Choosing a caterer is as important as your choice of banquet facility. Communication between your banquet facility manager and your caterer is essential to assure a successful event.
Catering Classified

1.)    In house caterer

Prepares foods in or at banquet facility

2.)    Out of house

a.)    Prepares food at their catering facility and transports to banquet facility

b.)    Transfers uncooked foods from catering facility and prepares foods at banquet facility

3.)    Casual Caterer

Prepares foods at their facility and customer either picks up or has food delivered.

Selecting a Caterer

Your choice of a caterer may be decided by your choice of a banquet facility. Many facilities are equipped with full kitchens and do their own catering or they have a list of preferred caterers.  If you are committed to a caterer already they may have a list of banquet facilities they prefer to work with; thus you do not have to pick a banquet facility before a caterer.
The following considerations when selecting a caterer

Date of Function

If the date of your function is not flexible, start planning as soon as possible.  Prime dates are generally booked well in advance.

Ask friends, family, and colleagues if they have catered or have attended catered functions. Check the credentials of the caterer and ask for references. Another option is to consult an event coordinator or search the Web for caterers.  Ask for suggestions form the event coordinator and testimonials from a specific website.  The best recommendation would be from one who constructed a similar function you are trying to achieve.
Catering Interview

1.)    Budget

The number one determining factor when choosing a caterer.

Here is some information your caterer will need to give an accurate quote for your event.

2.)   Estimate numbers of guests

ask if they have serviced this amount of people in the past.

3.)    Type of Function

Formal, semiformal, or casual. This will help in choosing an appropriate menu.

4.)   Menu

Type of foods you would like to offer your guests. What your theme of the night is will help the caterer pick the appropriate menu.

5.)   Service

Individually plated, family style, buffet, grazing stations, Hor d’oeuvres, cocktail party.

6.)   Beverage Requirements

Discuss the different options

  • Alcohol and non alcoholic
  • Beer – Wine – Soda only
  • Upgraded or V.I.P. bar packages
  • Champagne toast
  • Specialty wines

Most packages will include a time frame such as 4 hour bar with a 5 ½ hour function.

Some functions may not include beverages and will be on a cash bar basis.

Be very specific on your beverage choice because this will be a large part of your expense.

7.)     Rentals from caterer

Your function may require some special rentals such as; tables, chairs, linens, tableware, etc. Many caterers offer these items in their packages.

8.)    Budget Quote from caterer

Now that the caterer knows your specific needs, they will now be able to offer different priced packages.  Most Caterers will customize a package or menu for your specific needs if you are not happy with the proposed one or if you need a different budget. Communicate your questions and concerns with your caterer. If they still can not meet your needs it is ok to move on to another catering interview.

9.) Budgeting Overview

When you budget your event, don’t forget all possible expenses. Hall or room rental, prop rentals, photography, video, accommodations, transportation, entertainment, formal ware, decorator, speakers, invitations, consultants, tents, taxes, tables, chairs, linens, etc.

Sometimes these events can be overwhelming, if you have it in your budget, hiring a Professional Event Coordinator may be in your best interest.

Once you have found a caterer that satisfies your budget, it is now time to discuss the finer points.

Finer Points to Discuss During Catering Interview

a.)    Find out if the caterer offers a Tasting at the facility.

b.)    Ask the Caterer if you can do a viewing of an up coming event. This will allow you to get an idea of how an event looks and if this is something that interests you. Such as; Atmosphere, servers, food, décor, etc.

c.)    Find out how many servers and bartenders will be assisting your event. What is their dress, and is there a main contact you will be communicate throughout the night.

d.)   Function Set up:

Every function requires a specific set up: how your tables are to be set and if you require a head table, registration table, gift table, place cards for specific seating, and if you need reserved tables. How many tables you require usually determines on your number of guests. Ask the Caterer for a room schematic this will also give a better visual of the room.

e.)    Time Schedule

Your event should have a detailed time schedule.  Set up an itinerary from the time your guests arrive until the function ends. This will make your day go smooth and in order. Communicate your schedule with either the banquet facility manager or catering manager. Schedule a meeting with these specific people to discuss your itinerary.

f.)     License, Insurance, Permits

Speak with your caterer concerning proper credentials.  For your guests and your safety, find out about liability, certificate of insurance, in case of an accident. Check for Health Department Permits, and liquor licenses. It is your right to know all of this information.

g.)    Contracts

Contracts are essential and must in setting up an event.  Make sure you have everything in writing. All your specific details, date, time, menu, specific number of guests, deposits, payments, prices of specific food choices, any upgrades on beverages, rentals, and taxes. Make sure if your caterer changes anything it is all written down, signed and dated. Get a copy of everything you sign.

Find out specific payment options. What kind of down deposit the caterer requires, if you are able to make payments throughout the year, and find out when the final payment is due. Find out their cancellation policy.

To be more specific you can refer to Banquets – Contracts on this website.

Final thoughts

Communication is essential with whichever caterer you choose. Remember they are working for you and building a great personal relationship with your caterer is a must.

It will be a critical part in having a successful event. Lay out all expectations, requirements, concerns, and questions you may have.  Ask plenty of questions, never hesitate, trust suggestions from your caterer, they usually have done many events and will want your event to be amazing for your sake and also theirs.


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