catering companies and partial service catering
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Once you've decided to go with a catering service, you need to find one. While there are many factors that go into choosing a caterer, in the end it comes down to finding someone you get along with who can make the food you want, serve it the way you want you want, and do it all at a price you can afford. The rest of the details are just that: details. They're important, but they will fall into place with good planning.

Things to have in place before you even think about choosing a caterer: catering for dinner parties

  • Decide if you want full or partial catering services. This is actually a fairly big deal, since while most caterers are open to providing partial service, not all of them are. If you're considering partial service catering, the first question you ask any potential food caterer should be whether they provide that service or not. There's more to an event than food. Make sure you know who will be responsible for:

    • Cooking the food.
    • Serving dishes and utensils.
    • Plating the food.
    • Plates and utensils.
    • Setting up the space — tables, chairs, serving tables.
    • Decorating the space.
    • Alcohol and beverages.
    • Cleanup.

  • What is your event? Make sure you have a clear idea that you can communicate. "I'm having 10 people over for a casual party and poker night" is very, very different from "I'm having 20 people over for my daughter's Sweet 16 pool party" and a world away from "We're having a formal engagement party at a club for 30 people." The type of party (and location, but that's further down the list) can be a big factor in which service you end up choosing.
  • catering for dinner parties
  • How many (and who) will be attending? Brainstorm this before you think about the date, so you can keep people's availability in mind, and plan for if will be special food options (vegetarian/vegan, halal, gluten-free, food allergies and whether a separate children's menu will be needed).

  • When will the event be? Is it set or is there flexibility? There's a bit of wiggle room in the planning stage, but you'll need to set a firm date as soon as possible, preferably before selecting the final catering service.

  • Where will the event be held, and is there flexibility in the location choice? If your event is at a facility, make sure to check if outside caterers are allowable, or if they have a set list of vendors they work with.

  • catering for dinner parties
  • Do you want a particular type of food? Knowing what you want will help you find a service that specializes, or is at least experienced in making the dishes you need.

  • How much do you want to spend on the event? This is the big one. Set your budget and stick to it. And (more on this below) make sure to know the scope of services and get everything in writing.

Planning Apps to Help Stay Organized:

Finding A Catering Service:

  • Make a list of potential caterers:
    • If you've decided on one particular type of food (ie, clambake, bbq, etc) narrow your choices to only catering companies who handle that type.
    • Do you know anyone who hosted a similar event where you loved the service and the food? If you do, find out who the catering company was.
    • Check the Internet - search for caterers in your area, check web directories, etc. Ours is here.
  • Call the caterers on your list:
    • Check their availability for the date.
    • Find out about their payment terms: cash, check, credit cards, PayPal. How much of a deposit is needed (and when) and when is the final payment due?
    • Get references, and call them.
  • When the list is narrowed down to 2 or 3:
    • Schedule tastings to meet in person.
    • Get a written estimate. Read this carefully and make sure that it includes everything that you need: servers, taxes, alcohol, rentals, gratuity, cleanup, overtime, etc. The day payment is due is not a day you want to be surprised by the final amount!

Working With Your Caterer:

  • Finalize the deal:
    • Get a final written estimate with any changes on it. You and the caterer both need to sign this.
    • Make sure you have the name and contact numbers of the person you will be coordinating things with at the service.
    • If there's a time lag between setting up the service and the actual event, make sure to stay in touch regularly.

More Resources:

find a caterer in your area catering alternatives potluck ideas
learn about catering alternatives