy your palate.

How To Cut Catering Costs

Let’s face it, catering is not the cheapest option because you’re paying for staff, food, equipment setup and teardown. However, they say there are a few ways to cut the costs, if you choose to use caterers:

  • Hire caterers to just prepare and serve the food – Setup and tear down of chairs, tables, dishes, and cutlery add to the cost of hiring caters. Maybe grab a few people to help set up the venue the night before, if you can? Or maybe hire/ask people to set up in the morning of the wedding?
  • Have a cocktail reception – This is the cheapest option because less rentals and staff will be needed. The good thing about it is that you can serve  a wide variety of food and have platters on a table, and they don’t have to match! So if you feel like having fried chicken on one station and Thai spring rolls being passed around, you can :)
  • Have a “familia” style dinner – It’s like a buffet brought to your table. Several share plates are served at your table and everybody just helps themselves! It’s a more intimate way of dining and will save some costs on rentals.
  • Use a cheaper food alternative – Instead of using filet mignon, how about a top sirloin instead? Talk to your caterer for options.

How To Choose The Right Caterer For Your Event

So now we know what catering is all about… how about finding the right one? They have some tips on how to figure out which caterer is right for you and you wedding:

  • Shop around – There are so many caterers in Metro Vancouver, get at least 3 different quotes before you make a decision.
  • Find a caterer that suits you – There are traditional and modern caterers, which will fit your style and palate?
  • Ask to see rental items – Is the quality of the dishes, cutlery and glassware up to your standards?
  • Ask to see the kitchen and meet the staff – This isn’t common practice but it’s a good thing to do. You’ll want to get to know the staff who will be working your event, as well as see the conditions they work in and the quality of food they work with.
  • Ask for references – As with any other vendor, you must ask for at least 2 references from past brides and learn about their experience with the vendor.
  • Check how many weddings they cater a day – It is best if the caterer only works 1 wedding a day. The more weddings, the more compromised the service may be.

Do your research well and you will end up with a fantastic caterer, but do remember to watch out for some warning signs. They say legitimate caterers will invest in a proper, professional website so be wary of those that don’t look like it. Also make sure that the testimonials are up to date on the website. It’s not wrong to question  a company if their last testimonial was from 4 years ago. If you ask, they should be more than happy to send you some. Caterers must also be willing to meet with you and answer any question you have. If they are holding something back, that can be a warning sign. And last but not least, ask for a letter of commitment, in addition to your contract. This will ensure that they’ve saved the date for your event and will be there to cater it.

That was a lot of information isn’t it? :P Well, I hope you’ve learned as much as I did. Thank you Louis Gervais for welcoming me into your bistro and helping out with this article. If you’re in North Vancouver, you should stop by the bistro for lunch. It’s a popular spot in the area though, so go early :)

All photos provided by Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering

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