#1 – Responsiveness and Personal Interest in Your Needs
This comes up over and over and over again, mainly because 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 (and more on contracts later).
Many 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 or every type of event.
Many caterers do a broad range of events, but they are built to service different markets more effectively than others so it’s important to ask enough questions to determine if a caterer has the right kind of experience for you.
So when interviewing your caterers, you need to be specific about the type of event you are planning and the type of food and/or presentation you are expecting.
#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 best caterers will go beyond standardized menu options and be willing to create amazing fare that matches even more specific theme and dietary needs.
#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.
#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.
Even more traditional venues can also have restrictions that caterers must follow – like certain setup standards or disposal restrictions for waste food and water – so having a caterer that is familiar with a venue’s rules can potentially save you lots of hassle on event day.
#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, so you may want to consider having an attorney look at it before you sign it.
Every detail should be included in the contract, including selected menus, number of servings and/or people to be served, beverage/bar service details (if applicable) and all pricing and additional services.
#7 – A Well-Defined Cancellation Plan
No 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.
#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 for their reviews and ratings.
However, don’t stop there.See if you can track down some past clients of the caterers you are considering and reach out to them.
#9 – Insurance
Every caterer we talked to called insurance coverage “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.