“No Soup for you” was a catchphrase made popular by a 90’s Seinfeld episode. A restaurateur dubbed the “Soup Nazi” insisted on patrons ordering their soup according to his strict instructions. Those who deviated from this are told, “No Soup for you” and are turned away….never to taste the delicious soup.
Funny on a television show…yes….not so funny in real life when the caterer actually says, “no food for you” because they ran out!
Catering nightmares…..as with anything, they definitely do happen from time to time. Problems are not the norm as there are many great, professional catering companies out there. Oftentimes, the nightmare stories arise more from miscommunication.
Here are some tips!
First! Check with the venue about bringing in an outside caterer. Some venues insist that you use a specific caterer.
Check references – When you approach potential caterers, ask for references, preferably from similarly sized events. If they tell you that they have never catered an event for more than 50 people and your event will have 400+ guests, that may be a potential red flag.
When you call the references ask many, many questions including:
- Was the caterer easy to work with?
- Were they flexible?
- Did they source local ingredients?
- Were they on time?
- How did the food taste?
- Was there enough food?
- Were they professional in manner and appearance?
- Did they have enough staff?
- Were they accessible?
- Would you hire them again?
Communicate – Oftentimes problems arise from miscommunication between planner and caterer. You must be crystal clear regarding your needs – do not assume that the caterer is a mind reader.
Put it in writing – Make sure that you draw up a contract with your caterer, which outlines the deliverables and expectations. Go over it carefully with the caterer to ensure that you are both satisfied.
Arrange for a tasting – If you are indecisive about some menu items, arrange for a tasting. Whereas some caterers allow for a free tasting once the contract has been signed, don’t be shocked if there is a charge for a menu tasting especially if you are tasting many, many selections.
Food Service Permit – Catering companies are required to have permits, discuss this with your caterer to ensure they have proper permits/licences.
Guaranteed Guest Count – The number of guests you are guaranteeing for the caterer. If you have agreed on a luncheon at a price of $15.95 per plate, when you guarantee/confirm 85 persons to the caterer, you will be billed for 85 regardless if only 60 people attend. Usually the number is confirmed 3 days to one week prior, but in remote locations, the date could be two weeks ahead of the event. After you have provided the guaranteed guest count, you cannot decrease that number. The caterer has already purchased food, etc. for that amount. You can sometimes increase that number slightly, but this option must be discussed with the caterer prior (when you are negotiating the contract).
Gratuities – A gratuity is charged in amounts varying from 15% upwards. Confirm the gratuity with your caterer when negotiating the contract.
Insurance – Proof of liability insurance
Some additional points to discuss with your caterer
- Has he/she worked in this particular venue before?
- Menu planning
- Food service style, i.e. buffet, plated, etc.
- Food quantities
- Food presentation
- Staffing supervision
- Leftover food policy
- Dress code, protocol, behaviour
- Corkage fees
- Cake cutting fees
- Special meal requests
- Set up/take down
Champagne wishes on a beer budget – Be realistic with what you can afford!