If you have ever attended a celebration dinner, a smart wedding, or a corporate lunch, you have almost certainly experienced the services of a catering company. Assuming the food was of a professional standard, it’s hardly likely that your hosts organized and cooked the meal themselves. Outsourcing the food to caterers, and concentrating on the guests, simply makes sense.
Obviously, the work of a catering company focuses on food. Some companies simply prepare and deliver the food, others will also set up the meal, and still others include serving the meal and waiting on the guests. However, an increasing number of catering companies nowadays are moving towards a full-service and event-planning model, in which the food is just one part of the event, but all aspects of the event are designed to complement the food and maximize its impact.
Usually, when you first make contact with a catering company, you will have a discussion with a client services representative, either by phone, or through a personal visit by appointment. The job of this person is to obtain as much information as possible about your function, including the nature of the gathering — for instance, whether social or professional — number of guests, venue if known, and your general budget. The caterer can then prepare a detailed proposal for you, including the menu, drinks list, equipment rental costing, and any staff requirements.
Once the proposal is accepted, the caterer will embark on a detailed planning process for the meal. Many caterers nowadays use software packages to aid in the planning. These include business management software packages specially designed for the food industry, and also packages like Room Viewer, a CAD program that helps them work out the best way of utilizing the space.
On the basis of this planning, the caterers prepare a detailed schedule, which can be several pages long, and covers each moment, from setting up, through preparing and serving the meal, to final clear-up. This schedule is put into use on the day of the event, and details every single item of equipment and food to be transported. Nothing is left to chance in the schedule, including the number of serving staff required for the number of guests. If the venue has no cooking facilities, the caterers have to transport and set up kitchen and cooking equipment as well. After the event, the company should clear up thoroughly, and leave the venue as they found it.
This is the way a good catering company should operate. However, if you are looking to use a catering company for the first time, it’s important to be able to know whether the company is actually a good one or not, before proceeding. Once your event has been ruined, it’s too late.
First of all, of course, you need to check what type of catering service is provided. If you need full-service catering, make sure this is what the company provides as standard. If it is a delivery-only company which occasionally hires waiting staff from an agency, the service is likely to be less professional.
A company pitching for your business will probably provide you with a suggested menu, but you should expect a tasting as well. Remember, however, that a sample tasting for one or two people may not be matched in quality by a meal for 500. There is nothing to beat word of mouth recommendations, if you can find them, for quality and presentation of food.
Whether or not you can find word of mouth recommendations, it is essential to ask for references. Request details of recent functions for which the company has catered, and also check with your local health department, to find out if there have been any complaints, or history of violations. Remember too that you must have a firm written contract before going ahead.
Whatever type of function you are hosting, the food is likely to be a central part of the proceedings. Food makes or breaks your event — it’s probably the one thing the guests will remember and talk about. Making the effort to find the right catering company is probably the most important step you can take to ensure the success of your event.