Once you have chosen a venue for your special event, your next major decision is selecting your caterer. Most venues will have a list of approved catering companies but will also allow you to bring in the catering company of your choice for a nominal fee. The best way to find a great caterer is by referral, so ask your friends and family for recommendations. You can also check the web for local catering companies in your area. Any professional catering company will have a well developed website with menus and pictures of their work available.
a) The experts suggest the following when choosing a caterer:
• Make sure the catering company is licensed and insured.
• Review pictures of past events to see how they present food and integrate with your design and aesthetic preferences.
• Ask for references and be sure to check them.
• Schedule a consultation and go over your ideas with the catering manager. Most catering professionals will be able to capture the style and presentation you are looking for.
• Set a budget for your event before hand and share that information with your catering consultant so they can advise you on how to get the most for your money.
• Once you have narrowed down your choice to two or three catering companies ask to come in for a tasting.
Any professional caterer will be able to propose menus and make estimates of cost. You should receive quotes within 24 to 48 hours after submitting your request. Be as specific as possible about what your needs are and if possible clip pictures from magazines or bring in photos you have acquired of things you like. Most catering bids will be priced per person and should also reflect gratuity percentages and staffing charges. Always ask if there will be any additional charges that you are unaware of.
b) Always ask for a detailed contract.
It’s not uncommon for a caterer to give you a list of optional catering extras, most of which will help you achieve the level of quality and presentation you are looking for. If budget is an issue and needs to be trimmed some of these items can easily be deleted. Once you have chosen your venue and caterer, be sure to schedule another meeting to plan the details of your event. Here are some additional things you should discuss.
c) Your caterer should help you plan a timeline of events
Arrival time, set-up time necessary, length of event, tear-down and clean up time, guest arrival, any greeting or presentation time needed, time line to open and close the buffet or execute plated dinner service, any special toast, cutting of the cake, any special announcements. This should all be in the proposed staffing time in your quote along with a time line of events to keep the party flowing.
• Review the event site with your caterer and nail down your floor plan for both seating and presentation.
• Look at samples of linen, china and glassware rents and make your choices early to secure availability.
• Ask about the policy for leftover food and let the caterer know if you want to keep any leftovers.
• Ask about the staff’s attire to make sure it fits the occasion.
• Make sure you understand the cancellation policy as stated in your contract.
• Be sure you have a date for final head count. Don’t make the mistake of ending up with too little food. While most caterers are flexible, it’s best to weigh on the safe side.
Once all the decisions have been made, sit back and enjoy your event.