Level Setting Expectations When Hiring a Caterer

What To Expect When You Hire a Caterer

A wedding, 50th anniversary celebration, or a Super Bowl bash can quickly turn into a serious undertaking. Planning an event is not as simple as picking a venue, a date, and then inviting your guests. It requires a lot of planning, coordination, and can be an incredibly stressful process. You’ve got to figure out décor, themes, and balance the different expectations from any number of your potential guests.

The one thing that almost always makes or breaks an event, however, is the food. Hiring the right professional catering service can make the event planning phase of life that much simpler and will ensure that your party doesn’t leave a bad taste in your guests’ mouths. Now, there are several important factors to consider when hiring a catering service… especially if it’s for the first time.

How To Find the Right Caterer

When you are shopping around for the right caterer, there are some important traits to look for: 1) the ability to meet your catering needs; 2) how trustworthy they are, and 3) if they have experience with the specific type of event you’re planning. Finding a caterer with all three traits can be difficult, but if you know what to look for, you can find the right fit for your event. Here are a few steps you can take to help ensure your events food comes off without a hitch:

Check Their Certifications

Not all credentials are created equal. Most catering services will be required to hold a Certified Professional Food Safety Credential (CP-FS) in order to register their catering services, but there are several other certifications that can help you identify catering services that have invested a little more time into honing and perfecting their craft. A Food Protection Manager Certification (FPMC) as accredited through the Conference for Food Protection (CFP), shows a commitment to the safe and hygienic handling of food. Nothing can be worse than when you and your guests are left feeling ill due to mishandled food, but this certification can provide that extra layer of confidence in the culture your caterer has built around food safety.

Another certification to keep an eye out for is the Certified Food Manager (CFM), this accreditation shows that your caterer has a strong understanding of what it takes to run a catering business of the highest quality. Make asking about your caterer’s certifications part of your initial inquiries when shopping around. There are a variety of other certifications out there, but you will want to make sure they are with an accredited and recognized institution.

Read Reviews

This may seem obvious, but other customer reviews can be very helpful. But don’t just look at an average star rating. Find and compare some of the best and worst reviews for your caterer. Look for specific feedback provided by customers – some ratings may have little to do with the catering services offered, so find actual write-ups on things like the quality of food, the services received, and pricing relative to the quality of food/service.

Don’t just look at the specific restaurant you want your catering to come from, look at reviews for their parent hospitality group and see if you can identify patterns – if multiple reviewers are praising or criticizing the same things, that should give you a good idea of what you can expect.

Be Open About Your Needs  

Don’t expect your caterer to read your mind or create the perfect ambiance for you to build your event around. Start the conversation off with a clear vision for what you want. Giving your caterer a vivid idea of what your event is supposed to look, feel, and taste like will help them help you. The best caterers want to collaborate WITH you and want to hear your input and feedback.

Speaking of this can be one of the first red flags to look out for in a catering service – if you are feeling like your voice is taking a smaller and smaller place in conversations with your caterer, it might be time to find someone who wants to listen and work with you. Remember, the more direct, upfront, and honest you are about your vision, the less likely it becomes that you will experience hiccups along the planning process – a good caterer will love the clarity.

Discussing The Event With Your Caterer 

How do you develop a clear vision with your caterer? What do they need from you to start working towards your event vision? To form a strong collaborative relationship with your caterer there are three key points you want to be prepared to discuss:

The Menu  

What you do (and do not) serve your guests will be one of the most important decisions you make for an event. As we’ve stated before, food can make or break an event. So, how do you make sure your menu options can satisfy a variety of pallets? First, think through how the food connects to any specific theme for your event. Maybe you want an ethnically or regionally specific cuisine, Italian menu options or a backyard BBQ. Maybe you are going more formal, like for a wedding, and you want your guests to be able to choose between a nice cut of steak or salmon.

Once you have a broad idea of menu options, you want to think through potential dietary restrictions. Depending on your guest list, you might already know who needs what, but it is always important to discuss what options your caterer has available and how to make guests aware of their potential choices ahead of time. And there should be one final touch point: how will the food be prepared? Do you want drop-off catering or on-site preparations by way of a food truck or full-service options?

It’s okay to not be sure about exactly what you want, and if you aren’t, be sure to think through some specific questions you would ask your caterer – remember, if you find a great and experienced caterer, they may have some great insights you hadn’t considered for your menu.

The Size of the Event  

Once you’ve got solid footing on a potential menu, you’ll want to start talking through how big your event is going to be. If you’ve ever prepared a large meal, you know that the number of people attending can have a big impact on how you plan and prepare. It’s okay if you don’t have exact numbers, just so long as you have a rough estimate and time to plan before your event.

Make sure to discuss with your caterer when a final headcount is needed to ensure they have adequate time to ensure the right amount of food and staff are available. The size of your event might also impact menu choices and how you have the food prepared.

The Location   

You always want to be certain that your caterer is familiar with your venue beforehand. If they are, that can help make the process go much more smoothly. Every event venue has certain quirks with catering, but if your caterer is familiar with them, they probably have some workarounds. Ask about their experience with the venue to see if there are any insights you, as the host, should be aware of as well.

If your caterer is not familiar with the venue, check with the event planner or on-site manager to see about arranging a walkthrough. Don’t assume that things can be figured out the day of, work with your caterer to be as prepared as possible so you can stay focused on enjoying the evening rather than troubleshooting when something unexpected happens.

Benefits of Hiring a Professional Caterer  

Hiring a professional caterer makes just about any private event that much simpler to plan:

Save Time and Energy  

When you hire the right professional catering service, you are getting expertise and experience that can take care of overlooked tasks associated with hosting an event. Things like meal preparation (ordering, preparing, and cooking the food), and setup and takedown can take a tremendous amount of time and energy that you shouldn’t have to worry about at your own event.

More Menu Choices  

Because repetition is the key to learning, we’ll mention this one last time: your menu items will make or break your event. Catering services typically give you a wider range of food options to choose from. This is important because your guests will have a variety of tastes, food hang-ups, and even allergies or dietary restrictions that need to be accounted for if you want everyone to enjoy their time.

Specialized Equipment 

Professional catering services will also have equipment to help ensure that food stays warm and ensures its sanitary delivery… not to mention enough platewear and cutlery for all of your guests. Most people don’t have things like chafing dishes, sneeze guards, and insulated food carriers readily available, but a good caterer will.