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Jul 29

Six Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Caterer

Posted on July 29, 2019 at 10:16 AM by Kari Bray

You’re planning the special day. Invitations, venue tours, fittings, song lists, photos, decorations, paperwork. All through the whirlwind, the clock ticks closer to the moment you’ll say, “I do.”

Don’t worry. Those butterflies in your stomach are normal.
wedding table

But let’s keep it at butterflies.

The last thing you want on your wedding day is a feast that leaves you and your guests sick to your stomachs.

So here we are, in the thick of wedding season,* with a bit of advice to help plan your big event – or at least, the food. (It’s good advice for other events, too. Think family or class reunions.)

If you are hiring someone to handle the food at your wedding, here are a few key questions to ask that may help protect you and your guests from a foodborne illness.

  1. Does the caterer have a permit with their local health department?image of food establishment permit

    If they’re based in Snohomish County, the permit comes from the Snohomish Health District. You’ll see our logo on the “Permit to Operate,” which also shows the name and address of the business and the permit’s expiration date. Don’t be afraid to ask to see your caterer’s permit. Make sure it’s current. 

    That’s not just for the people catering your main course. Caterers include businesses that prepare cakes or other sweet treats for events.

    If your caterer is based in another county, that’s fine, but they still should have a permit from the health department in their home county.

    Remember: A business license and/or food handler’s card is not the same as a food permit through the Health District. Our permit means the business prepares their food out of a kitchen that is routinely inspected, and the staff is trained in safe food handling practices. You can find past inspection results online at the Health District website.

  2. If you’re purchasing a cake or other baked goods from an at-home baker, does the baker have an appropriate permit?

    The Snohomish Health District does not inspect or permit businesses that prepare food out of residential kitchens. 

    However, people can usually bake and sell their goods from home, they just need a different permit. In this case, it’s generally a cottage food permit through the Washington State Department of Agriculture. This permit allows for preparing and selling food out of the home as long as that food isn’t high-risk.

    Once again, it’s OK to ask to see your baker’s permit.

  3. What is the kitchen set-up at your venue? Can your caterer fill any gaps?

    To handle food safely, your caterer needs sinks with running water and equipment to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Your wedding venue may have a kitchen – some even have a commercial set-up, similar to restaurants.

    washing hands and veggies in sinkHowever, not all venues come with everything your caterer needs. Make sure they know what the arrangement is and what they will need to provide, whether it’s additional food warmers or the entire kitchen.

    If your venue doesn’t have a kitchen with sinks, ask where or how the catering crew will be washing their hands.

  4. Thinking of hiring your favorite restaurant to cater your wedding? Does the restaurant have a catering endorsement?

    A business with a permit to operate as a restaurant does not necessarily have permission to cater. 

    When the Snohomish Health District permits a restaurant, we give the green light to prepare and serve food on-site. That doesn’t mean the business has approval to prepare food off-site or transport food from the restaurant kitchen to serve at another venue. 

    Restaurants that cater require an additional permit, called a catering endorsement. Most restaurants in the county do not have this endorsement.

  5. Can a food truck provide the wedding day meal?

    Yes. Unlike restaurants, food trucks do not need an additional catering endorsement because the food truck is a mobile kitchen. 

    A mobile food vehicle permit is different from a restaurant or catering permit, but it is still issued by the local health department in the food truck’s home county.

  6. Maybe you don’t plan to have a caterer at all. Is it OK for family or friends to prepare food for your wedding?

    Yes. If you have chefs or bakers in your life, or if you want to do a potluck-style event, go for it. 

    That said, anyone who is preparing or serving food should handle it safely. Wash hands thoroughly and frequently. Don’t leave food out at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep your hot dishes hot, your cold dishes cold, and always cook meats to a safe internal temperature. 

More info:
- Find more about food permits.
- Learn more about food preparation and foodborne illness
- Watch a video about Snohomish Health District food permits.

*Fun Fact: The popular wedding planning and registry website The Knot estimates that roughly three-quarters of weddings take place between May and October.