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How to Find the Right Caterer

How do you find the caterer for your next event?  Debra Lykkemark, CEO of Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events, gives you some guidelines that will help you find the caterer that is right for you and your company.

As in all good relationships, chemistry matters.  You want to find a caterer that you “connect with” – someone that listens to your needs and uses their expertise to create an event that is a joyful experience that you and your guests will remember forever.

Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to select a caterer.  If you have been to a catered event and were impressed with the food and service, call the hostess and ask for the name of the catering company.  If you have friends who regularly hire caterers call and ask who they use for their parties.

Website Searches
Do a search on the internet for caterers in your area.  The web is a great way to “pre-screen” caterers.  Check out their site and facebook page and look for a well-organized layout with great photos of events and food and whether they have interesting menus.  Narrow your search to three caterers and then give them a call.  Be wary of companies that do not list an address, there are always a number of illegal caterers operating without a properly inspected and licensed kitchen, workers compensation coverage and liability insurance.

Making the Connection
When you call a caterer, be prepared for them to ask a lot of questions.  When they don’t ask these questions it is a big red flag.  A competent caterer needs this information to fully understand your vision, so that they can plan and execute a flawless and fabulous event for you and your company.

  • What type of event and food service were they contemplating?   For example will the event be a stand up cocktail party or will it be a seated dinner or buffet?
  • How many guests are expected to attend?
  • Where will the event take place and what is the start and finish time for the event?
  • What is the purpose, goal or theme for the event?
  • What are the budget parameters?   Does the budget need to include other items such as venue rental cost, décor, floral, lighting, entertainment, audio visual and valet?

A good caterer is your ally.  It is in their best interest that you look good and your guests leave happy.  If you don’t have all the answers for their questions, ask for their advice and guidance. Make sure you listen to their feedback and suggestions as they will likely have years of experience planning events and will be able to help you create a seamless event while getting the biggest return possible for your budget.

Comparing Quotes
If you are getting quotes from a few caterers, make sure you are comparing them fairly.

  • Did all the caterers get the same detailed information?
  • Have they all listed every line item – food, beverage service, staff, rentals, service charge and applicable taxes.
  • If you have asked for entertainment, lighting, décor and valet, have they been listed as well?
  • If the proposals are substantially different in price, you should be asking for more detail, such as how many hors    d’oeuvre per person and how many servers and bartenders have they allowed for in their proposal.

When you have narrowed down your choice, I would highly recommend that you get a copy of their business license, the health permit for their kitchen and their liability insurance.  Caterers should have a minimum of five million dollars of liability insurance.

I would also highly recommend visiting the caterer’s kitchen and offices before you sign the contract.  The top catering companies invest in staff training and development and the results are usually readily apparent in the work environment.  If the kitchen is not clean and organized and the staff is not professional and friendly, you should reconsider your choice.

When you do find the right caterer, you will find what exists in any great relationship – trust and understanding as well as fabulous food and service!          Debra Lykkemark


Photo credit:  John C. Watson

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