Catering Services -Everything You Need to Know
When most people think of catering services they think of a company that provides food and drinks – and they’re right. However, there is more nuance within the catering industry than most people realize. There are different types of catering, a variety of services offered within each, different catering events, and a lot of customization. Catering services can be as simple as dropping off food, to as elaborate as individually plated and served dinners with full bar service at a private venue.
This article is going to cover everything you need to know about catering services. You’ll learn about the different types of catering services, how good catering companies guide your menu selection, what to look for when hiring a catering company, and a lot more.
What do Catering Companies Do?
Catering companies do a lot. On the surface level, caterers provide food for parties, events, companies, and institutions. They can serve meals to 500 people in a banquet hall or deliver lunch box lunches to a small business.
The other “unseen” thing caterers do is give their clients time to focus on higher priority tasks. For example, coordinating the box lunches for 30 different people, whom half of have dietary restrictions, and making sure all of the food is delivered at the same time would be a logistical nightmare and take valuable time to coordinate. Catering companies are customization experts and logistical wizards. They provide a massive value that you really can’t get anywhere else.
Catering companies offer more than food. You can rent tables, chairs, glassware, and silverware from a catering company. Maybe your event doesn’t need food, but alcohol and a bartender would be nice – a good catering company can provide that. Some catering companies even rent out equipment for special events like refrigeration units, ice machines, and popcorn makers.
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How Catering Services Make Events Great
Aside from setting up tables and chairs, and preparing and serving food and drinks, catering companies act as the glue that holds a party or event together. Every great event starts with planning. You may have a theme or concept but are not sure how to integrate it with a menu and drinks. Your catering company will work with your budget and outline menu options that fit with your concept.
They will help custom craft an appetizer menu, bar menu, dinner menu, and even a dessert menu. The plan details how many staff will be on-site, scheduling, the presentation, and the expectations.
During the event, the catering service will keep the drinks flowing and manage the food so everyone gets enough to eat. The catering supervisor on site will be in communication with you throughout to ensure important things like champagne toasts and cake cuttings stay on schedule and are carried out as you envisioned during the planning phase.
What are the Types of Catering Services?
Most restaurants, including fast food and sit-downs, offer some form of catering, but usually not full-service catering. Catering services can be broken down into four major categories:
- Drop Off Catering
- Full-Service Catering
- Mobile Catering
- Boutique Catering
Because catering is all about customization there are plenty of variations and options within each type of catering. Let’s take a closer look at each type of catering and see what they offer.
What is Drop Off Catering?
The name says it all – or most of it. Drop off catering typically only covers what is directly associated with your food. Drop off catering can be as simple as a catering company preparing custom lunch boxes for your team and delivering them. Restaurants and catering companies offer different levels of drop off catering service
Drop off catering packages can also offer more than just food preparation and drop off. Drop off catering may also provide set up of buffet tables, food display, and clean up and break down of a buffet.
Drop off catering is becoming more popular within the office setting. More and more companies are using drop off catering for business functions and office lunches. Companies are enjoying the quality food, customization, and time savings drop off catering offers customers.
What is Full-Service Catering – What does Full Service Catering Include?
A full-service caterer does everything a drop off caterer does and a lot more. A full-service caterer will get involved at the planning stage of an event or party and help the client design the menu, and may even consult on decorations and theme.
A full-service caterer will prepare the food, set up tables, chairs, buffets, and serve the food. If it’s a buffet-style event cater staff will serve guests as they make their way through the line so everyone gets enough food. If the event is family-style, servers will deliver the food to each table. Another option is plated catering where servers bring prepared plates to each guest.
Full-service caters will also offer an open bar option with a bartender or will serve individual drinks to tables. To save on price you may choose a package that includes one free drink then make additional drinks self-pay.
During the event a full-service catering company keeps the party going. They make sure drinks are readily available for guests who want them, and that everyone gets enough to eat. If there are special toasts during a wedding, for example, the caters will make sure everyone has a champagne glass and coordinate the toast. The same goes for cake cuttings or anything else you want during the event.
