You have to have a passion for catering. Unlike a restaurant, it’s not just “a protein, a starch and a veg” on the plate and how quickly can get it on the table. We’re creating restaurant quality and style food in a large format. So it’s taking all the passion that you have for food, flavors, textures, plating—all those things that we love as chefs—and pairing it with a strong logistical and operational mindset as to how to get it done. It ends up being a lot more management. In most restaurants, even in really large restaurants, the kitchen staff is maybe ten or twenty people, whereas I oversee over 200 people. So it’s a lot of high-end culinary work, but also a ton of logistic, operational, management, and business acumen as well.
Most professional chefs are well trained to cook for lots of different people with different tastes on any given day. But what if your job is to cook for the same 150 people one day, and twelve the next? Not only do you have to be a versatile chef, but also you have to be a very good listener. Everybody has an opinion every day—and they’ll surely be back tomorrow.
What should you ask a caterer? What answers should you look for when choosing a caterer for your event, meeting, conference or party?
If you have not yet worked with or found the perfect caterer for your corporate needs, these questions will help direct you toward choosing a corporate caterer to be your go-to partner. This can be especially helpful for those looking for a Charlottesville area caterer.
Here’s what to ask about the catering business in general, and what specifically to ask the caterer(s) in contention for your business:
1. Can you provide ample menu choices for those with dietary restrictions?
This one is growing more important every day. Caterers must be able to serve those with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, organic and more.
2. Do you offer themed menus?
Corporate events do not always call for specialty menus; however, nothing reenergizes a day-long conference or rewards a team quite like a themed menu. We are versed in many of these menus that your guests will enjoy.
3. Can I speak with your current clients and watch/read some client testimonials?
Great caterers attract wonderful clients and loyal customers who would be happy to speak with potential clients in search of a new caterer. Additionally, happy clients leave reviews all the time. Look for reviews on Yelp, Google and the company’s website, but also ask your potential caterer for some references to help you make up your mind.
4. Can you also provide wait staff, tables, chairs and other equipment (should I require it)?
While chances are you will be hosting in your own location or at a venue with plenty of tables, chairs and equipment, there will be times when you are looking for a unique set up or additional equipment to best reach your event goals. In these cases, your caterer should be able to help you with these rentals—and, in some cases, you can rent these items directly through the caterer so as not to deal with the hassle of multiple vendors and contacts.
5. What does your delivery staff do when they arrive at my building?
In other words, will you have to sit outside and wait for the delivery person to arrive? Do they even arrive on time? The delivery time (and set up) is crucial to your guests and their tight timelines. A really great delivery person acts more like a brand ambassador who will represent the company’s brand well. Great brand ambassadors will enter quietly and set up the catering in a friendly, professional, discrete manner so as not to disturb the meeting or surrounding office space. They will also come back after the event and cleanup/pick up the area, again, with professionalism and discretion.
6. Do you have experience serving events like mine?
Has the company ever catered an all-day meeting, a three-day conference, a snack break, coffee and dessert, ice cream socials, etc.? You should be looking for an experienced caterer that reflects the hard work and responsibility you take for your job. Take a look at your caterer’s track record—and again, ask for references so you can hear from a third party how well (or poorly) the caterer executed your unique catering.
7. Do you have experience serving at my chosen venue or in my office building?
Logistics can be extremely challenging for caterers working with new venues. Sometimes there are surprise stairs and no elevator. Other times there are locked doors with passes or keys that the delivery staff must get before delivering the food. If, however, a caterer has worked in your venue before, then it might already know the best way to maneuver around the building to maximum efficiency.
8. How do you handle last minute requests?
No matter how prepared you are in advance, just about every event planner is challenged with last minute catering needs. This is where your knowledge of how your caterer handles last minute requests, changes and additions will come in extremely handy. Your lowered stress levels will thank you for already having a relationship with a great caterer who knows just how important the last minute catering needs for its clients really are.
9. What’s included in your menu’s price per person?
Sometimes there are loads of hidden fees—for plates, napkins, condiments, sides, etc.—and you will not find that out until after you receive your proposed menu. You can cut that part out by asking upfront what exactly is included in the price, how much the delivery will cost and if there is any rental or set up cost involved in your order (or in a potential future order).
10. Can I tour the kitchen?
This one is huge. If your caterer does not invite you to its facility, you should ask to see their operations. It will ease your mind knowing how and where the food is prepared, plus you will get the chance to meet your entire catering team face-to-face.
11. How does your delivery staff dress?
What your delivery staff looks like when they enter your premises is an important factor for most places of business. From the shoes all the way to the hat or hairnet, it is important that the caterer you hired is well-represented and professionally put together when the delivery person walks through your doors.
12. Do you provide any eco-friendly options?
To many, this is a very important feature of any vendor or partner, not solely a catering partner. Ask about on-site eco-friendly options, such as recycled cutlery, plates and utensils, but also ask about the deliveries, waste disposal and in-house operations and what your caterer is doing to help promote earth-conscious initiatives.
13. Do you offer any specials?
How often are the menus changing? Does the caterer offer weekly, monthly or quarterly specials? This is something to consider if you frequently cater and will be looking for new menu items every once in a while to mix it up.
14. Do you offer multiple presentation and plating options?
Sometimes companies just need catering for the everyday-type meetings, in which case disposable plates, cutlery and other serving utensils apply perfectly. However, there are times when you might need a finer presentation or display, such as non-disposables with an upscale presentation. In those instances, it is important that you are working with a caterer who offers different levels of presentation and plating options and who offers those items as your single partner. It is a challange if you have to independently rent the equipment on your own.