Your new catering business has started to make some noise and get some traction in your community. Maybe you’ve catered a Super Bowl party for friends or thrown a birthday party that 6-year-old Sebastian (and his 14 friends) are never going to forget. But you’ve known from the beginning that for your business to really get off the ground, you’re going to need to find away to crack into the elusive motherload of catering events: The wedding.

Catering a wedding for a first-timer can be incredibly intimidating. Not only are you probably working with a much larger budget, but also managing the responsibility of delivering a fairytale event to your bride or groom. It’s a lot to take on, but with some careful planning (and being aware of a few potential pitfalls), your first wedding client will give you rave reviews and remember your crab cakes for the rest of their lives. Here’s the steps to follow to pull off your first wedding reception.

Related Reading: How I Started a Legit Catering Business Out of My House

Figure out what kind of wedding caterer you are.

Wedding catering can take many forms, these days; catering for a wedding isn’t limited to white linen napkins and waitstaff in tuxedos passing trays of canapés. While that style of wedding catering may most suit you and your business, you should also consider less formal options for a catered meal, including buffet service, pig roasts or BBQ, wine and cheese events, or even fondue parties.

Narrowing down the scope of the services you offer will give you a better sense of the equipment you need (for example, do you need two dozen steam tables, or a smoker big enough to hold an entire hog?) and save you money in the long run. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

Find Your Ideal Client.

Because you don’t have an established reputation as wedding caterer, your first client (or first few clients) are likely to be friends or family members who will be patient with the learning curve, and who will probably be quick to forgive you if things don’t go exactly as planned. These gigs probably won’t pay as much (if at all), but they will help you to learn the ins and outs of this kind of event, with a patient client. You should also reach out to wedding planners and coordinators in your area, as well as party rental supply companies, flower shops, bridal shops, and jewelry stores, and ask to be added to their list of vendors.

These businesses will pass your name along to qualified potential clients, and will do a lot of the pre-screening work for you. Make sure your website is updated with sample menu items, pricing, and contact information. Get a booth at a bridal show, and be prepared to offer samples of some of your favorite dishes.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your wedding catering menu.

The Five Best Ways To Find Wedding Catering Clients

In the early days of your wedding business, you’ll need to hustle to find work. The reality is you’ll need to do your first couple weddings for little or no cost to gain some experience and a portfolio of work. Almost every successful wedding caterer works for free in the early days.

  • Offer to Friends / Family for First Gig: Find someone you know that wants to save money on catering for their wedding. Offer to work free of charge and be excited about getting experience with your first catering event. It will be a lot of work, but you can use the photos of wedding to demonstrate your skills to future clients.
  • Word of Mouth: If you do a good job, don’t be surprised if you are offered more wedding catering opportunities after your first freebie. When you pull off a few good weddings, word will start to get around about your services and folks will begin making recommendations. Be nice to everyone at an event you cater because each event is an opportunity to book more business.
  • Build a Website or Facebook Page: After you’ve got a body of work together by catering some events, start publishing photos, videos, menus and pricing via website or Facebook page. When researching caterers, everyone will conduct their due diligence online and want to see what your past work is like and pricing.
  • Attend Bridal Shows: The big bridal shows are usually held in the winter or early spring in advance of wedding season. This is particularly true if you live in the Midwest or a colder climate. Most couples prefer outdoor weddings. These bridal shows are the ideal place to show photos of your food, provide free samples, and network with families that are planning their son and daughters big day.
  • Partner with Local Vendors: Last but not least, you need to begin networking with other vendors that support the wedding industry like wedding planners, flower shop owners, bands, photographers, other caterers, and managers at popular wedding venues. According to ValuePenguin, the average wedding now costs almost $30,000 so there are many people interested in profiting from these events to connect with. Make it a habit to connect with these people at each wedding you participate in. 

While you’ll be less picky about this at first, eventually you’ll want to stay away from people looking for wedding catering on a budget. There’s certainly nothing wrong with maintaining a budget from the perspective of the bride and groom and there are things that you can certainly do to help curb expenses by offering lower cost menu items. But with that being said, after you’ve gotten a few free wedding catering events under your belt for experience you need to make a worthwhile profit at the end of the wedding. There’s too much time and effort on your end needed to pull off a successful wedding event to short change yourself in this way.

Get a Simple Contract Ready

Before you pick up your first client, you’ll want to have airtight contracts in place that prevent you from losing money in the event the bride or groom’s plans change. Speak with other wedding caterers in your area about potential pitfalls, and make sure you have a signed contract in hand (ideally with accompanying deposit) before you start spending money on things like tastings for the bride-to-be. Horror stories about where would-be wedding caterers spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and countless hours preparing custom tastings for potential clients, only to have them vanish when it comes time to sign a contract. Online document filing services can be great resources for providing starting templates for your contract.

In recent years, wedding catering menus have become more casual. Be sure to ask your client what types of food they would like served so you match their vision.

Free Catering Agreement Templates in PDF and Word Doc Format

Of course you could also edit some of the free catering agreement templates below and apply them to your business. We’ve included a template in Word that you can download below. Feel free to add your own logo to this document and edit based on your needs. We’ve also provided some PDFs and links to other resources we found online that you can see what other businesses have done.

Catering-Agreement-Template: Download, edit, and utilize this example catering contract in your business. 

Catering Agreement PDF: Catering contract in PDF format from Down Home Delivery & Catering. This is a catering agreement with above average detail even gets specific into what will happen with leftovers at an event. This is worth reviewing.

Catering Agreement Word Doc: Catering agreement on RestaurantOwner.

Draft a sample menu and figure out pricing structure.

Remember, weddings often have guest lists that can reach into the hundreds. Figure out how your favorite recipes can be adapted to serve large volumes of people, taking into account other considerations like food handling and safety, which items will need to be kept warm and how, and which rec