All Events

12 Steps to Choosing a Caterer

picture of food provided by a caterer on The 228's preferred vendor list

The right caterer really makes or breaks an event, as food is typically one of the more important and memorable parts of any function. Taking a few factors into consideration makes it more likely you wind up with a delicious meal at a price you can afford.

1. Set a Budget

Before talking to any caterers set a budget and determine how much you can afford to spend on food and beverages. This is usually one of the more expensive line items for any event. Without a budget, you can’t narrow down the list of caterers to just those that fall within the right price range.

2. Ask Venue for Recommendations

Different venues have different rules for what’s allowed for catering. In fact, some require you to use their services or specific vendors. When they allow outside catering, ask the venue for a list of their preferred vendors. These vendors will be familiar with the venue and what’s required when working there, meaning the event is more likely to go smoothly.

3. Verify the Basics

Always ask if the caterer is licensed and has the proper liability insurance. Verify that the date you want is available, and the company has no other events on the same day.

4. Consider Responsiveness and Interest

Once you contact caterers, pay attention to who responds promptly and asks a lot of questions. These questions make it more likely the caterer will understand exactly what you want. You don’t want to be constantly dogging the caterer for information. You want the caterer to have all the necessary details so you end up with the meal and services you expect.

5. Ask What’s Included in the Price

Caterers often quote a per person price, but double check to see what that includes. There could be a separate per person price for each service or part of the meal. Caterers may also have additional hidden fees, gratuities, and taxes you need to account for when trying to stick to a budget.

6. Speak With Multiple Companies

Talk with at least three different catering companies to get a better idea of the services available and what they cost. Your preferred company may come down in price if you have a quote from another company for a lower price. Once you meet with the caterer’s, you may find one easier to work with and worth paying more for.

7. Ask About the Specialties of the Caterer

Caterers often specialize in a certain type of event or a certain type of food, so verify that the caterer can handle the food requirements for the event you’re planning. Don’t expect a BBQ company to prepare a very formal meal or someone that specializes in large events to cater a very intimate event.

8. Can You Customize the Menu?

If the caterer has set menu selections or packages to choose from, ask if you can alter the menu. Some caterers will include a special dish upon request. Make sure the caterer can deal with any dietary restrictions and offers kids’ meals if needed. Check to see if the caterer can do a theme meal or any specialized displays or stations you would like at the event.

9. Have a Tasting

No matter how good the menu sounds on paper, it’s always good to taste the food ahead of time. Before signing a contract, ask to have a tasting that includes the items you want at your event. This may cost extra, but it’s worth it to make sure the food will be delicious. You don’t want people to remember your event as the one with the bad, boring, or bland food.

10. Ask About Other Services

Check to see if the caterer provides any other services you might need or whether they work with other vendors that might do so. This could include the rental of table linens, event planning, and décor. Verify whether they handle setup, cleanup, and takedown.

11. Request References and Pictures

Ask the caterer for references you can call to find out more about working with them and the quality of their services. Also, ask to look at pictures of past events to see how they usually plate and serve the food to make sure you like how they present the food.

12. Ask About Cancellation Plan

As much as people like to believe everything will go well, sometimes disaster strikes and plans have to change at the last minute. This can happen either on your end or that of the caterer, so have details of a cancellation plan included in the contract. If the caterer needs to cancel, what will they do to help you make sure your event can still go on as planned?