Tips for Hiring and Working with a Caterer

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Make a date with a caterer as early as you can. Although a small event (20 or fewer guests) can be organized caterers appreciate two to four weeks’ notice. Extra time allows a chance to make a site visit and go over plans in person.

Consider booking your party during traditionally slower seasons: January (in a non-inaugural year), February, July or August. As for days of the week, Saturdays tend to be busiest, Sundays the slowest.

Although a lot of business can be conducted online, a phone call personalizes the relationship between caterer and client.

Have a vision of what you want. When you contact a caterer, be prepared to discuss food preferences, allergies, the setting and style of service (casual or formal). 

Come up with a spending plan and prioritize your wishes. Money can be an intimidating subject, but caterers are prepared to assist. “Tell them your budget, and they will let you know what they can do for you.

Another way to keep costs down is to replace pricey ingredients with less costly ones — brisket rather than tenderloin, for instance, and salmon rather than lamb.

You’ll want something to dress up the table. Flowers are great, but arrangements can be expensive. “Look around the house” for non-floral centerpiece ideas.   Mother Nature can help out, too. Depending on the time of year, table decorations might feature baby pumpkins and fall leaves, pine cones or bright green apples: “roadside wealth,” as they’re tagged in the trade.

For hosts who enjoy cooking, some caterers let them prepare a dish. But not all.  Catering, prefers to do everything. The chef once left a party where the host put out Costco snacks alongside his creations. It can be deemed disrespectful.

A big part of the budget, labor is not the place to cut. Under-staffing can lead to delays in attending to guests. Part of the reason you’ve hired a caterer is so you don’t have to serve, cook or clean up afterward. In a few cases, you can keep costs in line by reducing the length of a party.

Gratuities — a fraught topic in the catering world, where waiters are paid a much higher wage than most restaurant servers — are not expected. However, if a host chooses to tip, $25 to $50 per staff member is an appropriate range.