Food, Glorious Food – 6 Tips For Hiring a Caterer For Your Next Event

I love food. I love digging in the dirt planting fresh vegetables. I love going out to the chicken coop to gather fresh eggs and I love nothing more than sitting down to a meal that has been carefully prepared using fresh ingredients that assault the senses when presented beautifully on my plate. And people that know me, know just how true that is. So, it goes without saying that choosing a caterer for a corporate or social event is something I take very seriously. No hostess wants the word on the street to be that the food served at their party was atrocious or the staff rude. And as the party planner, there is no faster way to lose business and tarnish your reputation than have a vendor go bad!

I have been fortunate to have utilized some amazing culinary talent. Like everything else to do with my business, I am extremely choosy as to whom I work with. I have attended cookery schools in both the United States and France and hold my caterers to high standards. I want great food, great presentation, great pairings as well as well groomed and smiling staff greeting my client’s guests. When interviewing prospective caterers I go through one of my many checklists or maybe it is better stated as a wish list…

The Tips!

1. Referrals are always tasty. Let’s face it, guests coming to an event are going to expect to eat and necessarily eat a lot. As an event producer you need to make sure that the food being served not only looks great on the plate, but obviously tastes great. Dried chicken and fatty steak are so 1987. So, research is a necessary part of finding the right outfit to work with you. As always, getting referrals from trusted friends and colleagues will be the best the way to cut through the clutter of bad meals and Alka Seltzer, since you will be taste testing samples of what might be on your client’s menu. If I am able to cut out 95% of the caterers in town and narrow my search to three or four, I am golden. My week is freed up and I can get back out there in front of prospective clients and sell, sell, sell.

2. High prices doesn’t mean fine cuisine. I know several people as I am sure you do that equate expensive with greatness. Well, I am here to tell you that while it may be true in a very limited number of special cases, it is not true 99% of the time. Some caterers price their foods and services higher than others to give an aura of the “gold standard”. I remember interviewing a food provider whose prices were extreme. I was just so curious as to why this one company wouldn’t work for under $250 per person. So, I made an appointment to try some of his “delicacies”. Well, after sampling salmon, a bit of filet mignon with a yellow green sauce and a slice of apple pie, I was convinced that that owner/chef was just hoping someone would pay his prices in order to bank some cash, because the Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s has more taste and texture than the crap I tried. I was absolutely astounded. The nice music playing in the background and the pretty pictures of food hanging on the wall couldn’t mask the fact that the food was at best mediocre.

3. Presentation counts for something! If I took anything away from my nightmare “go see” in example #2 above, it was that the food regardless of anything else must taste great. Just being okay, is just not good enough. And, if the portfolio of the caterers’ events wasn’t exciting enough to get my attention, I wouldn’t even request a sample tasting. I want creative forethought to go into everything my vendors do. How they present themselves, truly is a reflection of what they do and how invested they will be with client’s events. I am also always curious to see how they set up a table as well. Is the tabletop display aligned nicely? Are the glasses spotless? Are the knives and forks in their correct places? It might seem like a little much to be so picky, but if they are not overly fussy with their own presentation, then what should I be expecting for my own event.

4. Sample menus to fit your budget. Always request menus from prospective caterers that fit your budget. If you can afford a chicken entree, don’t let the caterer bring out a filet and a shrimp cocktail that just tripled your budget. Clearly she wants to impress you. But it doesn’t do you or your client any good to be upsold when the funds are simply not there! If your budget calls for $40 per person and no more, then ask to sample a menu that fits these parameters. Don’t be tempted to try something else that you won’t be serving at your function.

5. Waitstaff dress options. I make sure that I know “the uniform” of the waitstaff prior to the event. I don’t want my black tie sit down soiree to be attended to by men and women in jeans or business casual attire. Don’t laugh, this happens all to often. Usually, caterers have a uniform for their staff or at the very least a dress code which in most cases call for a black shirt and pants or a tuxedo. While the waitstaff are some of your most important assets at any party, (good service providers are worth their weight in gold bullion, especially at a $900 per ounce) but you want them to almost disappear into the background and let your client be the center of attention.

6. Insurance. Requirements of what you must include in an insurance policy differs from state to state. It is standard for me to only work with bonded and insured catering companies. I also want to make sure the venue where the event is taking place has adequate insurance as well. I shouldn’t have to write this, but each and everyone of you should have a very good insurance policy for your company in case something happens at one of your events. In the case of the caterer, I need for them to be completely responsible and liable for any of their actions that occur while on the clock. I don’t want to be paying out of my policy for an accident that was their fault. This is what insurance is for…so, like health and dental insurance is an non negotiable point. You must have it and keep it up to date.

Marley Majcher is the CEO of The Party Goddess!, a nationally acclaimed full service event planning and catering company and is a regular on air contributor to national TV shows discussing all things lifestyle and entertaining . With her continuing desire to be on the leading edge of gastronomy and design for her company and clients, Majcher has blanched, flambĂ©ed and fricasseed her way through the Smithsonian Institution’s culinary series and cooking schools in both Paris and Normandy. She is constantly seeking out cool and creative individuals with style and personality to work with and attends premier design exhibitions whenever she can. Majcher currently spends any free time she might have, usually between 10:45pm and 11:15pm on Tuesdays planning her own annual blowout party every November.