Choosing Your Wedding Caterer

What got you into wedding catering?

In 2007, we attended four weddings in a single year as guests. The wedding venues were all very different, including a top London hotel, but at each one the thing that stood out was how terrible the food was. We looked at each other and I said to Karen – “Darling, if we could find a way to get your amazing food onto wedding tables, we would have a great business.. there is such a gap in the market”.

We looked around a bit, and realised on the whole, that wedding catering was pretty dodgy. By dodgy, we don’t mean mouldy, we mean ordinary, lifeless, over-cooked, tasteless, and (in our experience) served by disinterested staff, served late. Its not helped by almost everyone (including those who say they don’t) trying to squeeze everyone into choosing from a set menus or (slightly better but not much) their restricted lists.  Generally wedding catering has rightly got a bit of a bad name for itself.

But the wedding breakfast is so important. Its a statement to everybody. It speaks to others about your taste in food; your ability to entertain and ultimately how much you care about them. It’s also a highly collaborative part of the day, one in which everyone plays an equal part, after all, up to this point they’ve all been watching the bride, now they are experiencing the same things.

So, getting it right really is important.

How did Kemp and Kemp get started?

In 2010, we both needed new challenges in our lives and with Karen’s love of cooking and eating, and Richard’s understanding of logistics, planning and marketing, we felt we had the right sort of skills (in the right combination) to create a catering company.

At first, we found that hotels and wedding venues in The Midlands didn’t want to know about us – they had the catering all sewn up for themselves. So we had to carve out a marketplace and we researched hard and found a network of venues with no in-house catering that let their clients choose their own caterers.  We thought the best way to make this known (in the hope we’d be their choice) was to create website  dedicated to independently minded wedding venues – called – guess what – www.independent-weddings.co.uk. It now has 60 venues across 7 counties and is growing all the time. We created a main website (www.kempandkempcagtering.co.uk), placed a few adverts on wedding search sites and won our first wedding.. Matt and Zoe in Hatton Village Hall (Warwickshire). It was an exciting learning curve to be honest, but they LOVED us and wrote a great testimonial about the food and that was it – we were off and running.

So, for couples who value food – what are seven easy steps to find a caterer like you?

 

  1. Research (and ask about).  It always starts with research. The web is a great tool, so use it, extensively. Make a short-list of independent venues and caterers who chime with you initially. Ask, does it look like they care? Ask around your friends and see what others have experienced.

 

  1. Responses. Send several initial enquiries and see what sort of a response you get and how long it takes to come back. If the caterers are slow when they are at the sales stage, ask yourself, how much slower will they be when they have your money (with no motivation to reply) and in the final countdown (mid-wedding season) you don’t want to be chasing people 15 times to answer your questions. Try to choose a responsive, customer-focussed outfit who have demonstrated from the outset that they have time for you. Are people just sticking a brochure in the post, or do they write personally to you with a certain amount of passion and interest in what they do?

 

  1. Meet. Fix to see one or two caterers who excite you, and where there is a spark. When you meet, ask yourself if they are they going through the motions, do they seem to really care about you and the food for your wedding, can you trust them, are there any risks?

 

  1. Are they flexible? Flexibility is a huge thing. Unless you want to end up with a set menu, or having the restrictions of having to choose from their lists, make sure early they are really able to prepare exactly what you want. Ask them about a specific made-up menu (it doesn’t have to be the final one) because this will flush out those that are going to restrict you. Lots of people say you can have ‘bespoke menus’ but the reality is often.. ‘any choice of starter from a list of 20, any choice of main from another list’ – not quite what you meant by ‘can I eat anything I want?’.

 

  1. Ask – who makes the food? Many caterers cut costs by bringing in ‘catering solutions’, chilled or frozen portions from external suppliers, and that’s precisely why you get set menus or lists to choose from. If food is important and you want yours to make your heart sing, you need to find caterers who really do make everything. Flush this one out with food-related questions like, who do you use for meat? Do you make the mayonnaise?, or the custard?, or the pesto?, and is it all made by you from raw ingredients?

