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Caterering 101

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Catering is the business of providing food services for different types of events.   Event catering could be providing sandwiches and burgers for an outdoor party, or (for a full-service solution) providing a five course meal at a formal dinner party or wedding.   Your caterer can set up a buffet style meal or an extravagant formal sit down dinner.   The food can be prepared on site or off site, usually depending upon the event location and accessibility to proper kitchen services.  


Many catering companies not only provide the food service but are also a full-service operation that can help with the location, table arrangements, decorations, event theme and coordination.    The caterer should provide you with the same service you would expect at many fine restaurants; after all you are the customer.  


Hiring a full-service caterer can be an alternative to hiring a party planner.    A party planner typically is involved with every aspect of the event; location, decorations, entertainment, food, beverages, photography and many of the other details.    If you want to help keep costs under control or just like to stay involved, hiring a full-service caterer may be just the right solution.    This way the tasks can be divided up between you and the caterer.  More time can be spent on the decorations and ambiance which play a significant part in the guest’s enjoyment.


The primary responsibility of the caterer is to provide the quality food service that not only tastes good but also looks attractive.    Catering costs are usually sold as an average rate on a per-person basis, where adding or removing a few guests is easy.    However, the rate for a party of 50 will be different then for a party of 100, usually the larger the number of guests the lower the rate.    Costs can vary widely; $5.00 for a sandwich to $300 for a multi course formal dinner with drinks.    Typical costs for a nice formal party of 50 are $20 per person for food, $10 for service and $5 for drinks during dinner.   This can vary based upon location and menu.


Catering operations can not only reduce the work and stress of planning an event but they also have the experience to provide the ambiance that plays a major role in the overall event being successful.  

Choosing a Caterer

Choosing a caterer can be viewed like choosing any other service professional.    They should provide you with good ideas, appropriate menus and give you the confidence that their jobs will be done correctly.   


Choosing a caterer should be done in a multi step process.    First decide what is most important to you, and be prepared to answer the following questions.    Write down your initial plans including ideas on what you want, speak with two or three caterers and get their information, finalize your plans and get a final quote from at least two caterers.   This process will give you time and good information from several sources.   Before speaking with a caterer, you should be able to reasonably answer the following questions.  


  • Exactly what type of event and how formal.
  • Some ideas for the menu.
  • How many guests.
  • The location or what type of location needed.
  • Budget or cost per person.


After getting a good idea of what you are looking for, start your hunt for two or three different caterers.    An important characteristic to look for in a caterer is their enthusiasm; this can make a good party into a great party.    Also keep in mind some of the following questions:  

  • What information do they have; menu lists with costs, images of past events?
  • Can you make changes to the menu?
  • Can you get samples of at least your favorite menu selections?
  • Will they provide the bartender?
  • Do they arrange for the table settings, tables, chairs and any rental equipment?
  • Can you provide your own alcoholic beverages and is there a corkage fee?
  • Can you get a list of references?
  • What types of permits, if any, are needed?
  • Are they insured, especially for off-site?
  • What is the payment schedule?
  • Are children’s meals priced differently?
  • What do you get in writing?   This is not an option.
  • How many servers will be required and how are they dressed?
  • Are the servers covered by workers' compensation?
  • What is the schedule on serving?
  • Who sets up the tables, chairs and decorations?
  • Who cleans up the facility?
  • Can you tour the facility and the kitchen?
  • When do they need the final guest count?
  • How acceptable are they to changes?

After getting a good feel for you options, get some price quotes and choose the caterer that best suits you.   Many times the caterer is chosen by the facility where the event is planned.    Usually a resort, hotel, country club or events center will already have a preferred caterer and a few package deals to choose from, which will hopefully be what you need.    An important item to look for in a caterer is their enthusiasm; this can make a good party into a great party.

If you know of any restrictions or special services, including items on the menu or any guests needs, make sure the caterer is informed of this situation.   These special needs range from handicapped to diet restrictions.  

Reserve the date as soon as possible since the best date’s book up quickly.

Other related articles:   Event Entertainment  Wedding Essentials

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