Finally, your full-service catering company will break down and clean up at the end of the event.
What is Mobile Catering?
Mobile catering has grown in popularity in recent years. You can think of mobile catering as anything on wheels, like food trucks, food carts, and food trailers.
Food Trucks are probably the most common type of mobile caterers you’ll notice. Food trucks can be found on busy street corners throughout the day and in designated food truck areas in some cities. You can also hire a food truck for an event.
Mobile catering offers unique cuisine choices from Thai and Mexican to BBQ and Ethiopian. If you can imagine it there is probably a food truck offering it. Mobile catering is a great option for casual events like pop-up flea markets and busy days at microbreweries.
When you hire a catering company it’s not just about feeding your guests, it’s about creating an experience, and nothing creates an unforgettable experience like a boutique caterer. A boutique caterer is all about creating a personalized and customized experience on a small scale. Boutique catering is for small events of 20 people or less.
Boutique catering companies don’t prepare meals at an off site kitchen, they start cooking when the guests arrive. It’s an interactive experience where guests get an intimate understanding and connect with the food they’re eating. Chefs explain techniques and give breakdowns of where food comes from and why it’s prepared a certain way. Boutique caterers provide craft plated, multi-course, progressive dinners, and even custom cocktail parties.
Types of Catering Events
Now that you have a better understanding of the types of catering services let’s look at the types of catering events. You can hire a catering company for nearly any event no matter how casual or formal it may be. Because catering companies are flexible and customizable they will usually offer something that meets your needs no matter what kind of event it is.
Wedding catering is probably the most common type of catering event. Aside from food and wine, the caterer will take care of table settings and displays. Depending on how elaborate your wedding is the caterer may also help with certain aspects of decorations. One of the most important things a wedding caterer does is keep the event’s special food and drink-related moments on track. Special toasts and the cake cutting will be directed by the caterer.
Corporate functions can range from small gatherings to elaborate end of the year dinners. Some companies will hire a small open bar for employees. Corporate functions are usually elegant and relaxed and should be catered for with this in mind. Hiring a wedding caterer for your corporate function might not go as well as you’d like. Choose a caterer that is familiar with corporate catering for the best results. Full-service catering is the best choice for corporate catering events.
Social Event Catering
Retirement parties, birthdays, baby and bridal showers are all events that benefit from hiring a caterer. When you choose catering for a social event you can keep it simple with drop off catering or make it a more intimate event and hire full-service catering. If you have guests with different cultural beliefs or dietary restrictions, a catering company can prepare a diverse menu to meet everyone’s needs.
Cocktail Party Catering
Cocktail parties are all about mingling and meeting, sipping on tasty beverages, and tasting delectable finger foods. The main ingredient at cocktail parties is of course cocktails. A good cocktail party caterer will have a mixologist at your event serving up the classics along with some in-house specialty drinks. Just as important as the drinks are the appetizers. A customized hors d’oeuvres menu ranging from the traditional to the exotic will be served by the catering company staff throughout your cocktail party.
How Much Does Catering Cost? What to Expect to Pay a Catering Company.
Like most things – it depends. But we can give you some general ranges so you know what to expect to pay depending on the type of catering service you choose.
Wedding catering events can often be the most expensive type of catering event. The average costs are $70 per person for food and $85 per person for food and drinks, for sit down service. So if your wedding has 100 guests, you can expect to pay up to $8,500.
Plated dinners cost the most no matter what type of event it is. Plated dinners range from $80 to $155 per person. Plated dinners are most common at official events or large celebrations.
Buffet style is the most affordable for events coming to $15 to $30 per guest. The price does depend on the choice of food and quantities requested. It is a good idea to have servers at the buffet to prevent guests from over plating and quickly burning through your food supplies.
Family-style catering is a combination of buffet and plated dinner service, and as expected the cost falls somewhere in the middle at $50 to $100 per guest. At family-style events, food is served to every table individually on big plates from which the guests can then choose from.
