Events range from cheese lunch drop-off to full-service catering. Caterers and their staff are part of the foodservice industry. Catering services provided vary depending on the event and can include: cooking and delivering food to an outside location; cooking, delivering and serving food; and full-service (preparing food, providing service staff, decoration of event location, prep and clean-up). In some cases of full-service catering, the caterer is called an “Event Management company.”
When most people refer to a “caterer”, they are referring to an event caterer who serves food with waiting staff at dining tables or sets up a self-serve buffet. The food may be prepared on site, i.e., made completely at the event, or the caterer may choose to bring prepared food and put the finishing touches on once it arrives.
The event caterer staff are not responsible for preparing the food but often help set up the dining area. This service is typically provided at banquets, conventions, and weddings. Any event where all who attend are provided with food and drinks or sometimes only hors d’oeuvres is often called a catered event.
Many events require working with an entire theme or color scheme. A catering company or specialist is expected to know how to prepare food and to make it attractive. As such, certain catering companies have moved toward a full-service business model commonly associated with event planners. They take charge of not only food preparation but also decorations, such as table settings and lighting.
The trend is towards satisfying all the clients senses with food as a focal point. With the correct atmosphere, professional event caterers with experience can make an event special and memorable.
Beautifully prepared food alone can appeal to the senses of taste, smell, and sight – perhaps even touch, but the decorations and ambiance can play a significant part in a successfully catered event.
Catering is often sold on a per-person basis, meaning that there is a flat price for each additional person. However, things like lighting and fire permits are not scaled with the guest count, so per-person pricing is not always appropriate. It is necessary to keep the cost of the food and supplies below a price margin in order to make a profit on the catering.
As many others in the food service industry, caterers and their staff work long hours. It is not uncommon for them to work on holidays or 7 days a week during holiday event seasons.
A comprehensive, formal full-service catering proposal is likely to include the following time-line matters:
- Rental arrival time
- Staff arrival time
- Bar open time
- Meal serve time
- Bar close time
- Rental pickup
- Out-of-venue time
Each of these factors affects the catering price.
For example, a rental quote for an “anytime” weekday delivery is usually much more economical than an “exact-time” delivery.
- General menu considerations: Clients may have specific dietary or religious needs to consider. these include Halal, Kosher, Vegetarian, Vegan and food allergy requests. Increasingly, clients are interested in food sustainability and food safety.
- Hors d’oeuvres: it should be clear if these are passed or stationary. Most caterers agree that three or four passed items are appropriate for the one-hour period prior to a meal.
- Meal Rentals: May include tables, chairs, dance floor, plants, tabletop (china, flatware, glassware, linens, chargers), bar glassware, serving equipment, salt/peppers, etc. It should be clear whether table and chair setup and take-down is included. Most rental companies do not automatically include setup and take-down in the rental charges.
- Labor: varies from caterer to caterer, but generally speaking, an event will have a Lead/Captain/Event Manager, a Chef, perhaps a Sous Chef or Kitchen Assistant, Wait staff and Bartenders. The labor on a plated dinner is generally much higher than the labor on a buffet, because a plated dinner involves double the china, and usually a minimum of three served courses, plus served coffee. Simply put, there’s a lot more to do. To do it properly requires roughly 10 to 50% more staff. On a large event, this can be substantial, especially if overtime or doubletime applies.
- Service Charge: Sales Tax, Some quotes will include lighting,liquor permit, fire permits, draping, florals, valet and coat check. Many venues discreetly get a “cut” of the catering bill. Caterers are contractually committed to not disclose this fee specifically in their contracts with the clients. Therefore, catering will sometimes cost substantially more at one venue versus another. Also, caterers must compete with illegal operators. A legitimate caterer will have a business license and a health permit both showing the address of the place from which they do business.
In addition, many caterers will provide partial catering services in addition to full-service. Partial catering can include cooking and delivery of prepared foods, pre-cooked dishes for pickup at the caterer’s location, and cooking, delivery and setup without service. In many cases partial catering can be an excellent and economical option to full-service catering.
Increasingly, restaurants are providing catering menus and services in addition to their regular menus. Restaurant catering can be either on-site or off-site, depending on the services offered.