The Smart Plan for a Fabulous Dinner

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Whether it’s trays of fun gourmet sliders; a chic sushi station; elegant plates of Kobe beef; or a convivial family-style feast in which every ingredient is organic, seasonal and locally grown; the meal you serve at your wedding sets the tone for the entire celebration. The key component of your reception, it deserves a caterer whose professionalism, style and, of course, cuisine reigns supreme.

Get the Plan in Order

The majority of couples both research and book their caterer six to 12 months prior to the main event – that is, if the caterer isn’t a package deal with your venue. But try to jump on it early if you want the best, as they can only work a limited number of weddings per weekend.

You’ll ideally want to meet with a few of your favorite options and ask a lot of questions, says Sharon Naylor, author of “1001 Ways to Save Money and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding, 3rd edition” (McGraw-Hill, 2008). How creative can they get within your budget? Are they open to modifying their standard menus with special recipes? Can they provide variety for folks who eat vegetarian or gluten-free? Do they have recent experience with your location? “If you’re having an at-home wedding, ask them to tour your kitchen,” Naylor says. “You might need to rent them a cooking tent, which is actually smart because it keeps the magic out of sight and prevents damage to your house.”

Once you’ve made your decision, Naylor recommends scheduling a tasting that includes appetizers and different sauces that can be used to dress up less pricey entrées.

According to Brooke Sheldon, owner of Lilybrooke Events in Kennebunkport, Maine, the cost can vary widely depending on the city, menu, wedding size and how the caterer charges for different styles of service. “A plated dinner involves more staff, but a buffet requires more food because the caterer can’t control portion sizes,” Sheldon says. “And with beverages, some places charge per drink, while others charge for an open bar based on the time.”

That said, in general, you can expect to shell out $20 to $80 per person for food, and $7 to $20 per person for a four-hour full bar.

Foodie Focus

Before you start building your menu, you’ll definitely want to take your venue logistics into account. If the kitchen is far away from the dining area, for example, you may want to pass on a plated dinner (the most formal option, it involves lots of individual servings presented at the same time) in favor of a buffet because the latter can easily be replenished with single platters and requires less staff, says Jenn Louis, chef/owner of Portland, Ore.-based catering company Culinary Artistry.

Once you’ve got your parameters, it’s time to get creative! Sheldon suggests incorporating foods that mean something to you – from your heritage, places you’ve visited or local favorites. “Just make sure your caterer is comfortable with the new recipes, and willing to practice and perfect them.”

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