After you've booked your caterer, or once you've narrowed down your options to a choice few, depending on the businesses' protocol, comes the time for the tasting. The tasting gives you the chance to sample all the menu options that appeal to you the most, along with the ones you're a little on the fence about. This is not to be confused with the cake tasting (unless your caterer provides the cake, too), which is just another glorious food sampling event you have to look forward to and another beacon of light in the dark and seemingly endless tunnel that is wedding planning (...just kidding!).
It's an opportunity to try delicious and professionally-prepared dishes, but more than that, it's the opportunity to perfect and fine-tune your menu into something you and all your friends and family can enjoy. You'll want to narrow down what's most important in your menu, then come prepared with a list of questions to ask your caterer, including but not limited to the ones below.
1.) Can I try ___ ?
Obviously you don't want to try every option on the menu (...or maybe you do if the food's just really good, but sadly, they probably won't let you), and you don't want to throw darts at random items on the menu for tasting, either. Hopefully the person who's coordinating your tasting will ask you what you're interested in, but if they don't, make sure you tell them well beforehand.
The caterer might tell you how many of each item, from appetizers to entrees, you can try, and have you choose from there. Otherwise, limit yourself to the items you're really on the fence about, since the purpose is to narrow down your options.
2.) Can I tweak this menu option?
It's your big day and you want it to be perfect -- your caterer should understand this -- so don't be too shy to ask how you might change a dish. If something would be perfect aside from one spice they may have added, or if you'd like it garnished differently, or if they could just add a pinch of garlic or cayenne or whatever, it's always worth asking about. You should also consider any dietary restrictions that you and your guests may have, and then ask...
3.) Can this be made vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free?
Seriously, consider your friends and family when you're choosing the menu. Obviously make sure there are dishes that you and your fiance will enjoy (not even just enjoy, but dream about for years and years to come), but don't let your loved ones go hungry, either. Many people have meat, dairy and/or gluten restrictions (and other allergies, in fact -- always good to consider those) and there should be at least a few options for those people besides the fruit and vegetable platters.
If there's a dish that you think could accommodate these restrictions but you're not too sure, just ask. My fiance and I tried some delicious roasted red potatoes and requested they be cooked with oil instead of butter so more of our friends can enjoy them.
4.) Where are these ingredients sourced from?
The food aspect of the wedding is likely going to swallow a large part of your overall budget, so you want the highest-quality ingredients your food budget can buy. If fresh fruits and vegetables and pasture-raised protein from local farms are important to you, be sure to make that known (and maybe do some research on which caterers provide that to begin with). It's not especially hard to go all- or mostly-local with your food when you live on the Eastern Shore, where seafood, grain and vegetable farming, and chicken breeding are such a major economic force.
This question can also apply to your bar. Local craft beer is important to my fiance and I, so we plan on having at least two options from local breweries on tap.
5.) Where will the food stations be located?
This might not apply if you're doing a strictly plated meal, but for those of us who are opting for the buffet/food station option, it's important to ask the venue where these stations will be located. That way, maybe a little farther down the road when you've got all the big stuff taken care of and you're working on the placement of the DJ, the dance floor, the decorations, and the general feng shui of the room, you can mark out where the food is going to go (hopefully not too far away from the tables).
A few other questions to keep on your back burner: What drinks will be served, or available, with this meal? Can we incorporate signature food items or cocktails? Is there a kids' menu (ours includes chicken tenders and fries)? What is the caterer's specialty (whatever it is, you should at least try it)? Will the caterer be providing linens and dinnerware? Can we take home the leftovers? Thar one may sound like a silly question, but hey, why let all that good food go to waste?
If you're still in the catering research stage, Taste Events is a popular full-service wedding caterer based out of Bethany Beach, and The Shrimp Boat in Ocean City is a viable option for couples who love local seafood.