There is one constant when it comes to celebrations and festivals the world over: Food. Regardless of the other things going on – a wedding, anniversary, birthday party, retirement party or holiday – the catering plays a huge role in making it a success or a failure.
Because of this, the choice of which catering service to use is one of the foundational decisions of any party-planning process. If the food tastes bad (or worse, makes people ill), nothing else about the event has much hope of rescuing it. Likewise, lacklustre entertainment can easily be overlooked if accompanied by a delicious meal. Catering in Sheffield by Bellisimo Food.
Feeding a large group of people will also be one of the largest budgetary items as well – sometimes the largest single item. A large purchasing commitment like that deserves proper care and attention. Try to save too much, and you wind up with substandard food and/or service; but spend too much and you may have little left for anything else.
Since caterers (and individual caterers’ packages) can vary in price by many factors of magnitude, you might find yourself comparing choices that are so far apart, it gets difficult to figure out what criteria you should really be using to find the best company and package for your needs.
Don’t despair. We went right to the source, to the caterers themselves, to find out what criteria you should use to determine a great deal from one that’s too good to be true. Armed with these nine things to consider, the mystery of how to choose a caterer should fade before your eyes and, hopefully, so will some of the stress.
Make sure to always worry about food hygiene in Sheffield: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/public-health/food-inspection-hygiene-rating-scheme
9 Key Issues to Focus on when Hiring a Caterer in Sheffield
#1 – Genuine interest and responsiveness
This is number one because it came up over and over again as we spoke to industry professionals. Some caterers will try to push certain deals or packages based on their own needs – not yours – and this almost always means you get the wrong final result.
During your initial consultation, the caterer should be listening as much as (or more than) they are talking. They should be asking questions about what you want, details about the people you plan to provide the food for, and your personal tastes and positive experiences with eating catered food in the past. They should be asking about the theme of your event, the goals you have for it, and the purpose you’re putting it on. This kind of a first meeting is usually indicative of how much they will listen as the process moves forward.
There will be more than one company that claims to have the best dishes, best ingredients, and even the best prices for what you’re getting. Some of them will be telling the truth. Of these, you’ll want to choose one that is also quick to return calls and emails, and is open to new ideas and to polite criticisms of what they offer.
A caterer who listens to what you want, is open to adapting to those preferences, and responds to your communications quickly, should make the short list of final choices.
#2 – Being able to niche down to your event type
Quality caterers specialise, and if a caterer claims to do any and all types and sizes of event, they are probably not very good at handling any particular one of them.
Nearly all caterers do a range of events, and handle a range of sizes and quality levels, but no one provider is top-notch at all of them. Would you expect a company that specialises in massive corporate events to produce a great little intimate wedding, or children’s party? A specialist in formal Kosher or Halal meals to put on a massive outdoor barbeque? An Italian food specialist to do a traditional Chinese feast? No.
When you begin looking for a caterer, you should interview at least three of them – even if the first one seems great! Ask each of them about these 9 criteria, and only then sit down with all of the information and decide which is the right choice, or which ones require a few additional questions. Make sure the short-listed companies have done your kind of event before, or something very like it, and are fully aware of your expectations.
#3 – Giving you lots of menu options
Most caterers have a standard menu of food choices – the usual ‘chicken or fish’ choices perhaps, plus vegetarian and vegan options. The options should be current, regularly updated, and reflect some care put into it by the caterer.
The caterer should also be open to changes based on your own preferences and visions for your particular party, including special dietary needs, like religious or other dietary restrictions, avoidance of allergens, and so on. Even portion sizes should be considered and adaptable to your preferences.
Not all caterers will take on a family recipe, for example, but some will. Some will add children’s meal options to the menu.
If any of these considerations are important to you, they must be available with that particular caterer. Even if you don’t have this kind of need, the willingness of a caterer to provide them is often a good indicator that they are service oriented, and don’t see you as just another invoice at the end of the month.
Whether you plan to ask for a modified menu or not, ask about the options and their willingness to adapt to specific needs. The questions should be answered with some caution (no caterer should promise the world on a budget), but with positivity and an openness to hear what you have to say. If they ask what you have in mind, be ready with a query such as children’s meal options, vegan options, or something similar, even if you don’t have a specific request of your own.
#4 – Offers Tastings
You will need to taste the food, both to know that it is suitable to what you want, and to be able to compare the food at the actual event to what was promised. Don’t concern yourself with being a bother, either – tasting a product (that you are about to spend thousands on) is standard practice, and should be done before signing any contracts or paying any deposits.
