I’m throwing a party and I’d like to hire a catering service but how do I know if I’m picking the right one? What should I be expecting from my catering service provider? I see that some catering companies are way more expensive than others but what makes it so much more!?
From small gatherings with your closest friends to huge corporate functions, there is a huge range of functions that you can hire a caterer for and therefore the title “caterer” really leaves a TON to be defined! Hopefully in this article we can help you understand the different types of caterers and what you can expect when you hire a caterer for your next event!
First and foremost, there are 2 primary classifications of caterers- on-site, and off-site. On-site meaning the service is performed at the caterer’s establishment. Many times, restaurants will have a banquet room where you can rent the space and the restaurant will cater your event in the private room at their establishment. Off-site catering being the opposite- is performed everywhere else. For the purpose of this article, we are going to strictly focus on off-site catering.
I like to break down the off-site catering world into 4 groups- Wedding, Corporate, Social, and Event Concessions/ Food Truck. Each one of these types of catering has its own unique requirements and you will want to be sure that the caterer you are considering is prepared and able to handle the type of catering you are looking for. Not all caterers are created equal, and most caterers cannot perform in all 4 groups! Most caterers will have a specialty and can perform really well in 1 or 2 categories.
1.) Wedding- The crème dela crèmeof caterers! If you are a bride or an event planner and you are planning a wedding, the expectations are high. You can expect a company that specialized in wedding catering is going to deliver a lot more than just the food. If you looking at wedding caterers you can expect that there is going to be everything from an extravagant tasting, event management, custom menu building, full service staff, linens plus all food-related equipment- such as flatware, cutleries, tables, chairs, etc., etc. A professional, high-end wedding caterer can even pan and execute an entire event including the decor, and music! Wedding catering is also typically the most expensive because of all that is involved in this type of event management and catering. You’re not working with just a food provider, but an entire event manager.
*Things to look for:
what is the caterer’s first impression? (rarely does a great event come from a company with a horrible first impression)
how responsive is the catering company?
am I able to try to food prior to booking?
how much deposit do they require
how long have they been in business (the last thing you want is for a young company do dissolve between the time you booked a party with them and the date of your wedding!)
are they licensed and insured
2.) Corporate- Corporate functions can have a huge range of requirements, and can really be
split into sub-categories. If you are a corporate event planner and looking to hire a caterer, the biggest factors you should consider first are:
Who are my guests?
What is the purpose of this function/ what type of function is it?
What is my budget?
Once you have the answers to those questions, it becomes much easier to select your caterer. Some corporate functions will require a full bar and passed apps, while others may just need a box lunch. If you are showing an end of the year awards ceremony for a large corporation, you are going to want to look at companies that are going to be stronger in the wedding catering sphere. If you are doing and off-site training retreat, a backyard BBQ caterer might do the trick.
The key when shopping for a caterer for your corporate function is the experience of your caterer. You will want to be sure that the company you are selecting has some experience in catering to corporate groups! Usually with just a few basic questions you will be able to gauge the confidence and experience of the caterer you are vetting.
*Things to look for:
see wedding caterer questions above
what other companies have they catered for?
can they provide references?
how much lead time is needed (sometimes a corporate lunch will come up quickly and its nice to have a caterer than you can count on to fill those last minute orders!)
what is the largest event they have catered?
do I need to take into consideration food allergies?
how does the caterer plan to handle the logistics of set up/break down? (if you need food brought into your office on the 3rd floor you don't want a caterer who doesn't have the proper transportation equipment for load in and load out and takes 2 hours to set up during a work day!)
3.) Social- when looking for a caterer for a social event, the questions are different. There is typically a lot less pressure to perform or impress guests at a social event as they're most likely your friends and family. The key here is finding a caterer that will deliver some food for your fun party with no stress or hassle to you! Your not just paying for food, you’re paying for a fun party that you don’t have to worry about! When catering a social event- whether it’s a birthday party, graduation party, retirement party, etc., there are many fun options for you out there. From Italian, to Mexican, to BBQ, to traditional American and everything in-between the options are limitless!
Consider some of the following questions when hiring a caterer for a social event:
what is my budget
what would my guests enjoy
do I need to take food allergies into consideration?
Kids or adults?
Do I need a bartender?
does the caterer have a restaurant where I can try the food first?
what is the first impression of the caterer?
is the caterer responsive to my communication?
Has the caterer been recommended? what is they’re online presence? are they positively reviewed and recommended online?
4.) Event Concessions/Food Truck- The biggest differentiator here is that the food is almost always sold at the premise of the event/party. A food truck or concessions caterer is going to be setting up at the location of the event, preparing food, and selling it to customers. Food Trucks are a great way to offer a unique variety of options to your guests! Because a Food Truck has such a limited cooking area, each truck will typically offer a small, niche menu that they specialize in. But make no mistake, just because it’s coming from a truck, that doesn't mean its not real quality! In fact, in my opinion, some of the best food comes from these roaming kitchens because they put all their focus into making just a couple of items really well!
Although they typically sell their food on site at the event, it is still not uncommon to be able to book a couple of food trucks and pre-pay for a set amount of their offerings.
Because of the entirely different nature of food truck service, there are some different questions you will need to ask before booking a food truck. consider the following:
do I want my guests to pay for food or am I going to be pre-paying?
how many guests am I expecting?
what type of cuisine would my guests enjoy?
how many food trucks would I like to have present?
do I need to take food allergies into consideration?
How much space do I have for the trucks?
Is there a suitable entrance and exit for the trucks?
does the food truck have a restaurant where I can try their food first?
be sure to confirm that the food truck you are considering has all the proper licensing and insurance! Mobile food service, catering/commissary, peddlers/hawkers, local/municipal, auto license and insurance, catering insurance, etc. etc.…
Check out https://www.foodtrucksin.com for booking food trucks for private and public events! https://www.foodtrucksin.com is a great resource that can help connect you with the right truck for your event.
Hopefully this article helps you better understand the different classifications of catering and can help you narrow down your options as you seek to find a caterer for your event! And always remember, don’t get so caught up in the details that you don’t allow yourself to enjoy your event!
Flat Waves Food Shack offers fun, fresh, professional, catering services in and around RI. Our specialty buffet style fusion BBQ, and taco bar catering! Start with one of our packages or customize your own unique menu. We look forward to helping you with your next event!
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