Finding the perfect venue for an event can be a challenge. Adding to that task is find the perfect venue, and then needing to find the perfect caterer. Some venue do not have exclusive caterers like the many venues we provide food and beverage service for. It might seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. We have compiled a list of 9 not-so-obvious questions that can help you find ‘the one’.
- Have you worked at my venue before?
It’s quite possible that caterers face some of the largest challenges when working with new venues. Our clients will often hear us ask about things such as kitchen space, prep areas, back-of-house locations and even electrical access. Each of these makes an impact on overall culinary and serving success. As we have come to learn, not all venues are created equal in the regard that at times more than what the venues has available may be needed for the caterer to perform their jobs well. If a caterer has not worked at the venue where you are hosting, it is important for them to do a walk-through of the space to determine their needs and make a plan for their operations team to be successful. A great off-site caterer will have the industry experience to build up their kitchen, regardless of location. However, keep in mind that the client may still be responsible for some of the associated costs with having their desired caterer on site, such as providing a catering tent if the venue doesn’t have any back-of-house space for meals to be prepped and plated. (A venue without a back-of-house? It might sound crazy, but we have ran into this a time or two.)
- Will you handle the setting of the table?
This is truly a great question! When the caterer provides the china, glassware and silverware for the event, they also take on the responsibility of setting the tables for dinner. Tables are set identically for service success and servers are trained with the place settings used. When a client chooses to rent tableware for another company, caterers will often require that certain pieces are rented for the correct place setting for their service and will likely charge a fee to handle those materials to set, bus and repack pieces. Contract addendums are also fairly standard as if the caterer accidentally breaks a plate during service because Aunt Marge pushed her chair back without looking as a server was walking by… they will not be held responsible for the damages.
- Are you flexible on your menu or can I only pick from what you have?
Sometimes a family recipe or food item means a lot to a client and needs to be incorporated into the event. Great caterers will work with the client to create the perfect menu, others prefer to work off of the items they have perfected themselves. Either way, whatever is important to you, it’s good to ask. Not all caterers can provide specialties like ethnic or cultural foods.
- How long does a typical service take?
This is a big deal. A great caterer knows how long a service will take based on the type of service, such as plated, buffet or stations, and the number of guests expected. One myth of the wedding world is that reception dinner service takes ‘forever.’ A properly staffed caterer will be able to serve all of the guests at an event within a specified window of time so that everyone has the same enjoyable experience. For events that need to adhere to a specific timeline, this is important information to know as the meal serve needs to be able to fit into the window of time allotted during the program or event.
- Based on the timing of our event, what time will you arrive to begin setup?
If this is a venue that we have never worked at before, we will always ask what is the earliest that we can arrive. In general, we require a 2-hour window before the event for us to set up for success. If a wedding is hosting their ceremony on-site, we would require 2 hours prior to the ceremony start time. It’s important to be set and ready in case the event moves along faster than anticipated.
See more of this adorable Easter themed birthday party!
- Do you offer kid-friendly, allergy-friendly and vendor meals?
More and more clients are working with guests with dietary restrictions (particularly gluten-free) that need tending to. Great caterers will be prepare to handle most of the common food allergies with the selections available on their regular menus. Unlike a restaurant who has more options in the kitchen at the time of service, caterers require that dietary needs are communicated in advance so that they can be best prepared for.
As for children, chicken fingers and French fries are an easy go-to. However, children’s menus often have more options than restaurant standards. The same can be said for vendor meals. Some vendors may require that they are served a hot meal or the same meal as the couple. Other vendors may simply require a meal of some sort or may not ask for a meal at all. If you are unsure, read your vendor’s contract as this is where it is usually listed. Vendor meals are typically at a lower price point as alcohol is most often included in guest pricing and will not be needed for a vendor. If your vendor doesn’t have a hot meal requirement, ask your caterer about gourmet boxed meal options that are both healthy, filling, and delicious. Some vendors, like photographers and event planners, will be working long hours to create and capture the magic of your event – they will need fuel!
- Once the guest count is given, do you allow changes to be made?
Every caterer is different. For us, the short answer is yes – if you are increasing the count. Final guest count must be given 5 business days before the event. Increases to the count are allowed up to 72 hours before the event. However, keep in mind that when the guest count increases there are several other aspects of the event that may need to be increased as well such as the number of tables, table linens, favors, etc. The reason caterers have a cut-off date is so that the proper amount of food can be ordered without having excessive waste and to also ensure that there is enough for the count intended.
- What happens to the leftover food?
When you go to a restaurant and order a meal, whatever you don’t eat is often taken to-go. Most caterers, like Kahn’s Catering, do not allow leftovers to be taken to-go for the sake of health and food safety. This is best demonstrated with a wedding example. Usually guests stay at a wedding for 1-2 hours after the meal service has ended to dance with family and friends, which means that their leftover food will be sitting in a container on their table for the same duration. It creates liability for the caterer in the event that a guest falls ill from eating bad leftovers.
- What will the staff wear?
Depending on the style of event, many clients want the catering staff to appear professional and blend in nicely, fading into the background as necessary. You never know who the photographer might catch in their image. Our team always arrives in black server jackets, black pants and black shoes to maintain our standards and appearance. There have been occasions where a client has requested that our staff dress down to match the event, such as wearing polos to a 4th of July grill party, however this is rare. If you are hosting a black-tie event, servers should not be showing up in polo shirts and khakis. It’s not a secret that every company will have a different uniform, but for many clients the staff’s appearance has an impact on the event experience.
Keep in mind there are no right or wrong answers to these questions as every catering company will have a different answer based on their services. While there isn’t right and wrong, it’s important that you be in agreement with their answers to find the right caterer for you.