The choice of a caterer is an important step to setting the tone of your event. Food is so intimately tied into our experiences; it impacts us through sight, smells, taste, and touch. Its important to have a caterer who can understand the feel of your event and help you put together a catering menu and sequence that fits its tone and tempo.
Thinking through your requirements
Before you start looking for a caterer, lay out the basics for the event:
- Occasion: What is the occasion? What elements need to be included? (toasts, themes, bar, etc)
- People: How many people will be present? How long will they stay?
- Location: Where is it being held? What are the constraints of the space? Does it have a kitchen?
- Service: Are you looking for waiters to pass food? Service stations? Buffet?
- Food: What types of food are of interest? (Healthy, comfort food, elegant, etc). Are there special requirements for your guests? (kosher, allergies, religious requirements, vegetarian)
- Budget: What is your overall budget for the event? Costs will need to include food, staff, space, rentals, and bar.
Finding the right catererUnderstand who the options are in your community. You’ll want to start with the right type of caterer for your event, based on type of food, number of people, budget, and level of service desired.
- Types of caterers:
- Catering specialists: These catering companies bring chefs, food, specialty equipment, and/or wait staff to your location. This allows for more customization, better food presentation, higher service levels, and better integration into your event. These are the best choice when looking for specific foods, high level of presentation, passed items, and a certain level of elegance.
- Restaurants: Catering is often a side business for restaurants and this allows them to bring their service to your space. In most cases, this is a buffet style service or delivery of transportable food items. They allow favorite entrees to be available at your location.
- Grocers: Many specialty grocers offer cost-effective food trays suitable for simple events or small numbers of people. Costco and Trader Joe’s are chains that can offer some interesting selections.
Once you’ve selected the right type(s) of caterer, you can look to find the right caterer to fit your needs.
- Reputation: Look for a caterer with a reputation of being reliable, easy to work with, and professional. Some things you can look for include:
- Client testimonials/reviews: Look on the company’s website and search for them by name on the internet. Ask to speak with a previous customer — a caterer with happy customers should be able to quickly put you in touch with one or two who can speak to their experience
- Chef credentials/reputation: Has the chef been featured by the industry? An appearance on the Food Network, a popular cookbook, etc may indicate a higher degree of creativity and skill
- Press: Local media coverage may be indicative of local buzz in the community
- Menu options: You’ll need food that makes sense with your event. Find someone with experience in catering the types of food you’re interested in, whether that be miniatures, kosher, buffet, seafood, etc.
- Services: Ensure that your caterer will provide (or coordinate with another company) the services that you want to help pull your event together. If the caterer works with the vendor often, you may find better coordination and sometimes even discounts that can be passed on.
- Coordination/Planning: Some caterers will just show up with the food. Do you want help laying out the space, coordinating rentals, coordinating staff, putting together an event timeline, arranging displays, and ensuring plates/glassware/utensils are all where they need to be? Ask how the caterer can either help put it together or work with you to ensure a smooth event.
- Kitchen/ Wait Staff: Wait staff, chefs, bus people to do on-site preparation, get the food out to guests, and keep the surroundings clean
- Bar: From providing a bartender only (if you want to provide the alcohol yourself) vs. bringing in full bar packages including alcohol
- Rentals: Glassware, dishes, kitchen equipment, food warmers, display pieces, tables, chairs, trash cans, etc.
- Presentation: Look at the caterer’s website or photo albums showing what they do. These are likely to be the best examples of the company’s work.
- Budget: Overall budget can vary significantly between caterers based on the typical price per guest and size of event that they focus on. Find someone who’s interested in the type of event that you do…some caterers like small, intimate parties and others focus on events feeding many hundreds of people.