Planning a wedding reception can be difficult. There are so many decisions to make and details to arrange. One of the most important, and potentially expensive, is the caterer.

Whether you are planning a fancy sit-down dinner or just appetizers, finding the right caterer is essential to a wonderful reception. But where do you find one if you have never thrown a catered party before? There are several places you can look to find caterers in your area.

The Phone Book
You can find the names of caterer's in your area here. Many have web sites where you can find services and sometimes estimates. But only use this as a starting point. Never hire a caterer without first checking them out.

Friends and Family
Know someone who has hosted a catered event? Ask them who they used, if they liked the caterer, and how much they were charged per person. A satisfied customer is the best referral.

At Work
When your company hosts a catered event, who do they use? If you've been to one of their parties you already know if the food is good. Ask the event coordinator for the caterer's contact information, and what they charge. It's always possible you can get a discount because you work for the company.

Now that you have a list of possible caterers, it is time to get some quotes. Always get a written quote that spells out each item you want and the estimated cost. You should know by now what kind of reception you want, but it doesn't hurt to ask about other kinds as well. You may find it more cost effective to have a different type of reception.

Don't forget to ask questions while getting those quotes. Here are some questions you should ask during the quote meeting.

License and Liability
1. What is your license number?
2. Do you have liability coverage, as well as liquor liability coverage?

All of these protect you from liability should something go wrong during the reception. Hiring an unlicensed caterer is a disaster waiting to happen.

1. What is the estimated cost per person for my ideal reception?
2. How about my second and third choice?
3. What are some of the additional costs we might incur during the planning stages?
4. Is there a ceiling on anticipated food price increases?

While these costs are all going to be estimated, a good caterer should be able to give you an idea of the final costs.

1. What is the standard attire for their wait staff?
2. What is the staff-to-guest ratio?
3. If the reception runs late do to unforeseen circumstances, what are the overtime costs?
4. Is extra time even possible, or will there be a job booked after ours?

You don't want to have your reception manned by an unprofessional wait staff. On the same note, you don't want to have too few staff taking care of your guests. If there are problems that cause your party to run late, you want to be sure to have the caterer and their staff sticks around for the end.

Food and drink concerns
1. Is there a set menu, or can we pick from different food items?
2. Can your kitchen staff handle special dietary restrictions - allergies, diabetic or kosher menu requirements?
3. How much food will we need for our number of guests?
4. How many bottles of wine and/or champagne will we need for our number of guests?
5. What about non-alcoholic drinks, are those included with the cost of the meal or as a separate item?
6. Do you have refrigeration if the reception is held out doors?

These are basic food and drink questions; no doubt you will have many more event specific questions. Knowing how much food and drink will be needed is the sign of a good caterer. There isn't a lot of guess work here; experience should dictate the amounts needed.

1. Do you have a list of past clients?
2. Is it possible to view the catering of another reception to check food display, wait staff, and service?
3. Can you sample the food on the menu suggested by the caterer?

Some caterers are more than willing to let you see a set up, and watch their staff in action, but it is really up to the customer if that is possible. Do not take it as a sign that they are trying to hide something from you. Some customers aren't willing to let strangers into their events.

Policy questions
1. Have you worked at my reception site before?
2. Do you set the tables and provide linens? Is there an additional cost for that service?
3. Do you clean up the food and drink, and remove the trash?
4. Will I receive a confirmation letter with the details of my party spelled out?
5. What is the payment policy? Can I pay by check, credit card, or is cash the only option?
6. What is the tipping policy for the wait staff and set up people?
7. What is the minimum number of guests needed? And when do I have to provide the final guest count?

It's nice to have a confirmation letter, with all the details in it, so you know for sure that everything you discussed with the caterer has been understood. Also having a set date to provide the final count is crucial for both you and your caterer.

A final note. Always check out a caterer with the Better Business Bureau in your area. Most BBB's are online and checking for problems is quite easy.

Finding the right caterer will make your reception run smoother and make your special day even more special.