How to Choose a Caterer

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Somewhere among the myriad of caterers is the caterer who is right for you – the one who will listen to you, understand your vision and create an event that you will remember forever.
As in all relationships, chemistry matters. You will want to find a caterer that you can connect with. Your experience should be a positive one. Is the event planner confident, personable and enthusiastic? Are they asking the right questions? Do they provide alternative suggestions and ideas? Are they excited about your event? You should feel at ease and your ideas heard to have full confidence in their abilities.

  1. Sourcing
    The purpose of the preliminary research is to narrow the field to those caterers with whom you wish to talk and receive estimates.

    Word of mouth is one of the easiest ways to select a caterer in your area. Ask friends or business associates whom they have used in the past. Ask your rental company and event vendors for recommendations. Also, venues in your area are a great source of information. Call them and ask for their lists of approved caterers. You can be sure that venue approved caterers have been qualified and meet the high standards of the venue.

    Website searches. Because knowledge is power, consult the internet to find out more about the caterers you wish to check. It’s a great way to pre-screen caterers to learn if they fit your style. The look of the site, its organization, the photos of events, the client list and sample menus will give you a lot more information before you decide who to call.
  2. Determine the type of catering you are looking for and establish a budget.
    Be prepared to call at least three caterers to compare pricing, style, quality and personality. A caterer will require some basic information before providing you with an estimate. The venue, number of guests, demographic of the group, length of event, style of catering and service (plated dinner, cocktail reception, brunch, etc.) are important details to know. It’s also key to have some sort of budget parameters in mind and your catering consultant should be able to let you know if your expectations are realistic.

    Some caterers may have packages from which you can choose and others will customize a quote specifically for your event. The more information you can provide, the more accurate your estimate will be. In most cases your caterer may also be able to provide venue suggestions based on your criteria.
  3. Determine what services the caterer can offer
    If you aren’t hiring an event planner for the day it may be helpful to use a catering company that can provide you with various services rather than dealing with multiple vendors.

    Food - in addition to the menu, a caterer may be able to provide – the wedding cake or favours.

    Beverages – many caterers will provide beverages, but ask about their handling fees.
    If you provide your own beverages ask what additional charges apply? Will they dispose of the empty bottles?

    Rental Equipment – will the caterer coordinate the rental equipment required for food service in addition to equipment required for the ceremony and reception, tenting and audio equipment for speeches.

    Labour – think of the extra labour requirements surrounding the event: set-up and strike for the ceremony and reception, bartending, cake cutting, on-site event planner.

    Decor – some catering companies also have in-house professional designers who can do the bridal bouquets, centerpieces, table design, lighting and props.
  4. Other things about the Caterer...
    • Do they have an operating license?
    • Do they carry liability insurance?
    • Does the Worker’s Compensation Board protect the staff at the event?
    • Are their service staff hired and trained internally or are they subcontracted from an agency.
    • Caterers are not legally permitted to obtain a liquor license for a client.
    • Review your contract and deposit schedule carefully before signing.
    Ask for two or three client references and photos (if available).
  5. When making your final decision, compare apples to apples
    Higher-end caterers will absorb costs like designer platters, floral garnishes and menu signage for food stations and buffets.

    Ask your caterer what added value they can offer.

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