Catering is a central feature of every wedding celebration. Well, almost every celebration. You might have seen the story doing the rounds recently about the DIsney-mad couple who blew their catering budget on having an appearance from Mickey and Minnie Mouse on their big day.

Each to their own and all that. But if you want to make the right kind of impression on your guests, we’d wager a good meal would go down better than a couple of actors in Disney costumes.

Good quality catering can make all the difference to a wedding. Food brings people together and we associate gatherings and celebrations with big communal feasts. A meal is a time to converse and share stories and memories, to make new acquaintances, to laugh and swap jokes. There’s also an intrinsic pleasure in enjoying good food. Great catering can create some of the most enduring memories of your special day.

It’s also the case that catering is one of the biggest expenses of your entire wedding. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to spend around 25% of your entire budget on catering. Depending on how many guests you want to cater for and the style of meal you want to provide, that can end up being a very considerable sum.

For such a big outlay, you want to be confident that you are spending your money well. To get the kind of catering that will really wow your guests and put the icing on the cake of your perfect day, picking the right catering service is essential. Here’s what to look for.

How flexible are the menus?

Even if you have a particular style of cuisine in mind and look for a specialist caterer, one of the big things to prioritise in any service you choose is flexibility. There might be particular dishes you and your partner really want to serve up. Then there are things like offering vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, halal and kosher options etc.

The best catering services show menus as samples of what they can offer. If you like the sound of different things from several different menus, just ask if they can all be put together. The right caterer will be more interested in putting together the right menu for your big day than sticking rigidly to what they advertise. They will also be keen to work closely with you and your betrothed to create a special bespoke menu just for you.

Is the caterer equipped to work at your choice of venue?

If you’re looking for an outside caterer for your wedding, it probably means you have decided against an all-in wedding package where venue and catering come together (most hotels that offer wedding hire will not allow outside catering, for example, and will insist on doing it themselves). This means that your venue may be a little unusual or off the beaten path. Have you gone for an outdoors reception, for example? Or chosen to set up a marquee somewhere?

Wherever it is, you should check that any caterer can work with the facilities available (if there are any). Some catering services will specify the need for a full working kitchen on site. Others are able to bring their own equipment, including things like generators. Make this one of the first questions you ask so you don’t waste any time talking to people who can’t actually work at your venue.

Can they work to your budget?

Another side to caterers being flexible is how much they are able to adapt to work to your budget. This is something that singles out caterers who are experienced providing for weddings from the rest. Most couples will start their wedding planning with a fixed budget and look for options that fit within it. Unlike corporate catering, there’s usually less room to negotiate based on the caterer’s prices.

So you may love the sound of a particular menu a caterer offers but the cost for 100 guests is way above your budget. What can they do to make it work? Can they tweak the menu to make it cheaper? Can they serve it in a different way, such as a buffet, to reduce serving costs?

What do previous customers have to say?

Finally, one thing you should always do before hiring a catering company is check their customer reviews. Although you sometimes have to take online reviews, both good and bad, with a pinch of salt, they still give you the best idea of the level of service you can expect.

Do lots of reviews say the same things, positive or negative, about the service? You can expect them to be true. Look in particular for what people say about the quality of the food, flexibility of the menus, price, how good the business was to work with etc. If there are negatives, put them in context of the rest of the reviews. Does the complaint come across as one disgruntled customer picking holes for the sake of it, or does it sound like it could be a genuine concern?