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  • Writer's pictureChef Michelin

7 criteria to consider before choosing a caterer

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

1 - Reactivity and interest to your needs

Among all the event and catering professionals we've talked to, this has been cited time and time again: the responsiveness and interest of a caterer during your first conversations indicates how they will work during the duration of their contract with you.

Many caterers claim to have the best food, prepared with the freshest ingredients at the most competitive price, but it is also essential that they respond quickly to your calls and emails and are open to criticism and suggestions. While these factors may seem insignificant compared to taste and cost, in reality it indicates that the caterer is truly concerned about meeting the needs of their customers and ensuring that they are satisfied with the product and service offered.

2 - Ability to manage your type of event

Not all caterers are perfect, nor all types of events, and many caterers themselves openly admit this.

All caterers organize many events, but some caterers serve different markets more efficiently than others. So it is important to ask enough questions to determine if a caterer has the right experience for you. Every caterer has areas in which they specialize, so even a caterer with an excellent reputation may not be the best choice for you. For example, some are more "boutique" and specialize in smaller, intimate social events. Others specialize in services for large corporations and non-profit organizations.

So, when you interview your caterers (you need to speak to at least three caterers for any event with a reasonable budget), you need to specify the type of food and/or presentation you want. Otherwise, you may choose a caterer that simply doesn't fit the type or style of your event.

Some caterers excel at organizing barbecues that are perfect for corporate picnics. Others know how to cook exceptional Mediterranean dishes for a themed event, and others offer very elegant services that are perfect for a business gala. You need to choose the right caterer for that specific function, not just because you've already hired them for a company meeting or employee party.

3 - Flexibility regarding menu options

Practically every caterer has a standard menu or menus to choose from. And, many provide the flexibility to adapt these menus to your specific needs by substituting specific items and/or customizing others. Every caterer knows what to offer a few different menu options, constantly updated to current trends.

However, outstanding caterers will go beyond the standard menu options and be ready to create incredible prices that fit specific dietary needs and themes. If a caterer doesn't want to adapt their menu or challenge their staff to work with your custom theme, that's a very bad sign.

The ideal caterer should also be willing to handle (or at least consider) special requests. Ask the caterer if they are willing to include a family recipe that you provide, or will they be willing to work with elements that are particularly important to the style or theme of your event? Also ask if they can prepare vegetarian, vegan, kosher or children's meals.

All of these questions are important to ask at the outset to find out how capable and willing each caterer is to satisfy you.

4 - Tastings

How will you know what a caterer can offer you unless you taste their products? And more specifically, how will you know what the menu items you are considering will taste like if you don't try them? Some people are reluctant to ask to taste the dishes, but it is usual to ask for a sample of what you intend to order before signing the contract.

Attend at least three tastings with different caterers and make sure you can taste what you want. Never settle for a caterer who will simply give you a generic sample; you need to know what the food on your menu will taste like. Be prepared to pay for these tastings if necessary.

In addition, you can request wine tastings if they are appropriate for your event (again, be prepared to pay a fee... it's a small price to pay to ensure you choose the perfect caterer). And when you taste the food, also observe the presentation, as any caterer who takes the time to properly present a sample will probably be more inclined to make that kind of effort on the day of your event.

5 - References you can use

Of course, you will need to check out the caterers you are considering, and it is always a good idea to go online and check out sites like Google reviews, Trustpilot, Yelp, Wedding Wire and Angie's List for reviews and ratings.

However, don't stop there, as online reviews are not always reliable (or even authentic). For example, a good caterer may have had a few lousy customers who misrepresented their ratings, while a real mediocre caterer may have paid for having fake reviews online.

It is wise to check references, make calls, and have your own opinions. Don't rely solely on what the caterer tells you, what their references tell you on their website, or what Internet users say. Take extra steps to make sure you understand their experience.

6 - Full explanation of the services/goods promised in the contract

The catering contract must clearly specify what food, beverages and services the caterer will provide on the designated day(s). In addition, it should protect you in the event of cancellation, as well as protect the caterer from non-payment. You may want to consider having it reviewed by a lawyer before you sign it.

Every detail should be included in the contract, including the menus selected, the number of servings and/or the number of people to be served, details of beverage / bar service (if applicable), and any additional prices and services.

7 - A well-defined cancellation plan

You must ensure that your contract contains a cancellation clause in case your caterer is forced to cancel it.

Get detailed information on how your caterer handles cancellations and make sure this is included in the contract. You will need to know if your deposit is fully refundable and what steps to take. Will your caterer redirect you to other caterers or help you make calls to see who is available?

You don't want to be left without options a few days or hours before your event, so just make sure that cancellation procedures and penalties are in place.

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