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Catering at Events


The planning of food and drink at an event is an important process; the events success can rise of fall on the catering. In choosing catering and food to suit the event, consider the following:

  • Understand who the guests are and then cater for the preferences and needs of the guests
  • Choose a menu that suits the event, the venue, and the time-frame of the event – e.g. if time is short, a sit-down four course meal may not be appropriate; finger food or sandwiches etc. may save time. For a sit down (plated) meal you should allow 1 ½ - 2 hours, a buffet 1 hour, cocktail style stand-up meals (passed food) are usually around 1 hour but sometimes longer. Will the food be hot or cold or a mix?
  • What type of catering is appropriate to the event? Is it outdoor or indoor, stand-up or sit-down? Or a combination. Will you use on site sales (vendors), on site inclusive/free, self-catering, off-site (go to restaurant at lunch), fast food, sit down, cocktail style, a full meal; a la carte or set menu, snacks.
  • What sort of drinks will be offered drinks, alcohol (this will need a license), water, hot beverages etc.?
  • Choose caterers that are very flexible as to what they will provide.
  • What type of food service suits the event? See below for types of services usually offered.
  • In choosing a menu, consider seasonality and consider including regional produce. Consider offering a range of alternatives on the menu if it suits the event.
  • When are the guests eating? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or in between – cater to suit.
  • Are all guests eating from the same menu? For example are children or VIPs catered for differently?
  • Consider special dietary needs – vegetarian or other food restrictions, allergies, religious requirements etc.
  • Consider presentation – food must look appetising as well as taste good
  • Confirm the menu early on in the event’s planning – that way you will know exactly how much it will cost and what will be provided. Most caterers require that the menu is planned about 3 -4 weeks in advance of the event. Make sure you have the guest numbers at this stage. There will always be some contingency allowed so make sure you understand exactly what that is (it can range from between 2-4%).
Types of service
  • Silver serviceWaited tables
  • Buffet
  • Plated buffet
  • Action station (exhibition cooking)
  • Cafeteria service
  • French cart service
  • Food stations
  • Vendors (food vans etc.)


Choosing a caterer may be more important than choosing the food! Here are some tips you can use when choosing a caterer:
  • Ask for references and check them! And use references from other event organisers to verify suitability. The caterer must be able to provide evidence of past successes – recommendations are very important in choosing the right team to cater for an event.
  • Check to see if they are available when required – it is no use wasting time on any further contact if the caterer you want is not available at the time you need them – move onto the next one on your list. Get your final list down to about three.
  • Make a list of questions that you have on-hand at your first meeting with your prospective caterers.
  • Find out who is the boss – you must have a contact point in case things do not go to plan or other catering problems arise.
  • What is their ‘meet and greet’ response to you like? Are they friendly and accommodating or off-hand and dismissive? Were your questions or pre-meeting contacts with them answered promptly and openly? You need caterers that can be relied on to deliver on time if their proposals come to you after your closing date, they may not be the best choice.
  • Are the caterers you are considering familiar with your type of event and venue?
  • Ask the caterer for a tasting – this will enable you to check that they are providing quality food that is tasty and well-presented and that will suit the event you are catering for. Make sure that they are able and willing to cater for special food requirements such as vegetarian food etc.
  • Determine what the caterer is actually proving i.e. what their range of service is for the budget you have allocated. Will it be on-site service, will it be cooked off-site and delivered for you to organise, will it be cooked off-site and will they deliver and offer service?
  • Does the caterer offer the type of service you are after? Is their presentation what you are looking for e.g. what are they serving their food on? Does it meet your expectations? Will differing service-ware levels cost more or less? Do they offer a full range of service-ware including table cloths and napkins, table arrangements, cutlery and so on? What exactly is included? Does their catering staff have the dress codes in order to meet the event’s requirements?
  • How many staff will be offered on-hand on the day and will this meet the demands of the event?
  • Is the quote you received inclusive of all costs including taxes? It is so often a common practice these days to quote pre-tax (you don’t want to get a surprise after the event if a caterer you chose has not included GST or VAT for example. It could significantly add to the cost of the event.
  • Compare several caterers before making a final choice.
  • Make sure that they have a current food handler’s license (or similar) and any other appropriate licences for their hygiene and safety practices are they insured? Make sure that copies of all these certification requirements come as part of their package, when they respond with a quote.
  • Make sure what they offer matches your requirements.
  • Don’t choose a caterer you do not feel comfortable with.
  • Once you have chosen a caterer go through the service contract carefully and thoroughly before signing off on it.
  • Follow-up with your caterer a week before the event and again the day before – it is better to be over cautious then caught out at the last minute!

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