Finding the right caterer can be stressful! There are thousands of options, so how do you know if you are picking the right one? Is it really that important?
Although your event might be about the guest performers, a fundraiser or anything else non food related, catering can make your guest’s experience memorable. What amazing event doesn’t have amazing food, that’s part of the experience. Catering can help deliver beautiful, tasty, and adventurous foods, complimenting your theme, service and adding to the entire aspect of your event. So yes I would say it’s quiet important.
The following are questions to ask yourself before choosing your catering service.
Are they responsive and interested?
When you first met with them whether it’s over the phone or in person where they engaging with the conversation and eager to schedule an appointment to discuss in further detail?
The right caterer should want to learn about your event because they not only care, but want to make sure they perform to your standards. Have them go over everything they plan to do over the course of your contract length; tastings, rehearsals, set-up, etc. They should ask you questions, try to learn more about your theme, overall budget and goals because they are here to serve you, not the other way around. Every event is unique, thus requiring a unique experience in catering in which they should be ready to deliver.
Are they built for your market?
Not every catering service is for you. Online research ahead of time can help you eliminating which service works for your event. Things you need to consider is your event size, theme, type of event and who specializes in those areas. Be specific in your expectations down to the very detailed such as the overall presentation or look you want, food options and how it’s being prepared.
After some research, you are bound to find a few catering services that fit your market and event type. Remember, never lower your expectations for them, but find one that will exceed everything you want.
Is the menu flexible?
Flexibility is the key with food. Everyone has their own dietary restrictions; gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, lactose in tolerant etc. Making sure your menu caters to most diets and common food trends is a great way to give your guest the best experience possible. Make sure the caterer is familiar in the current food trends, willing to take on special requests from quests, and any other dietary needs they may have. Be sure to ask about all their accommodations and overall flexibility they can have during the event.
Did you schedule a tasting?
You can go over every possible detail with the caterer, but the food speaks for itself. Make sure you are sampling everything you plan to serve during your event. Some caterers will give you generic samples of their food, but if it’s not on your menu, don’t waste your time. You can even request drink parings with your food choices to make sure it’s complimentary. While doing these tastings, make sure you are also examining the overall presentation of the dish as that is also an important element with catering.
Are they familiar with your venue?
Ask if they are familiar or prepared food at your venue before? If not, would they get the time to go before the event happens? By being familiar with the venue, they will know if they can even prepare the food there or if they will require additional supplies. There are also kitchen rules that come with every venue such water rules, food waste, setup and proper disposal rules. They need to become familiar with these restrictions before the actual event.
Did you read the contract?
Don’t skim and sign! Instead, get everything in writing and make sure it’s all included in the final contract. Food, beverages, services, all down to the details such as date, time, location, menu options, accommodations, additional servings, bar services, accessories, servers and staff, final pricing and additional services included.
Is there a cancellation policy?
Every caterer needs a cancellation policy, and if they don’t consider someone else. A cancellation policy protects you and them if one party cancels last minute. If they cancel, they should provide a cancellation plan or a back-up caterer on standby. Ask if the deposit is fully refundable and what financial penalties take place if you were to cancel. Do they refer you to someone? Is this plan outlined in the contract? These are questions you need to ask.
Did you contact any references?
Researching online reviews is the first step in the right direction when considering a catering service. However, being able to contact real references directly is the best way to get honest reviews about their experiences. Often it’s hard to get good reviews published online, as more people are motivated to share their negative experiences. Catering services that provide real references you can contact directly is a great way to get honest reviews and the straight story.
Is there an insurance policy?
Don’t forget to address this question as this a big issue that is often overlooked or forgotten. Make sure your caterer has liability insurance, if they don’t that is a big red flag.
What does liability insurance cover? This protects their business in the event that something happens or someone is injured during their services or at the venue. It covers their legal defense if facing a lawsuit and is recommended for anyone who provides services to the public.
Is the chef experienced?
If the company you're looking at has a business of 8 years or more, but their chef and sous-chef isn’t experienced, then their food quality is probably poor. It’s okay to ask about the chef’s background, request their cv or resume, as a customer you have the right to know their background experience. Ask if the company or chef alone has won any awards, degrees or certificates before moving forward.
When you are ready to move forward with a catering service, request a business proposal. The rule of thumb is to request three different proposals. Similar to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; one proposal might be too high, one too low, but hopefully you will find one that is just right.