Selecting the Right Party Caterer for Your Special Event




I was recently asked to write an article about selecting the right party caterer for your special event by Julian Mellicovsky.  His website Book of Cooks is a great resource for researching and contacting party caterers and private chefs in your local area.  As we all know, the holiday season is fast approaching and this is the time of year when most people entertain.  It doesn’t matter the size of your holiday or dinner party; what matters is the importance of assembling a team of experts to support you and make you look like a star.  Your selection should include the right party caterer to help you produce your event with style, taste and great food.  Most people will remember your special event by the décor and the food served, and thus it is crucial for you to maintain a list of good party caterers.  Therefore, when selecting the caterer or private chef consider and research your choice wisely before hiring him or her.

One of the aspects of a special event I discuss in my book, Budget Bash – Simply Fabulous Events on a Budget, is when hiring the caterer or private chef for your event it is important to first interview him or her.  Research what type of food they prepare, who their client base is and what type of food they are passionate about.  Also with party caterers consider what they charge in terms of catering your party and how they present their food.  Ask for sample menus and check to see if you can watch them in action.  It may be difficult to observe them at a small event, but many times prior to a special event starting, I will be “backstage” observing the party caterer, the kitchen and service staff and how the present the food at the special event

Also, check references, and more importantly CALL THOSE REFERENCES.  It amazes me how often people don’t follow up on a reference and then they are disappointed when the service or the caterer doesn’t meet their expectations.  It is also important, especially if you are serving a particular type of food at your party, that you use a party caterer or private chef that specializes in the type of food genre you choose to serve at your special event.  Of course, any trained or experienced chef can prepare and cook any type of food but I believe that if you are looking to create a specific themed dinner such as an Eco-Friendly dinner, you need to hire party caterers who specialize in macrobiotic vegan food preparation and green practices and presentation. 

Determine your food and service budget prior to meeting with your chef or the caterer.  When you meet with them, be honest and realistic.  Don’t present them with a pasta and hamburger budget and expect to eat Kobe beef and Maine lobster.  Remember, service is a secondary component of the catering budget and with workman’s compensation insurance, business insurance and other business costs your food budget most often is higher than you first estimated. 

In addition, many catering companies include a service fee that may range from 10% on up to 22% or higher.  This fee may cover operating costs such as transportation, refrigerator trucks (if it is a large event), commercial kitchen fees, trays and service items, tips for the staff or prep staff to name a few.  When you are presented with a bill and it simply states staff with a price, don’t hesitate to ask what the breakdown of staff is.  How many servers, kitchen help, scullery crew or prep personnel does this fee include?  After all, it is your special event and you are paying for a service; you need to know what you are paying for.

All party caterers or private chefs and their staff usually clean-up their kitchen area when they finish the job.  If their kitchen is set-up in an area other than in your house, then it is best to cover the ground with Astroturf or another type of non-skid carpet to prevent an accident from occurring.  It also makes clean-up more efficient since the Astroturf is taken away after the special event is over.

Therefore, when selecting a party caterer or private chef for your next special event, consider the helpful tips I suggested here in this article and in Budget Bash.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions whether it is a food or price item.  Give the caterer or private chef an accurate guest count to prevent them from an embarrassing situation such as running out of food.  Remember, you are the host, make sure the team behind you supports you and makes you look like a star host or hostess and don’t forget to be a guest at your own event.

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