Choosing a Catering Company in 11 Easy Steps
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Published by TOP4 Team
Catering companies generally provide food and drinks or sometimes only hors d’oeuvres at events like weddings, corporate lunches, barbecues, formal dinners, cocktail receptions, dinner parties, special celebrations, etc. There is an explosion in the number of companies offering catering services in last years which makes it difficult to compare catering companies with each other. The catering industry is made up of companies ranging from personal chef services to full-scale commercial catering kitchens. They will work with you to develop an innovative menu to match your event or celebration's theme, your food tastes, and of course, your budget.
They increasingly take charge of not only food preparation but also decorations, such as table settings and lighting, equipment hire (tableware, linen, tables and chairs), staffing, bar service and event coordination.
Catering plays a crucial role in the success of any event, which means that choosing the right caterer is one of the most important decisions. A successful catered event does not rest solely on the quality of the food but also on a good planning, excellent service and stylish presentation.
Hiring a caterer that can win your confidence seems like a daunting and overwhelming task, but once you’ve selected a reliable provider, you can relax and focus on other aspects of the event. Follow these steps to select the best catering company for your needs:
1. Define the type of event you want to host and the type of service you need.
Is it a private party, corporate event, office party, wedding or special event? Is it formal or informal? Fun or sophisticated? You also have to know more about your guest list. How many people are expected? What is the relationship between them? Are children invited? Do some people have dietary or religious requirements? This includes halal, kosher, vegetarian, vegan and food allergy requests.
You also have to decide between a sit down or finger foods event. Finger foods and buffets allow people to mingle and are increasingly used as the primary source of food, such as for cocktail parties. If you opt for a more formal sit down events, you have to know how many courses will be served.
You can also choose a theme or a certain cuisine style (Middle Eastern, Italian, Greek, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese…). This will simplify things when it comes to choosing a caterer, but make sure that it will please all guests. You also may want a hands-on caterer who can create an entire theme for your event.
2. Set a Realistic Budget
It’s important to have a general idea of how much you want to spend per person on your event.
3. Select a Date and a Location.
Avoid obvious date conflicts and make sure that there is kitchen equipment at the venue. Keep in mind that many venues provide catering. You can choose the venue later and ask to your caterer for advice.
4. Identify Five or Six Potential Caterers
Call five or six potential caterers. Any more than that will make the process confusing and overwhelming. Ask some questions over the phone, such as their availability on the day of your event and whether they have a menu that meets your budget. Tell them what kind of atmosphere you want to create and what type of food you have in mind. You have to eliminate caterers who simply do not offer what you want within your budget and narrow your choice to a list of 2 or 3 qualified caterers.
5. Meet the Qualified Caterers Face-to-Face
Now you need to determine which caterer will best match your needs. The best way to do it is to interview the companies you have selected. Make sure that the caterer deserve you his or her full attention (don’t meet him while he is catering another event), is excited about your event and offer alternative suggestions and ideas. The discussion must cover the following questions:
- Do they have recommendations for the menu based on similar events they have worked on?
- Do they have catered for this type of event before? Ensure that the caterer has experience.
- Can they meet your special requests or the diet restrictions of your guests?
- What is included in the service?
- Do they provide decoration, flowers, linens, tableware,tables, chairs? Most caterers have agreement with reliable rental companies that provide them with any equipment they need. It’s sometimes better to rent all the equipment to keep consistency rather than mixing rental equipment with your own one.
- Do they provide bar service?
- Does the price include staff?
- How alcoholic drinks will be handled? Do they have a licence?They have to hold a Caterer’s Gold Licence issued by the Restaurant and Catering Association of Australia or a Liquor Caterers licence issued by the state in which they operate. If they don’t hold these licences, you will need to apply for a temporary liquor license.
- Is the caterer working or planning to work on another event on the same weekend or day? Make sure they have the resources to do both and that it won’t interfere with the quality of service you receive.
- Where do they get the food? Do they use fresh or frozen foods? Will they prepare food in advance? How will they store and transport the food to the venue? Do they have refrigerated trucks? By asking these questions, you have to make sure that they take measures to ensure health safety when preparing and transporting food. If they prepare the food outside of their or your personal kitchen, they must have a commercial kitchen or restaurant that is licensed and inspected. In this case, ask for copies of their latest inspection reports.
