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 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…
#6 – Complete Explanation of Services/Goods Promised in the Contract
The caterer’s contract should clearly spell out exactly what food, beverages and services the caterer will be providing on the designated day(s). Moreover, it should protect you from non-performance as much as it protects the caterer from non-payment/default.
An important thing to inquire about is what comes standard in their contracts and what is an upgrade. For example, do they quote paper and plastic plates while you are expecting fine china? That is important as the rental of these can add up. Also inquire about the number of staff the caterer intends to bring to service your event.
#7 – A Well-Defined Cancellation Plan
No full service caterer with a shred of dignity and scruples enters into a contract with plans to bail at the last minute, but you need to make sure there is a cancellation clause in your contract just in case your caterer has to cancel.
Get detailed information on how they handle cancellations and make sure it’s included in the contract. You should find out if your deposit is fully refundable and what the next steps are. And will they refer you to other caterers or help make some calls to see who is available?
#8 – References You Can Call and Talk To
Of course you will need to check up on the caterers you are considering, and it’s always good to start online and check out sites like Yelp, Wedding Wire and Angie’s List for their 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 nightmare/hater clients who skew their ratings, while a truly mediocre caterer may have padded their online reviews. So see if you can track down some past clients of the caterers you are considering and reach out to them.
People are often more forthcoming in private conversations about any disappointments in regards to the food or overall experience with the caterer than they are in written reviews online.
It’s wise to check references, make calls and conduct one’s own due diligence.
#9 – Insurance
Insurance coverage is “a given” for caterers, and you certainly don’t want to legally be on the hook for some oversight or accident that was the fault of your caterer.
Any reputable catering company is going to have liability insurance. If they don’t, this is definitely a red flag. This type of insurance protects them and keeps you from having to deal with any recourse if something were to happen and they weren’t properly insured.
#10 – An Experienced Chef and Kitchen Staff
Surprisingly, how long a catering company has been in business may not be as critical in selecting a great caterer as you may think.
Length of time in the catering industry doesn’t necessarily translate into great and tasty cuisine. The chef’s background and experience can be more important than the owner of the company who has awards on their shelf. It’s the chef, sous chef and kitchen staff that often seals the deal.
And when do you know you have picked the right caterer? When a caterer is willing and able to elegantly and expertly surprise and delight your guests by delivering beautiful, tasty and adventurous food with great service that compliments your event theme, you have nailed the catering aspect of your event.