#1 – Narrow your Choices
The first step to finding the right catering service for your event is to narrow your options down to a few select vendors.
If you have limited experience hiring caterers you will need to start from scratch. Get some recommendations from friends and business associates, and check online reviews to weed out potentially unsatisfactory caterers.
Check with the management at your events venue, and ask them to recommend caterers they have worked with in the past.
Let their experience be your guide.
#2 – Visit the Facilties
This is an important point. Before choosing a catering service, make an appointment to visit their kitchens.
Check for cleanliness and gauge the professionalism of the staff. You want to find a clean and professional environment.
A chaotic and dirty kitchen is a red flag, and is likely the result of a catering staff that has no pride, or interest, in their work. Look for clean kitchens and attentive staff.
#3 – Menu Options
Consider menu options and review the caterer’s specialties. Not all catering services are suitable for all events, and you want to match the service to your needs.
For example, a caterer that specializes in traditional Italian fare might struggle to deliver a Japanese inspired buffet. That’s no reflection on their skill, only on their experience.
Review your menu ideas with the caterer, and discuss various menu options. Be sure to also discuss any of your guest’s dietary restrictions that the caterer may need to be able to accommodate.
#4 – Staff Availability
Before you sign any contracts, make sure the caterer you choose has the staff required to fully service your event. The amount of staff you need will depend on the size and nature of your event, so discuss your plans with the head of catering to ensure that your needs can be met.
If you are unsure how much staff you will need, use the following cheat sheet as a guide.
Buffet – Assume two servers for every thirty guests. For large groups you should also figure two or three additional runners to clear dishes and restock chafing stations.
Sit Down Dinners – For sit down meals, you should assume one server per table of eight, with additional servers to handle drinks service.
Bar Staff – Figure on at least one bartender, and one bar-back, for every fifty guests. Additional bartenders may be needed if you plan on featuring specialty drink stations.
Keep in mind you will also need a captain of service for every six members of staff to oversea service and ensure that everything runs smoothly. Before choosing a caterer, make sure they can supply all of the staff you need on the day.
#5 – Customer Input
You want to be sure that the catering service you book is prepared to work closely with you, and to take your suggestions on board.
Now, you may want to simply outline a menu and give the caterer free reign to deliver he goods. However, the caterer you hire should be ready and willing to work closely with you at all stages of your event.
#6 – Menu Tastings
The caterer you choose should be prepared to schedule a tasting so you can sample the menu and approve the various dishes that will be served at your event.
This is another important point. You want final approval over the menu, and the caterer should be willing to have you sample their work before it is served to your guests. If they do not offer a tasting, move on to a service that does.
#7 – Cost of Service
Finally, the cost of the catering service will be a major concern, and will be a deciding factor in your final choice of vendor.
Be clear about your budget, and make sure that the quote you receive fully covers the caterer’s full service including set up, break down, and all staffing considerations.
Quiz the caterer about any potential hidden fees or additional costs before signing a contract.
Finding the best caterer for your event doesn’t need to be an ordeal, but you do need to approach the process with a clear head and a definite plan.
Use these simple tips as a guide, and follow your instincts. If you think the caterer you are considering is less than scrupulous, move on to another until you find a professional that can meet all of your demands.
Remember, the success of your event depends on your choice of vendors, and the caterer you hire will be representing you at the event. So take your time, and choose carefully.