When it comes to the things that can make or break an event, few are as important as the quality, flavor and appearance of the food and beverages you serve. A lot is riding on your decision on which caterer to hire, and if you think this decision really isn’t that important, look at it this way … amazing catering can rescue an event that’s on the rocks, but bad catering will almost always send guests to the doors.
In addition, because catering is often the #1 or #2 line-item cost for most events, the caterer in the Boston area you choose is also a significant budgetary decision and can influence how much money you have left over to spend on other areas depending on food costs and quantities.
Add in the fact that caterers can vary dramatically in their pricing and the types of meals and services they offer, and the process of selecting a caterer can figuratively and literally feel like you are comparing apples to oranges (pun fully intended).
So, based on the recommendations of caterers…
Here are the 5 of the top 10 criteria you should consider when hiring a caterer. (Our next post will offer tips 6-10).
#1 – Responsiveness and Personal Interest in Your Needs
How responsive and interested a caterer is during your initial conversations is indicative of how they will perform during the length of their contract with you (more on contracts later).
Many full service caterers will claim to have the best-tasting food made with the freshest ingredients at the most competitive price, but it is a rare quality for one to be both quick to return calls and emails and open to critiques and new ideas. While these may seem like somewhat insignificant factors when compared with overall taste and cost, they actually mean that the caterer is truly concerned with meeting the customers’ needs and ensuring that they are pleased with both the product and the service.
#2 – Ability to Handle Your Specific Type of Event
Not every caterer is perfect for every type of event, and many caterers themselves openly admit this.
It’s important to ask enough questions to determine if a caterer has the right kind of experience for you. Each caterer has areas they specialize in so even a caterer with a great reputation may not be the best fit for you.
When interviewing your event caterers (and you should speak with at least 3 caterers for any event with a reasonable budget), you need to be specific about the type of event you are planning and the type of food and/or presentation you are expecting. Otherwise, you may end up selecting a caterer who simply isn’t a good fit for the type or style of your event.
#3 – Flexibility Regarding Menu Options
Practically every caterer has a standard menu or menus to choose from, and many do provide some level of built-in flexibility to adapt these menus to your specific needs by substituting specific items and/or customizing others. Any caterer who has been in the industry and knows what they are doing should have a few different menu options that are constantly being updated and changing to keep up with current trends.
However, the standout caterers will go beyond standardized menu options and be willing to create amazing fare that matches even more specific theme and dietary needs.
An ideal caterer should also be willing to handle (or at least consider) special requests. Ask the caterer if they are willing to work with items of special significance to the style or theme of your event? Or can they prepare vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or children’s, meals for your guests?
All of these are important questions to ask upfront to see how far each caterer you interview is able and willing to accommodate you.
#4 – Willingness to Provide Tastings
How will you ever know what a caterer can do unless you sample their goods? And more specifically, how will you know what the menu items you are considering will taste like unless you specifically try them?
Some people shy away from asking to sample the specific items they want for their event because it seems like a hassle for the caterer, but it is standard to ask for a sampling of what you are intending to order before you sign on the dotted line.
Never settle for a caterer that will just 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. And when you are sampling the food, also attend to how it is presented, as any caterer who takes the time to properly display a sample will probably be more likely to make that kind of effort on your event day.
#5 – Familiarity With the Venue
You may be in for a surprise if you hire a BBQ take-out joint to cater a formal ballroom fundraiser. Or if you choose a high-end corporate event caterer to serve a barn wedding. Why? Because these caterers may not be accustomed to preparing and serving food in such a setting.
This can get even more specific depending on restrictions of the venue itself, like in the case of museums and historical sites. You want to be sure you choose a caterer who has worked at that venue before and knows all the rules that are typical of sites like this.