08/24/2012 11:47 am ET Updated Oct 24, 2012

What You Need To Know Before You Call The Caterer

You've been tasked to call some caterers, get quotes and figure out who you want serving that all-important meal to your wedding guests. Whether you're going the all-inclusive route at a hotel, hosting your wedding a venue with a caterer you are required to use, or you get to choose your own caterer, this is the quick and dirty guide to getting the numbers you want.

Run through the list below and write up a quick document of the criteria you're looking for. Give that to caterers you're considering instead of repeating yourself 10 times. Trust me, it's worth it. Don't forget--after the caterer, you've got to call 10 florists, then 10 photographers. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.

What the caterer wants to know:

Date, venue and guest count. These are the top three things that puts your caterer in the right mindset for your call. If your date isn't booked, the entire call could be for naught. And who has time to waste? Neither of you.

Once you've established the basics above, let the caterer know what kind of service you want. Here's a quick breakdown of what your caterer will need to know:

1. Plated Dinner. This is the crème de la crème of service. Each plate is arranged by the kitchen team and carried out by servers to each guest. Pros: All the plates are arranged by a professional and, well, it's fancy. Cons: Food can get cold and it can be more expensive because of added servers.

2. Family Style. This is fast becoming an interesting concept to couples and restaurants everywhere. All of your menu items are served on platters and guests pass amongst themselves. Pros: Creates a fun environment for dinner and guests take what they'd like of each dish. Think of it as a buffet sitting down without the waiting. Cons: You may have to forego a lot of the clutter like centerpieces, favors, etc. to fit all the platters on the table, plus the cost of platters can get pretty high (5 dishes x 8 tables = 40 platters at $10 each = $400)

3. Buffet. There's nothing like a good ole buffet. The buffet gets a bad rap for making people wait or being the cheaper route, but sometimes I have to admit it accommodates even the pickiest of eaters.

Kitchen Equipment: You need to know what kind of kitchen you're offering to the catering team. We want specifics. Pictures are good too!

If you need to build a kitchen to pull this dinner off, the caterer will add that to your rental list at YOUR cost. You want to know what they'll need so there are no surprise costs later.

Kitchen Guide:

Fridge: How much space will the caterer have? If the food can't be kept cold, you'll end up with a reception that ends with something less fun than dancing.

Stove: How many burners?

Oven: How many ovens? What type (convection, baking)?

Prep space: Do they need to rent tables?

The most important question you have to ask your venue: IS EVERYTHING IN YOUR KITCHEN IN WORKING CONDITION? Don't laugh, I've done events with ovens that won't turn on and fridges that give out sporadically.

Set-up and breakdown:

Be clear on who will be setting up your tables. You want to be sure the catering team has allowed enough time to set 150 places before guests arrive.

Breakdown: Aunt Jackie and Uncle Bob love you but don't want to be involuntarily signed up for breaking down at the end of the night. Make sure to ask the caterer to budget time for breaking down the reception after everyone leaves.

What I'm telling you is that you need to know the service you're looking for, the kitchen environment you're providing and how long you'll need staff before you call the caterer. The most important advice I'm going to give you: Ask about hidden fees! They need to disclose all the extra costs, not just the starting package price.

Now go create that document and make informed calls to caterers. Better service, delicious food and upfront costs await you!