Caterers should be willing to provide you with samples of all appetisers, entrees and desserts (often wine or other specific beverages too). Often this comes with a tasting fee (especially if a wine tasting is included), but other times it is provided as a part of the process and the cost of it absorbed into the total bill for the event. Either one is standard industry practice and should not ring any alarm bells. Only refusal or excuses to avoid a tasting should be taken as a negative sign – and a deal-breaker.
When tasting the food, make sure you sample all of the dishes, where possible (a vegan won’t want to taste the steak, but could bring along a friend who could), and take pictures of each dish before tasting. This will aid you when trying to remember details of it – and may show your caterer that you are a serious customer and will expect them to bring their ‘A-game’ on the actual day. If they don’t make even a single sample look good, they are not likely to do so for your event; if they take care to make the tasting look great, they are more likely to provide a culinary piece of art on the big day.
#5 – Knows *and loves* your venue
You may be familiar with your venue, but it is very important that you make the caterer aware of it as well. Most good caterers will remember to ask about the chosen venue, and to get as much information as they need about it – including a tour if one can be arranged. If you book your caterer first, however, this may not be an option at the time and can easily be overlooked amid the stress and complexity of other planning. Make a careful note of this need, and be sure to make it happen.
Depending on the kind of event you are planning, the kind of food you wish to have, and the facilities you choose, the wrong combination can create a domino-effect of scheduling and production problems, sometimes resulting in disaster.
If a caterer can see the facilities first, special arrangements can be made to ensure that proper equipment and storage volume (such as cookers, freezers, trolleys and the like) are on hand. It also allows the caterer to estimate how many staff people can effectively work in the space, thereby letting them plan better and have a more accurate projection of serving and turnaround times.
Some venues have particular rules, too. Certain smelly foods (fish sometimes falls into this category) may not be allowed to be cooked on the premises, certain foods may not be allowed in some venues at all, such as non-Kosher or non-Halal foods, meats in general, anything with peanuts (or other common allergens) in them, and so on. Some entrances and exits may be designated for catering services while others are forbidden. Food waste protocols may be quite strict or unique. There may not be parking for vans or other vehicles either. All of these issues can be identified and worked around – if a simple tour is arranged.
#6 – Completely Explains the Contract to you
The contract should always include a very clear, detailed description of the food, beverages and services being provided, including accurate times and dates. The selected menu(s) should be on it, as well as the number of servings and/or people to be served, details of any beverages or bar service provided, and all additional services – and everything with precise pricing provided.
Some items are included in a standard contract, and others are upgrades. Find out which items are upgrades, and have them clearly marked. Also inquire as to the number of staff projected to be in attendance, and have that on the contract as well (as a minimum). As a rule of thumb, there should be about one person for every twelve guests. This includes servers, chefs, transport people and anyone else the caterer needs to make that part of the event happen.
Make sure you have a detailed description of cleaning responsibilities. This is normally the responsibility of the caterer (at least food-related cleaning), but it is important to have that in writing. Most caterers take unconsumed food away with them unless otherwise agreed and a liability waiver is signed.
The contract will normally protect the caterer from non-payment or default, and should also protect you from non-performance (failure of the caterer to provide the promised foods and services within a reasonable time of the agreed-upon schedule). It’s often worth your time and money to have an attorney look it over prior to signing.
#7 – Shows you the cancellation plan
You don’t plan to cancel your event, and your caterer probably intends to fulfil the agreed services in good faith – but sometimes emergencies happen.
Make sure there is a cancellation clause in the contract and that you understand what happens if you need to cancel, and what the caterer has in place to handle emergencies on their end of things. This should mean a full refund, but sometimes deposits are non-refundable – make sure yours is, and that you have it in the contract. Some caterers have agreements in place with other companies to refer you for a quick save of your event. You may be angry if this situation occurs, but keep your cool and take advantage of your would-be caterer’s professional contacts. It might just save your day.
#8 – Has references you can trust and call
Start with Yelp, TrustPilot, and other online review services, but keep in mind that these have an uncommonly high ratio of negative feedback – most positive experiences aren’t reviewed on these sights. If you can talk to previous clients, especially privately, you’ll get the most reliable feedback. Venues where they have previously worked can be good sources of feedback too – especially if the caterer cited a major past event there as a great success.
#9 – Insured
Every good caterer – EVERY ONE – should have insurance coverage. You don’t want to be liable for any damage caused by a caterer’s negligence or even a legitimate accident.
The contract should include assurances that insurance is in place. In the event of a problem, you can use this as additional protection from liability.