8 things you need to know before you hire a caterer

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Devour Catering pays attention to the details to create an experience you won't forget. Hiring a caterer can be a tricky business.  Many of the calls we receive from people planning a corporate cocktail party, birthday party, or a wedding are often wrought with stress and worry since many people calling us have never worked with a caterer before and they are not sure how to go about it.  I spoke to an especially stressed-out bride earlier this week who was trying to figure out what to ask and how to make a decision about what catering company to pick for her summer wedding.  

Catering can mean many different things; it can mean a company that will deliver sandwich platters to your office or it can mean a company that will coordinate a large sit-down dinner for 300 guests in a theatre lobby with no kitchen facilities.  It can mean a company with highly trained staff who prepare everything from ‘scratch’ using fresh and quality ingredients or it can mean a company that uses prepared and frozen foods that are re-heated and re-plated for many of their items. It can mean a company that is only interested in providing the food for your event or it can mean a company who wants to partner with you for your event to ensure the whole experience is seamless and enjoyable for you and your guests.  Price points and levels of service can vary widely and this can be confusing for someone trying to get what they need at the budget that works for them.  What to do?

In 2005, I attended my first International Catering Association Conference in Las Vegas and was so inspired and encouraged by many of the companies who were presenting that year.  One idea really stuck with me. Meryl Snow of Feastivities Events had created a 'cheat sheet' that she gave to clients to provide them with more information about catering in general but also inform them about her company's standards and approach to events.  

With her consent, I started using the 'cheat sheet' immediately.  The 8 facts below originally came from Feastivities and were geared towards her wedding clientele but I have found them very helpful for all clients new to the world of working with a caterer.  A summarized version is below.  Not all caterers are created equal and sometimes judging a company only by their pricing is not the best indication of what you will receive.  If you would like the more detailed version of the 'facts', justdrop us an emailand we will be happy to send it out to you.

1. Fresh doesn’t always mean fresh.

Your meal should be prepared from scratch by chefs just for your event.  Your hors d’oeuvres should be made by hands (and with love!) not a machine.  Your cedar planked salmon filets should never have been frozen and should arrive in your caterer’s kitchen the day before your event.  Your pastry chef should be following recipes not ordering from a price list. 

2. Served fresh means cooked on site, not cooked elsewhere and carried in hotboxes.

With very few exceptions, nothing should be sent to your event already cooked.  All the cooking should be done at your event site.  Vegetables sautéed, seafood grilled, sauces finished.  If you want the food served fresh this is how it has to be done.  You will taste the difference - guaranteed.

3. Service is a matter of math – the ratio of staff to guests is critical.

Nothing is more frustrating than having to hunt for hors d’oeuvres, wait in line for a drink, or sit at your table wondering where your dinner is.  Lack of adequate staff is very obvious to the guests and can undo all your careful planning.  Your staff should be service oriented, pleasant and attentive because your guests should never feel as if their needs are an imposition.  In every thank you letter we receive from our clients, our staff is repeatedly complimented for their wonderful attitudes as well as their good and genuinely caring service.

4. Style is significant. 

Your food, whether plated, buffet or served cocktail style should be beautifully presented. Striking garnishes, unusual serving pieces, foods that add colour and zing to a plate, plates that aren’t round – these are just a few elements of the style that a caterer can bring to your menu.

5. Menu design does not involve picking your food from columns.

Your caterer’s event planners should be well versed in menu and event design. What kind of a crowd is it? Are they younger and more receptive to many cuisines? Is there a vegetarian contingent?  What time of year is your party?  What personal touches can be added to ensure guests know it wasyourparty and not just a party?

6. Customer service counts. 

How long did you wait for your information after you made your initial phone call? Was it the information you asked for? Are your calls and emails answered in a timely manner? Do you feel important?  If you have definite ideas about your celebration, they should tailor the information to suit you. 

7. Your caterer should be a know it all.

When it comes to the venues, the menus and all the other details your caterer should be an expert.  We are familiar with several venues across the city and you will work with a coordinator who is thoroughly familiar with your selected venue.  We can also suggest wonderful venues for your corporate cocktail party, wedding, or private party or create an event literally in the middle of ‘nowhere’.  

8. Word of mouth is the best advertising.

What is your caterer’s reputation?  Ask to speak to past clients, nobody forgets the performance of their caterer.  Different vendors also have a good sense of who’s who and who’s doing what in the catering world.  Speak with florists, musicians, and photographers.  They are at events from start to finish.  They see the service, eat the food, interact with the staff and won’t hesitate to share their thoughts. 

And....with that closing point...please spread the Devour love! Please follow us on Facebook, get inspired by our Pinterest boards, and Tweet this post to your friends.  Devour wants to improve the world of celebrations - one party at a time!  Thanks for reading...

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Devour makes your event experience enjoyable from start to finish.