- How do they staff their business? Do they use an agency staff? How many waiters are provided per guest? Make sure that the staff is experimented and that they are properly attired and feel free to request it if you want a different dress code.
- Do they have public liability insurance? The insurance will cover damages including food poisoning or theft. Are staffs covered by the catering companies insurance if they have an accident on your premises?
6. Ask for a Quote
After this meeting, the caterer will draft a catering proposal, which is a menu suggestion detailing the breakdown of anticipated expenses for food, beverages, itemised rental charges, staffing requirements and any additional costs/taxes. It will allow you to compare the prices of the catering companies which are still in the list.
7. Check Out Their History and Reputation
Here are some ways to make sure that they are perfect for the job:
- Ask for referrals. Call the previous clients and ask them if they were satisfied and what they would have done better.
- Look at photos of previous work and make sure that the food is well displayed.
- Get resumes of the chefs.
- Ask to visit an upcoming event that they are catering.
- Find out if they are members of an industry association such as Restaurant and Catering Association of Australia or the Catering Institute of Australia.
- Check with consumer affairs in your state that no complaints have been filed against the catering company.
8. Choose Your Caterer and Schedule a Sample Tasting
Once the caterer has been selected and the menu settled on, this is pretty basic for caterers to schedule a sample tasting. It is the right time to finalize the menu and ensure that you are fully satisfied with it.
9. Make Him Visit Your Premises or Venue
The catering company should analyse the space of your premises so that they can plan the optimal layout for your event: where guest tables and the bar will be set up, how the food would be displayed, etc. If they use the kitchen of the venue, they must also understand the kitchen setup.
10. Create an Event Timeline
This timeline must detail the schedule the caterer will follow from preparation to clean-up. That will make sure your event runs smoothly. This schedule will include set-up times (caterer, florist, band, decorations…), staff arrival time, bar open time, course by course service times, entertainment schedule, breaks and speeches, rental pickup, etc.
11. Draw a Contract and Know Your Cancellation Clauses
Generally, catering companies offer a standard contract. You can make some changes to ensure that you are accommodated and protected. The contract must include :
- The location (exact name, date, time and duration of your event)
- The number of attendees, price per guest and overall price.
- The number of staff and their dress code.
- The services included in the price.
- Details such as when the food will be served and how long the bar will be open.
- Financial details such as deposit amount and evidence of insurance.
- Cancellation clauses: what happens if they cancel on you or if you cancel?
Pricing and How to Cut Catering Costs
Catering costs depend on different factors such as the type of menu, the services included or the length of the event. Follow this advice to make sure that the caterer works within your budget and to avoid bad surprises:
- Get a detailed breakdown of the package. The caterer may propose a packaged price including food and beverage on a per-guest basis, but also staff, equipment rentals, and additional costs or taxes.
- Ensure to have a writing contract about what is included in the package and what items are considered extras.Make sure that you are aware of all additional charges an all terms of the contract.
- Understand the payment schedule and cancellation terms. It is common to give a deposit of 50% upon signing with the balance due at a later specified date.
Prices range from $7.50 per person for continental breakfast or finger foods up to $100 and over for formal sit-down style dinners.The staffs often include an event supervisor (from $40/hour), bartenders ($30 -$80/hour), servers ($15 - $40/hour) and a chef (from $80/hour). Most caterers only charge you for the beverage that is opened but you will be charged for the bar service. It will cost you $6 to $40 for 3 hour service per person. You can also prefer a cash bar, which requires guests to pay for their drinks. However, if you are short in budget, follow these tips:
- Supply your own cups, cutlery, plates, napkins and decorations.
- If you do not require any service staff at the event, offer to pick up the food and save on delivery costs.
- Get multiple catering quotes and compare them.
- Limit the serving staff by having a buffet instead of a plated dinner.
- Prefer a cocktail party with finger foods than a formal dinner.
- Keep head count under control as the cost of food is obviously per-guest basis.
- Avoid expensive food items, as oysters and caviar but opt for in-season products.
- Buy your own beverages or think about a limited or cash bar.
- Opt for cold menu items which can be prepared in advance and don't require heating or onsite handling.