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Tips For Hiring A Caterer

If you have the budget and want to add a little pizzazz to a party without all the hard work, then a caterer may be the answer

Caterers vary widely in skill, style, and experience, so it is important to find the right one when planning your own special event.

Catering fees, on average, are equal to or will exceed the cost of entertaining in a restaurant. A caterer will give you a per person range based on type of food, beverages, and service provided.

Before you get out the phone book, ask around - among friends or acquaintances - for their recommendations. Yes, a caterer may give you references, but these will only be singing their praises. Word-of-mouth outside of the caterer's control is the best way to obtain a list of names.

Solicit quotes from no less than three catering companies or individuals. Be prepared to give them an approximate number of guests, the date, time of day, and the types of food you would like served. Ask for suggestions on food as well; they may have a specialty that you can't live without.

Be cautious when approaching caterers - inquire about their specialties first to see if they will be a good fit. Not all caterers are created equally. We have witnessed a large catered barbecue affair complete with all the trimmings and the potato salad had molded. She had cooked it a day or two ahead and placed the individual containers in a refrigerated unit; however, the servings toward the inside never cooled off as they were insulated by surrounding foods. The mold grew quickly. This caterer had a terrific reputation as a gourmet chef, but simply was experienced in the size and style of party.

As you get quote, know ahead of time what extent of service you want. Will the caterer be providing all linens and tableware? Will they provide wait staff and bartending service? Can you mix and match; say, one wait staff and one bartender, but you provide the beverages? Laws may prevent the caterer from serving anything but beer and wine. In that case, round up an over-age-21 person on your own to assist. Always serve responsibly; you're liable if anything should happen.

Remember to ask about lead time. When is the cutoff for ordering quantities; you will have to guarantee a minimum, but you also want to have ample food on hand for stragglers and heavy consumption.

Some caterers will offer a tasting session, especially if they are providing unique foods that you may not be as familiar with or a food that they have adopted as a signature dish.

Here's a sticky line for us. Caterers will often ask you about your budget. For us, that's the whole point of getting quotes - if they know how much you plan to spend, they may very well stretch for that amount. As them for their estimates; don't give them yours. We prefer to leave it open-ended; if they come in with some higher-priced items, we just pick and choose and work downward from there. You can always ask for additional options if your budget is a healthy one. It's very easy to respond with, "we're somewhat flexible at this point; let's just see what you can do with these requirements and if we need to adjust it later, we can."

One budget-buster is food that may not be in season. Be aware, or don't be afraid to ask, if this will be an issue with your pocketbook.

Another option is to ask your caterer to prepare the menu items for pickup. You can eliminate deliveries and, depending on the food, keep it cool or warm until party time.

Ask for a written contract - it's always better to know what to expect and your caterer will also prefer that you sign on the dotted line. Have the payment ready as your event winds down or at such appropriate time; your caterer will be tired and should not have to hunt you down and you do not want to be interrupted in the middle of a conversation to handle money matters. Be discreet, be ready with tips for the wait staff, and treat them as you would your guests. They'll go the extra mile for you in return.


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