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10 Tips to selecting the perfect caterer

With the advent of the digital age a wide range of options have come up for people looking to select a caterer for their next party, wedding, meeting or event. Looking through reviews of different caterers can save you time and money by giving you an idea of what caterers you should avoid.

Of course when it comes to catering food is paramount. Excellent food has the ability to offset sub-par service while caterers that serve inferior food will not have as much leeway even with five star service. That’s why it’s important to put a lot of thought into choosing the right caterer, and to help you here are some tips to selecting the best caterer for your next event.

1) Look at their customer service

Catering will often be one of the first and most important things on any event planner’s checklist. This means that what you spend on the food will have an impact on how much money is left over for other things. With this in mind the caterer you choose should treat you, the customer, with the same importance. Before even considering what menu items to order you should gauge how prompt the caterers are when responding to phone calls and emails. Often their customer service reflects what kind of food service you will receive from them on the day and a lack of it should be a big red flag.

2) Make sure the caterer reflects the event

As an event planner you should know exactly what kind of food and service would best suit the event you’re organizing. When you know this it allows to be specific about the type of event, the food you’d like to be served and your expectations about service when reaching out to caterers. A good caterer would take the time to get to know this information in order to gain the knowledge they need to deliver exactly what it is you want.

3) Gauge their experience

Make sure that any caterer you’re thinking of hiring has experience working at similar kinds of events. In many cases caterers specialize in certain types of events (eg wedding caterers, corporate caterers) and while being able to provide excellent service for those it will likely not do the same if they’re in unfamiliar territory. For example, a caterer that specializes in formal events might not be the best choice for a casual outdoor BBQ and vice versa. Should you take the time to talk with prospective caterers about your needs, a good caterer will be transparent with you about their areas of expertise and what they can and can’t deliver for your event.

4) Look for flexibility

Look at caterers whose menus are current and reflect the latest food and beverage trends. Flexibility can be an important attribute for caterers to have as most menus only have standard and basic foods and a good event planner will want to see if they can customize the menu to better reflect the event and its guests. Further to this you should know their ability to cater for special orders and dietary requirements.

5) Look beyond the food

While food is by far the most important aspect of catering it is by no means the only thing you should look for in a caterer. Caterers will also provide beverages and service, both to you as a client and to your guests at the event. Knowing what service you’d like to see at the event, you should inquire as to the number of service employees, their standards and procedures, the number of supervising staff as well as their experience working at similar events.

6) Keep your options open

As a general rule of thumb you should get proposals from three different caterers outlining everything they’re going to be doing at your event and how much it will cost. With more than one proposal you can evaluate from and choose the one that’s best and offers the most value for you and your event.

7) Request references

In order to make sure that the food and service is a good as they say it is and to get an idea of what they’re like to work with you should request and contact references from the caterer. A good caterer will be able to provide a list of previous clients as references and contacting them will give you a third party’s perspective on them. Another good idea, if there is an opportunity to do so, is to observe them working at another event so you can see them in action first hand.

8) Insist on a contract

As with any other business transaction, it’s best to get everything in writing. The caterer’s contract should specify what food, beverage and services are to be provided as well as the details of the event including date, time and location. The contract should go into detail about selected menus, number of servings, bar service, table linens, servers and all additional services. Contracts should protect both parties following an agreement so in that vein its terms should protect you from a less than satisfactory performance.

9) Review their cancellation policy

When you’re planning an event the worst case scenario of its cancellation may not be on your radar. Having said that, it’s important to plan for the unexpected by knowing ahead of time your liability to the caterer should the event be cancelled and how they will handle it. The catering contract should include all penalties and procedures that will arise from the event’s cancellation. Further to this, as a contract obviously has to benefit both parties, there should also be stipulations regarding the caterer’s liability should they cancel at the last minute, and appropriate compensation requested.

10) And most importantly: taste the food!

Food is the obviously most important part of the catering experience and it’s for this reason that it should be tasted. If requested by the client caterers should be able to provide samples of their menu items for you to taste. It’s important to taste the food in advance before you commit to a caterer as in doing so you may discover it isn’t up to standard.