Your caterer will probably be your largest expense, so you'll want them to be top-notch!
Start off by asking friends and family for referrals, and asking your reception site if they have restrictions or suggestions on which caterers they'll work with. Your photographer, florist or videographer may have a caterer they've worked with recently. If you have a restaurant that you adore, see if the have a special events department, or have a caterer to refer you to.
Finding the perfect caterer is an essential part of any large scale event. Weddings, corporate events, parties and family gatherings are all times when the services of a caterer might be needed. Unfortunately, there is no standardized grading system for caterers and anybody can start their own catering business. Here's how to choose a good caterer so that the food at your event is something memorable, for all the right reasons.
1. Listen to word of mouth recommendations
2. Consider what services you need
- No amount of advertising can replace a good recommendation from somebody you know and trust. If a friend or acquaintance had a great caterer for their wedding, then this is a caterer you should talk to for your next big event. Conversely, bad reviews should also be heeded.
3.Consider the caterer's specialty
- Some caterers will only prepare and deliver you the food you ordered, and may even go so far as to set it up. Others can provide fully trained wait staff and support personnel. If you're having a formal event requiring plated service then you want a catering company large enough to handle your needs. Feel free to ask the caterer if their staff comes from a temporary agency or if they are employees of the catering company. Wait staff that comes from a temp agency can imply that the catering company doesn't often handle large, staffed events.
4. Inquire about Ingredients & food freshness
- Some caterers specialize in larger scale events and have the equipment and expertise to professionally handle larger numbers of guests. Other caterers specialize in smaller intimate events, cocktail parties, or even just delivery of catered food. Be wary of the caterer who claims to be able to do it all, chances are that they don't excel at any of it.
5.Ask for references
- Many caterers cut corners in food preparation by using frozen products. Fresh is always best and they're charging you as though it were made fresh. Insist on only using a caterer that uses fresh food, not frozen.
6. Ask for a quotation
- When entrusting a single company to handle the food for your event it is essential that you ask for references. Don't just ask them to hand over names; instead ask for referrals of several recent events they catered.
7.Read the contract
- Too often, asking to see the bottom line price is the first step in hiring a caterer when in fact it should be the last. The food for a wedding can be more than 50 percent of the entire wedding cost; you're going to get what you pay for. If your caterer is dropping their price you can be assured they're dropping their quality as well.
8. Schedule a tasting
- Never hire a contractor without a firm contract in place. This protects your interests in case the caterer doesn't follow through. Once you've decided on your caterer and agreed upon a price, sign the contract after reading it through carefully.
Questions to Ask Your Caterer
- Caterers who provide food for large events should offer to provide you with a tasting, in order to gain your business for a large contract. Keep in mind, however, that this tasting will be the very best product the caterers can produce. There's also often a huge difference in quality between preparing a meal for 2 compared to 500.
Beware of caterers who sound too good to be true, as they're probably not as good as they think they are.
- Given the style, time, and date of my event, what are some menu items that you suggest? What would the cost-per-person be?
- Do you have any particular style of food or special menu items that you specialize in?
- Could we provide a sentimental family favorite recipe to include in the menu?
- How many other events will your company handle that same weekend/day/hour?
- Are you licensed? (this means that they have met health department standards and have liability insurance) Do you have a liquor license?
- How does the cost-per-person of a buffet compare to that of a sit-down dinner?
- Does that cost-per-person just cover the food, or are charges such as staff, rentals, and linens included?
- What service costs are included and what costs are additional? Are set-up and clean-up included? How much is overtime if the reception runs long? Are gratuities included?
- Do you provide linens, glasses, plates, silverware, tables, chairs, serving pieces, and decorative flowers for trays? Would it cost less if I handled any or all of that myself?
- What color and style of linens, glasses, plates, and accessories are available?
- Will you be the person personally handling my event on the day? If not, what is the name of the person who will, and when can I meet them?
- How much time will you need for set-up and clean-up?
- Can you provide a wedding cake, If we provide them, do you charge a cake cutting and serving fee?
- Do you charge for beverage service?
- If we want to provide our own wine, champagne, and liquor, do you charge a corkage fee?
- Will you provide food for the photographer, videographer, musicians, and other "day-of" vendors? If so, is there an extra charge?
- Will you provide special meals for any children who attend, and is there a discounted charge for them?
- Can we see a copy of your standard contract?
- What deposit do you require to hold the date, and when will the rest of the money be due?
- Can we see pictures of previous events, and speak to former clients for referrals?
If you got a good feeling from the caterer, and think they might be a viable candidate, ask them to draw up an outline of what you discussed, including costs, menu possibilities, and what the fee includes. And don't forget about that tasting.