by Lisa Grimaldi | May 01, 2006

The following checklist was compiled with the assistance of the catering department at the Boston Marriott Copley Place (


  • What is the nature of the event (awards ceremony, business meeting, fund-raiser, gala dinner, dance or other social occasion)? 
  • Is the function part of a meeting or a stand-alone event? 
  • How many people are expected to attend? Is this a first-time event? If not, use data from previous functions to help determine numbers. 
  • Where and how will the event be catered (on or off site, using a hotel’s catering department or an outside caterer)? 
  • If the event will be off site, does the venue require you to use its preferred caterer(s)?
  • If the event will be off site, are there adequate cooking and food-preparation facilities, including freezers, refrigerators and running water? 
  • Does the site have adequate general storage and load-in/load-out access? 
  • Will any VIPs be present? 
  • Will the event have a theme? 
  • Will there be live entertainment? 
  • Will alcohol be served?
  • What is the budget?

  • Begin planning as far out as possible to get the best prices for food and labor. 
  • Provide the caterer with details of the event, including the number of expected attendees, date, time, location, theme and host organization.
  • If using an off-site facility, arrange for the caterer to site-inspect the venue and kitchen facilities. 
  • Discuss with the caterer any dishes that were not successful with this group or for this event in the past. Provide a list of preferred foods and items to avoid. 
  • Address food allergies, vegetarian requests and any particular ethnic or religious preferences. (A general rule of thumb: About 5 percent of attendees will request vegetarian meals.) 
  • Determine the serving format: buffet, plated, French or Russian.
  • If considering a buffet, ask for a selection of foods that stay fresh and hold up well. 
  • Consider whether food will be prepared on site or made in advance and then transported to the event. Some types of fish, such as sole and flounder, do not hold up well if prepared ahead of time. 
  • Determine cleanup procedures. If catering staff will handle the cleanup, ask if an extra fee applies. 
  • Before committing to a final menu selection, ask the caterer to organize a tasting for you and possibly several event stakeholders. 
  • If alcoholic beverages will be served, ask for recommendations of wines within budget that will complement your meal. If you are allowed to purchase wine from an outside vendor, will the caterer charge a corkage fee?

  • Inspect the caterer’s facility to determine cleanliness, food storage  methods, etc.
  • Ask to see the caterer’s business license and health department certification; reputable firms should have both. 
  • Ask whether silverware and linens are included in the
    quoted price. 
  • Determine the number of waitstaff necessary. Discuss the professionalism and attire expected of the waitstaff.
  • Ask outside caterers for at least three references, and check them before signing a contract. 
  • Provide the caterer with a final head count 48 hours before the event.