April 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio April 1999 Current Issue
April 1999 ChecklistPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:



Working With a Caterer

The following checklist was compiled with the help of Kurt Brown, director of catering, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 110 Huntington Ave., Boston, Mass. 02116 determining needs


  • What is the nature of the event (business meeting, awards ceremony, social fund-raiser, gala dinner)?
  • Is the function part of a conference or meeting, or is it a stand-alone event?
  • What is the expected attendance? Keep track of acceptances and regrets so you will have an up-to-date head count.
  • 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 hotel’s catering department or an outside caterer)?
  • If the event will be held off-site, are there adequate cooking and food-preparation facilities?
  • Is there adequate cold storage (freezers, refrigerators) and running water?
  • Is there 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. Last-minute planning results in higher food and labor costs.
  • Give caterer details of event, including number of expected attendees, date, time and location.
  • If using an outside facility, arrange for the caterer to site-inspect the venue and kitchen facilities.
  • Let the caterer know whether the event will be themed and if entertainment is planned.
  • If possible, provide the caterer with historical data from past events.
  • Discuss with the caterer any dishes that were not successful in the past. Likewise, provide a list of the clients’ likes and dislikes.
  • Be sure to address food allergies, vegetarian requests and any particular ethnic or religious preferences. (A good rule of thumb: About 5 percent of attendees will request vegetarian dishes.)
  • Let the caterer know your preference for food service, i.e., buffet vs. a sit-down. (Keep in mind that although buffets require less wait staff, they are more costly than plated events because they require greater amounts of food.)
  • If considering a buffet, ask for a selection of foods that stay fresh and hold up well. Avoid fried foods, sliced meats and breakfast items, such as scrambled eggs, which tend to dry out fast.
  • If planning to serve alcohol, ask the caterer for consumption guidelines and to recommend a wine within budget that complements the menu.
  • When considering dishes, keep in mind whether the food will be prepared on site or prepared in advance and then transported. Some types of fish, such as sole and flounder, do not hold up well if prepared in advance.
  • Let the caterer know if you want to donate unused leftover food, and ask for a list of local charitable organizations, such as food kitchens, with which they have relationships.
  • Be sure to provide a final head count to the catering department 48 hours before the event.

  • When contracting with an outside caterer, ask for at least three references, and call them.
  • Inspect the caterer’s facility. Cleanliness is a good standard by which to judge professionalism.
  • Ask what is included in the price. Some caterers will give an all-inclusive price for food, silverware and linens, while some quote one price for the menu and another for accessories.
  • Discuss wait staff and clean-up procedures.
  • A professional caterer should have a license to do business as well as a health department certificate. Ask to see both.
  • Ask about insurance, food transportation and wait staff. If you expect a certain caliber of wait staff, explain your requirements.
  • Before committing to a final menu selection, ask the caterer for an actual tasting. At the very least, you should be able to see a photo portfolio of dishes the caterer is comfortable preparing.

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