1. What is the caterer’s specialty? Ask for sample menus and a list of services and options. Ask if the caterer has previously worked events similar in style and size to yours.
2. How expensive are the caterer’s services? Provide your budget range and find out if the caterer can work within your budget. Ask if there are separate charges for different items and services, or if there is a flat rate per person. If you decide to work with that caterer, ask for an itemized price listing.
3. Will the caterer schedule a taste testing if you decide to go with the company? Once you’ve decided to hire a particular caterer, tasting the food helps prevent any unwanted surprises at your event.
4. You don’t need to taste every single side dish, but you definitely want to try the main dishes that you’ll have served. Along the same lines, does the caterer have photos of previous events that are similar to what you’re planning? Understanding how the food will be organized and arranged helps alleviate later communication challenges.
5. Who will be responsible for the event? Be sure to clarify who will be handling potential issues and challenges, such as guests not being prepared to be seated when the time comes. Find out who to turn to with questions and requests during the planning and implementation of the event.
6. What is included in the catering service? It would also be a good idea to find out if the place settings, salt and pepper shakers, linens, etc. possible to order through the caterer. If not, ask the catering company if it has recommendations for where to get the items.
7. Is the wait staff part of the deal? If so, discuss the type of dress and service level available.
8. Is the caterer willing to work with your recipes if you have a special family dish? Some catering companies will accommodate personal recipes. If a particular dish is integral to your celebration, make sure the company you choose is willing to prepare the recipe.
9. Does the caterer offer alternative menus such as vegetarian dishes or gluten-free recipes? There are almost always a few guests with special dietary needs. If you have a guest with food allergies, make sure that your caterer is aware of it and that an alternate dish will be on hand to accommodate the guest. Where will the food be prepared? It’s important to understand up front whether the caterer can work within the boundaries of your event venue to avoid additional charges.
10. What are the food standards to which the caterers adhere? Whenever possible, the catering company should be using freshly prepared ingredients. In some instances, certain ingredients may have to be pre-made.
11. Does the caterer offer alcohol or wine? If so, ask about pricing.
12. Is it possible to get references from previous clients who had similar events? Check the catering company’s website for testimonials from previous clients. If not, the caterer may have a list of previous clients who are willing to provide a recommendation.
13. If the event requires a cake, such as in a wedding, does the caterer include baking or dessert options? If the actual dessert is not included, ask the caterer if they are willing to provide dessert service (for example, slicing and distributing a wedding cake). Caterers can also recommend a bakery or other dessert options.
14. Does the catering representative communicate well? The person that you’ll need to be working with throughout the planning and preparation process must communicate effectively with you. During the interview, discuss the importance of calls being returned in a timely manner and stress the importance of being able to discuss progress and changes during the planning process.
An excellent catering service makes all of the difference for, not only the success of your function, but also for your peace of mind while going through the preparations. Hiring a caterer means more than just providing tasty food. The entire dining experience is dependent upon the service as well as the preparation of the food, so be sure to evaluate all aspects of a company before hiring it. Understanding the importance of a budget, organization and willing communication should be part of a professional catering service. Try using some of the catering tips listed above and you will be a few steps closer to an enjoyable, stress-free event.
By Elizabeth Harrell