Most events or special occasions involve some sort of food and drinks. Chances are, those planning the event will have to look for a caterer to provide some or all of what guests will be eating and drinking. But it’s important to keep in mind that caterers come in all shapes and sizes, and some may be better matches for your events than others. While Revelr’s platform can connect you to talented caterers who meet you specific event needs, here are 7 questions to ask any prospective caterer before making that initial deposit:
1) What kinds of events can you cater?
While this may seem like an obvious question, you’d be surprised how many misunderstandings arise with respect to caterers’ capacities to handle various event formats. Does the caterer do drop-off platters only? What about setting up buffet-style stations? And how about family-style passed plates on the table? Or passed hors d’oeuvres followed by a seated dinner? Before you get too too far into any catering conversation, make sure the prospective caterer has as much information about your event as possible so they can determine whether they’re the best fit.
2) Do you handle rentals?
Believe it or not, event rentals can be one of the most complicated elements of the event planning process and budget. By rentals, think everything from tables and chairs to cups and plates and even bar equipment (like ice buckets, cutting boards, and cocktail shakers). You should ask both your venue and potential caterer what’s already included – i.e. does the caterer and/or venue have rentals in-house? – and what might need to be rented elsewhere. If external rentals are required, find out from the caterer whether they can help procure them and bundle them in the total catering price. Forgetting about rentals up front can lead to major logistical headaches – not to mention unpleasant cost increases – down the road.
3) Do you provide servers?
For events where the caterer will be providing more than drop-off platters, don’t forget that you’ll need people to actually serve the food and drinks. Remember to ask your prospective caterer whether they provide their own staff (and, if not, whether they can procure external staffing and bundle it into the total price). If the caterer is handling the servers, check to make sure service is already included in the quote the caterer provided you. Some caterers will include service as part of the food costs while others have it as a separate line item. Understanding how to read proposal costs in this regard is critical. It’s also worth checking what the staff-to-attendee ratio will be. Even if multiple caterers provide you with proposals that include staffing, the quality and quantity of the staffing can vary widely.
4) Will the food be hot?
Unless your caterer is serving as a private chef and cooking an intimate meal from scratch for your guests, chances are that most or all of the caterer’s food prep will be done in advance of the event. Consequently, many catered dishes are intended to be served at room temperature (this is why you rarely see French fries on a catering menu). Oftentimes, caterers can reheat certain menu items, but you’ll likely need to provide them with a kitchen/prep area in order for them to do so. So if you’ve merely ordered sandwiches and side platters, don’t expect the food to be piping hot.
5) Can you serve drinks?
A common source of misunderstanding is whether caterers will be serving only food and non-alcoholic drinks, or whether they’ll also be providing bar drinks and/or bartenders to make or serve them. Depending on the state where your event will take place, a caterer may need a permit to even be able to purchase or serve alcoholic drinks. Therefore, it’s wise to ask from the get-go who will be purchasing the drinks and who will be serving them. Figuring this out early can avoid logistical complications later on.
6) How does delivery work?
This might also seem like an obvious one, but it’s always a good idea to explore the logistics around delivery with your caterer and venue sooner rather than later. Particularly where caterers are coordinating with other external vendors (rental companies, etc.), they may have limited control as to when things get delivered. That’s why it’s important to find out from the caterer when they expect deliveries to be made, as well as how long they expect it will take to set up. Many venues begin charging hourly rental fees the moment the caterer begins setting up, and many have rules surrounding delivery times, so nailing down the timeline for the setup early on will give you peace of mind (and avoid unpleasant overtime/delivery charges creeping up down the road).
7) How do you deal with gratuity?
Even if gratuity appears as a line item in a catering proposal, where that gratuity goes is often an open question. If the caterer does include a gratuity line item, find out whether additional gratuity is expected for servers, on-site chefs, and/or bartenders. If so, it’s also worth asking if you can add that additional gratuity to the total bill (which you’ll likely pay with check or credit card), or whether you’re expected to bring cash to the event with you.