Catering 101: 6 Ways to Ensure You're Working with the Right Food Service

February 14, 2023 Jessica Stewart

Your event can be incredible at every level. But if you get the food wrong, either with poor service or uninspired dishes, your event will suffer for it. So, to help event planners improve their vetting processes, these are the insights to ensure you’re booking the right food service partner. Catering can be just as unique as your event itself. And this is your guide to carefully choose the best-fit partner for the occasion.

1. References and Reviews Are a Great First-Step

No matter what changes in the events industry, you can always rely on and start by vetting catering candidates using references and reviews. Explore the experiences of others who’ve worked with a food service provider to gauge how much catering the company does and how satisfied guests and clients were with those experiences. Ask for references directly and do your own research online. Any insights you can learn early on in your selection process will help guide you away from wrong-fit catering partners.

2. Verify Credentials

Don’t presume catering service providers have all the required credentials needed to serve food. Ask to see those certifications and insurance before discussing your event any further. Booking a food service that has expired or non-existent credentials will only be a negative reflection on you and your client. 

3. Venue Familiarity

If you’re faced with choosing between two catering services, one who’s worked with your event venue and one who hasn’t, you’ll prefer to work with the partner who’s familiar with your venue. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. But you can expect a smoother experience if you’re working with staff who’ve already serviced events at your chosen venue before. It means they’re familiar with the space for food preparation and layout. It also means they have a relationship with the venue, which is an advantage you can rely on to benefit your event experience.

4. Menu Selections that Match Guest Preferences

Next up in your vetting process is the menu. Event planners will often have a checklist of menu topics to discuss with their clients before they embark on their food service-booking journey. So, use any meal preferences you’ve collected to identify the right catering partners. You’ll want the flexibility to not only plan for those special menu options you know about, but you’ll also need to be able to accommodate the unknown. Food allergies, vegan preferences, and sustainable sourcing will all come into play as you choose your caterer.

5. Ensure Staffing

Have you ever booked a catering partner for an event only to realize that on the big day, your caterer only brought two people to help? Yikes. Avoid those unwanted surprises by discussing staffing elements with your caterers first. Know who’s responsible for service, either the venue or the food service provider. Who’s cleaning up, and how many staffers are you getting? Here’s a general guide to help:

Buffet Service: Estimate you’ll need two servers for every 30 or so guests. You’ll need runners, busing, and station restocking help.

Table Service: Assume at least one server for every two or three tables. There should be separate servers managing drinks.

Bartending: For every 50 guests, presume you’ll need at least one bartender and one barback. Consider specialty drinks stations that may need tending, as well.

6. Go with Your Gut, Literally

No matter how much you love or have chemistry with a particular caterer or how impressive their roster of services is, taste the food. Go with your gut, literally, and sample some of the menu selections you plan to serve your guests. Anything mediocre won’t delight your guests. Bring a few others with you to sample, too, so you can gauge different tastes. A great meal is mission-critical to any social, corporate, or public-facing event.

Before selecting any food service providers, keep these insights in mind. A poorly serviced or poor-tasting meal can deflate your event’s success in a hurry. And vetting every catering partner thoroughly will ensure you’re always working with the best-fit provider.

If you need more catering options and other vendors at your event planning fingertips, make sure you get to The Event Planner Expo 2023! All the biggest providers will be on-hand, eager to form new strategic partnerships. Get on the waitlist so you can get tickets the second they become available!

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