"Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way" — Booker T. Washington
It's no secret that finding the right caterer can be a challenge. Placing your special event in the hands of others can be a leap of faith! How do you know who to trust or who to pass on? The experts at Caroline's Fine Food offer the following guidelines drawn from long experience. These suggestions will help you navigate your next event with flying colors.
Whether you're looking for a corporate caterer or planning a private event, the questions you'll be asking and the qualities you're looking for are essentially the same. Here are some key areas to consider and pertinent questions to ask your potential caterer.
The ten qualities that make a good caterer can be loosely grouped under three main umbrellas: culinary ability, customer service and integrity.
The beating heart of any good catering company lies, of course, in the skill and commitment of the executive chef and staff. How do you tell if the food is up to par? Simple: good catering companies offer in-person tastings. A knowledgeable event planner should ask you what type of event and menu you have in mind and offer a variety of options to accommodate you. From there, they will schedule a tasting with you so that you can sample the product and select the dishes that work. Does the company put its best foot forward at the tasting? Is the food not only delicious but attractively presented?
Do their menus inspire you? Skilled culinary execution should be wedded to creativity! It's a good idea to research their menus online and explore their offerings in a conversation with the event manager, executive chef or sous chef.
Are they willing to accommodate any special dietary restrictions and do they offer attractive alternatives? (Often kitchens offer less than inspiring alternatives for vegetarians, etc.)
Stellar Customer Service
Attention to detail and organization
A good event manager is indispensable to a well-run job. They are the hub of all planning, organization and communication. Usually, they serve as your liaison to the kitchen, the front of the house staff and to any ordering, networking or logistics you require for your event. This is the person you will be doing business with. Initially, they should ask you what type of event you're planning, when, how many people, what type of service (full, delivery, etc) and where you'd like to hold it. If you're planning a full service event, a good event manager will do a site visit. From there, they will form a detailed picture of what is needed.
- If you're planning an event at a third party venue, is there a water source?
- Are there ample cooking facilities or will stove rentals be necessary?
- If it's at night and outdoors, what will the lighting situation be?
A good event manager will work with you every step of the way and outline the upsides and potential pitfalls of your options. They will ask you detailed questions and then offer suggestions about the amount of food you will need for your event. They will ask you how long your event will run and should present you with a schedule which includes their arrival, set-up, the times each course will be served and when they will load out. They should go into detail about what they do or do not offer in terms of platters, utensils, compostables, clean-up, etc and should be clear about any and all fees. They should present you with a proposal and clearly outline their deposit and cancelation practices.
When you engage with the event manager and other staff, are they courteous, friendly and knowledgeable? A mediocre, sloppy staff can ruin an otherwise well-executed event. The quality of service will set the energetic tone. So, it's important to consider this.
The level and quality of your communication with the company is your bellwether. How responsive are they? Do they get back to you in a timely manner? Do they reach out with questions, details and assurances? Do you have to chase them? If you're chasing them, that's a red flag. Poor communication with your caterer is a recipe for disaster.
Word of mouth is the gold standard in the catering business! Research the company online and read any reviews or media they've received. How are they rated? How long have they been in business? Experience doesn't guarantee competency but it helps.
A company's website will be a good indicator of who you're dealing with. Is the website organized, professional and easy to navigate? The food should look and sound appealing. What types of events do they serve and does their "brand" (type of food and presentation) match your needs?
Are they transparent and forthright about their fee structures? A good company should be crystal clear about deposits, refunds and offer an itemized breakdown of all costs before your event. You should also make sure they carry general liability insurance.
Reputable catering companies usually work with a group of trusted partners to provide you with services they don't cover. These may include: bar, DJ solutions, lighting, tents, flowers, glassware, cutlery, linens, tables and chairs, photography, etc. A good event manager will ask if you require any of these or if you're planning to outsource them separately.
After considering the above, you'll be in a better position to trust your gut! (a little catering humor there!)
At Caroline's Fine Food, our entire team embodies the qualities we just talked about, and we'd love to be a part of making your next event a success. If you'd like to inquire about catering and arrange a private tasting, please get in touch.