 

  1. Are they creative cooks? If you have firm ideas about the menu, great. If not, is your caterer creative, inspired and well-informed.. are they aware of what’s best in the season you are getting married, and are they aware of what’s grown locally to your venue (and when it is at its best!). Are they creative? Do they understand how different foods go together, or are they mixing rather odd combinations (remember the restaurant scene in the film ‘Life is Sweet’ –  where amongst the comedy combinations were lambs liver and beetroot!).

 

  1. Ask what’s in (and what’s out). Get a written quote showing what’s in and what’s out. Don’t forget to ask about corkage… and are the staff included in the quote?.. what (if anything) is specifically excluded?

You sound more expensive than a hotel?

Of course, cost is a big factor, if you can’t afford it then you can’t afford it, but it’s probably a good idea to prioritise the factors in your wedding and rank them by importance. If food gets a low score, go to a package hotel and spend the budget on flowers or the cars. If food is important, expect to pay decent money for it – and if you choose well, you will get what you pay for. You can’t get a BMW for the price of a Skoda, and we do all know the difference.

 

Have you got a checklist of questions we should ask of a caterer?

  • Do you make everything yourself, including all sauces?
  • Who supplies you with your meat?
  • Where do your vegetables come from?
  • Can I have absolutely anything I want to eat, or am I restricted in any way?
  • What about veggies, vegans or special dietary needs?
  • What is best food in the month I’m getting married and in the area I’m in?
  • Do you charge corkage?
  • Are staff included in the price?
  • Will you pour our drinks and are there charges for this?
  • What other major costs will I have to bear in mind?
  • Do you charge for tastings?
  • Can I serve a dessert made by my sister?

 

What else before we hand over any cash?

Don’t pay a deposit until you have been able to contact recent past clients directly yourself.  They are your most reliable source of information, and will be honest with you (and most people are flattered to be asked as seen by others as an expert).

Don’t just stick to food questions either. It doesn’t matter how utterly amazing the food is, if your favourite dish has been sitting there for 20 minutes waiting to go out, because its ready and you are not (perhaps you are still with the photographer), or the food service is slow and disorganised, then the caterer is not doing their job and the food will disappoint. This is impossible for you to test in advance, except by asking some-one who has experienced it.

 

Ask past clients too, how organised were they; were they able to cope with changes on the day; how well planned was the catering; was it flawlessly delivered by great staff ? Did you feel ‘looked after’ in the final few weeks when things start to come together and get a bit fraught? Did they have time for you? Were they nice and able to cope with ‘Bridezilla’ moments? Was the big day stress-free and did you feel in safe hands?

What should we ask past clients?

  • Did this caterer deliver food that met your expectations of the day?
  • How organised were they on the day?
  • How good was the service?
  • Were they patient and attentive in the build-up?
  • Did they make it clear what they needed to know?
  • Did they look after you all the way through?
  • Would you use them again?
  • Was it good value for money?
  • Did you get any comments from guests about the catering?

Should we ask for a tasting?

If you want to be 100% sure the food will be as brilliant as its described, and as brilliant as the referee says, ask for a tasting first. However, a positive referral from a fellow foodie past client is usually good enough and you might want to use the tasting session to help finalise the menu nearer the time (caterers will usually offer one tasting session only, and shouldn’t make a charge for it either).

Any final thoughts?

Interest in food and standards of cuisine in the UK are all improving as we all travel more, experience more and have more money and time to enjoy what’s best. Good food is increasingly important to people. It is possible to create amazing, tasty, visually stunning local, seasonal food in a field on a hill-top with nothing but the wind in your hair and views to die for – –  all it takes is choosing the right people who share your values.

So, if you think of food merely as fuel, you’ll have no problem finding lots of people who can easily accommodate you. But if you want the food at your wedding to be the crowning glory of your day, put the time into finding the right people and you’ll have no regrets… esp if the caterer is Kemp & Kemp Catering!