Drop off catering is the most affordable type of service as it’s charged by food item as opposed to per person. The range for drop off catering is typically $10 to $30 per head.
- Corporate Events = $70 – $90 / person
- Formal Dinner = $85 – $145 / person
- Graduation Party = $25 – $45 / person
- Weddings = $95 – $200 / person
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Is there a Minimum Fee for Catering Services?
Again, it really depends on the catering company, but usually, there is a minimum depending on the type of service requested. For example, the minimum on drop off catering will be much lower than the minimum on full-service catering events.
How Much is a Deposit for Catering?
Most catering companies will accept a 50% deposit. If you cancel within 96 hours of the scheduled event you should expect to pay the full deposit because the food ingredients will have already been ordered.
Should You Tip a Catering Company?
Some caterers will have an 18% gratuity built into their pricing. The majority of catering companies will not require tipping, but it is expected. 12% to 15% gratuity is considered on the low end, while 25% would be considered high end. 18% is always a safe percentage to choose if you want to tip for good service.
Catering Contracts – What Should a Catering Contract Include?
You know you’re hiring a catering service for your event but want to make sure you’re getting what you pay for. The best way to ensure a good experience is to pay close attention to the catering contract. The contract should not be confusing, it should be clear about costs, time-lines, and liabilities. A good catering contract will include:
- Menu Description – If you agree on Thai food and get Chinese food that’s a problem. The agreed-upon menu should be listed on the contract.
- Deadlines for Deposits – Know when all deposits are due to avoid paying for late cancelations.
- Cancelation Clause – Make sure the caterer can’t cancel on you. Some catering companies overbook then drop smaller clients at the last minute.
- Liabilities – Make sure you are not responsible for rentals that get damaged or go missing.
- Clear Timelines – Establish when the caterer will show up, fulfill their duties within the event, and what time the event ends.
- List all Services – If you’re hiring a full-service catering company every service from setting up tables, serving guests, and cleaning up should be listed out on the contract.
- Insurance – The company’s insurance should be on the contract, including liquor liability and general liability.
- Licenses – An up to date health permit and liquor license should be listed.
- Total Cost – Never sign a contract that doesn’t state the total cost.
What Makes a Good Catering Services Company? How to Choose the Best Catering Company
For starters, a good catering company will be fully licensed and insured. Because the catering industry is so highly customized it’s best to choose a catering company that’s been around for a while. The more experience the company has, the better they’ll be able to adapt to your unique event and make choices that will ensure its success.
Remember, a good catering company provides more than just food, tables, and chairs. They will guide you in menu design, how much food to order, presentation, and help you work with your budget to get the most out of it. You should know exactly what you’re getting and the cost.
Great catering companies show up on time – not too early, and not too late. They’re professionals and dress like it. The staff knows how to speak to guests and add positive energy to an event. Good catering companies will only use in-house staff that is experienced and has been vetted.
Like most things, you get what you pay for. If you find a really cheap deal, you’re likely going to get service that matches. Too good to be true prices usually have hidden fees that you have to unearth on your own or are surprised with during a high-pressure sales pitch during the contract signing. A reputable catering company will be fully transparent about pricing and never use heavy-handed sales tactics to convince you to sign a contract.
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Three Things Great Catering Companies Do
- Offer a Tasting Menu – How can you be sure of a caterer’s quality unless you taste the food they prepare? Schedule a tasting with multiple catering companies to ensure they meet your expectations.
- Provide References – Checking references is a great way to know a catering company is going to get the job done. Today online reviews on Google, Yelp, and Angie’s List will give you a pretty accurate view of how they’ve performed for other clients.
- Communicate – The success of your event rests on your catering company delivering their promise. Part of their duty is to make sure you know what is going on every step of the way. If you have a question during the planning phase the catering company should promptly answer it. Equally important is communication during the event. They should have a supervisor that is in constant communication with you during the event to ensure every important transition that involves food and drinks goes as planned.