As a full-service marketing agency, one of the things we know best is events. And as such, we’ve got the hookups. Whether it’s DJs, bartenders, event staff, venues, talent managers, design teams or anyone else our clients are looking for, we’ve got them all. But when it comes down to it, one of the most crucial elements of any event boils right down to the food. As a culture, it’s something that we love to talk about, and of course, love to indulge in, so if you don’t have the right caterer for your event, it’s a major red flag.
Having the ability to enjoy a quality cocktail hour or meal at an event can be a lifesaver. When at events, people use food as bonding moments, as the opening line to tell someone else about that event, or even just as an excuse to indulge a little more than usual. If you are currently looking for a caterer, or know of someone who is, here are 10 helpful tips for choosing the perfect vendor:
1. Consider your personal needs and event size.
Make sure that whoever you hire for your event can handle the number of people you plan to invite. It is also crucial to consider what you’ll need from your caterer. Sometimes, you may need appetizers and entrees, or just one versus the other. Your caterer should be able to handle the size of your party without hesitation, given all the crucial details up front.
2. Location, Location, Location
Location is crucial. Consider the location (and the distance) they will come from to cater your event. If they don’t attend events in your area often, they may have difficulty with the venue. Try and find a caterer who knows your venue or at least has experience with a similar venue. We have had several companies build out entire kitchens for our events when on site, when there wasn’t one available. If they aren’t willing to go the extra mile to see to it that everything meets or even exceeds your expectations, it might not be the best fit for your event.
Party planners and hosts have the stressful job of preparing for anything that could happen, so it makes it easier on everyone if all parties are as flexible as possible. This is especially true when it comes to food. Allergies and preferences can complicate things, so having a chef that foresees and prepares for these details is important. When interviewing caterers for the job, ask them about any last minute pieces they might have had to pull together to get a sense of not only their creative problem solving and planning abilities, but also to see how flexible they have been for others.
4. Customer Reviews
You want to trust that your caterer will follow through with their promises. The best way to ensure that you have chosen the right caterer is to double check your sources. If you heard of your caterer through a seemingly trustworthy source, make sure to ask around if your friends or colleagues have worked with them. This also applies if you were recommended through a friend. Be sure to check online sources as well.
This may seem like an obvious one, but cost is important, especially since catering costs can become exorbitant, and quickly. Be sure to weigh your options. There will always be some give and take, but you don’t want to go too low or too high. Weigh in all your expectations, the size of the event, and type of food you’d like, and then think about what you expect in return.
As soon as you find out who you want to hire, make sure they are certified by meeting the basic requirements as mandated by health departments and insurance agencies. If they aren’t able to provide these types of certificates to you, it might be time to move onto the next candidate before you have a disaster on your hands.
Be sure to ask how the food will be prepared, as well as delivered if it is being taken care of offsite. This element should also be considered in your budget, as well as in your master event timelines. It is a more affordable option to have your food cooked offsite, but it only works for certain meals. There are limitations to doing this, but there are also cost-friendly benefits. You can still have a great chef that prepares meals offsite and that work perfectly for you, but make sure you have a firm grasp of how everything will be done before saying yes.
8. Staff Available
You’ll need to have a number of staff available for your event, which your caterer should be able to provide. Here’s a rough estimate of what you might need if this is unfamiliar territory.
- Buffet – Assume two servers for every thirty guests. For larger 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 every two tables, 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.
9. Provide Tastings
No matter how perfect the description is, no matter how beautiful the pictures are, make sure your potential caterer provides a tasting, especially if you haven’t personally worked with them before. Finding out that their staff was chock-full of photographers and writers and no chef the night of the event would be a major disappointment.
10. Detail Oriented
This is a quality that should be expected from any of your vendors, but especially in a caterer. From the aesthetics of the food to the clauses written explicitly in your contract, the details are crucial. Make sure you and your caterer have discussed everything in the contract so there are no surprises in the end and all the kinks are worked out prior to your event.
Laurel Mintz works with prestigious restaurateurs and global brands including Public House, Bassett, iCoffee and Susan G. Komen. She founded Elevate My Brand, a marketing agency, in 2009, sits on the boards of directors for the American Heart Association and the Fender Music Foundation, and is a mentor for The Women’s Global Leaders Initiative. She hosts her own radio show through Business Rockstars, which is broadcast to millions and was recently picked up by KDOC, where she has interviewed top female CEOs from the founders of DryBar to the executives of American Apparel. Laurel also runs an exclusive networking group, “The Taste Salon.” Her published work can be found in Entrepreneur, USA Today, The American Marketing Association and C-Suite Quarterly Magazine, as well as a regular column appropriately entitled “On Brand” for Inc. Laurel received her B.A. from UCSB and J.D., M.B.A. from Rutgers University.