I was recently interviewed by Cater.com, a website dedicated to helping catering businesses improve their service and professionalism. The published interview follows.
Cater.com: What types of things should be on a catering checklist leading up to a wedding or big event?
Glenna: The client needs to know exactly what the caterer can or will provide in addition to the food. Will they provide dishware? Linens? Do they provide dessert? If not, is there a fee to cut a cake or serve a dessert provided by another vendor? How many people will staff the event? How long will staff remain on site? If alcohol will be served, does the caterer have an alcohol license? (It is usually less expensive to have one vendor provide both food and alcohol if possible.) How much clean-up will catering staff handle? Do they remove trash? Sweep and mop if required?
Cater.com: In your vast experience of event planning, what aspect of catering can create the biggest issues or points of stress and how can they be avoided?
Glenna: One huge problem is choosing the wrong caterer for the venue or type of event. Hiring a caterer whose forte is casual outdoor events to cater a sit-down dinner can be a disaster. We had a caterer arrive at one event who had agreed to provide tray-passed hors d’ oeuvres, but his staff had no training in how to do that. They brought large plastic trays used for clearing tables, placed the items on paper plates and stuck a plastic fork in them like a pitchfork. It was embarrassing to the hosts (who had insisted on using that particular caterer) and to the guests.
Another issue is caterers who fail to provide the necessary serving dishes/pitchers/platters/utensils and other items. I now carry back up disposable plates and cutlery to all my events because of caterers who either forgot items or whose staff didn’t realize they needed them. Failure to provide pitchers or drink dispensers has been a big issue.
When dealing with a new caterer whose service and style is unknown, ask questions. No question should be considered too silly or too obvious. You might be surprised by the answer.
Cater.com: What are some important questions that everyone should ask their potential caterer but may not think to ask?
Glenna: Are you licensed? How long have you been catering? Have you catered an event similar to this one? Have you worked at the chosen venue before? How many staff will be coming and what is their level of experience? When will catering staff arrive? How will the servers dress? Are servers trained in the finer points of serving? Does the caterer have the necessary dishware and serving utensils? If not, will they rent them or must the client? If the caterer is providing linens, who will put them on the tables? Does catering staff assist with any of the set-up or clean-up? If so, how much?
Cater.com: When it comes to planning a large event on a tight budget, what areas of catering can be cut back most easily?
Glenna: When on a tight budget we usually avoid carving stations and serving large quantities of meat. A buffet of heavy hors d’oeuvres with a couple of salads can be interesting to guests and less expensive than a sit down meal.
Serving alcohol can be a budget breaker. Many clients are choosing to either eliminate alcohol or to serve wine with dinner and no more. Providing something like a coffee bar or Italian sodas can be fun and much less expensive.
Cater.com: What are some small details that can make an impact when it comes to table decorations and settings?
Glenna: The centerpiece needs to fit the size of the table. A small arrangement on a large table can feel lost. Size can be added visually by placing the arrangement on a mirror and perhaps placing votive candles around it. Conversely, an arrangement that is too large can make the table appear cluttered. Arrangements should not be so tall that guests cannot see each other across the table.
Cater.com: What are your thoughts on using food trucks to help cater a large event?
Glenna: We have used food trucks with varying degrees of success. They need to be chosen carefully. Many trucks provide only an entrée, leaving guests hungry in two or three hours. If the event will last for several hours, it may be necessary to provide snacks later in the afternoon or evening.