When it comes to the things that can make or break an event, few are as important as the quality, flavour and appearance of the food and beverages
Responsiveness and personal interest in your needs
A prospective caterer should be learning as much as they can about you in your first few conversations with them, so you should expect them to be talking and asking questions about 20% of the time and you providing answers and outlining your needs about 80% of the time. They should be interested in learning about your event. They should be asking about your theme, the purpose, budget and goals.
Ability to handle your specific type of event
Not every caterer is perfect or every type of event, and many caterers themselves openly admit this.
So when interviewing your caterers (and you should speak with at least 3 caterers for any event with a reasonable budget), you need to be specific about the type of event you are planning and the type of food and/or presentation you are expecting. Otherwise, you may end up selecting a caterer who simply isn’t a good fit for the type or style of your event.
Flexibility regarding menu options
Practically every caterer has a standard menu or menus to choose from, and many do provide some level of built-in flexibility to adapt these menus to your specific needs by substituting specific items and/or customizing others.
However, the standout caterers will go beyond standardized menu options and be willing to create amazing fare that matches even more specific theme and dietary needs.
An ideal caterer should also be willing to handle (or at least consider) special requests.
Willingness to provide tastings
How will you ever know what a caterer can do unless you sample their goods? And more specifically, how will you know what the menu items you are considering will taste like unless you specifically try them?
Attend at least 3 tastings with separate caterers and make sure you can taste what you want.
In addition, you can request wine pairings for these tastings if they are appropriate for your event (be prepared to pay a fee … it’s a small price to pay to ensure you choose the right caterer). And when you are sampling the food, also attend to how it is presented, as any caterer who takes the time to properly display a sample will probably be more likely to make that kind of effort on your event day.
Familiarity with the venue
Even more traditional venues can also have restrictions that caterers must follow – like certain setup standards or disposal restrictions for waste food and water – so having a caterer that is familiar with a venue’s rules can potentially save you lots of hassle on event day.
A complete explanation of services/goods promised in the contract
The caterer’s contract should clearly spell out exactly what food, beverages and services the caterer will be provided on the designated day(s). Moreover, it should protect you from non-performance as much as it protects the caterer from non-payment/default so you may want to consider having an attorney look at it before you sign it.
Every detail should be included in the contract, including selected menus, the number of servings and/or people to be served, beverage/bar service details (if applicable) and all pricing and additional services.