Tips for working with inexperienced off-premise caterers

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While working in Nevada last week, I went to the final meeting with the off-premise catering company who was catering my client’s customer appreciation event. This party was being held at a museum, and the caterer was from a chain of locally owned restaurants that recently started an off-premise catering division. Their first big contract was with this museum where my client’s event was to be held.

Any alarm bells going off so far? There should be. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here is a list of questions that you need to ask the newbie catering company.

  • What type of equipment does the restaurant company have for off-premise (e.g., chafing dishes, heat lamps, plates, etc.)? Many times these companies are not equipped properly because their expertise is restaurants not catering.
  • What type of equipment does the museum own that is part of the rental fee? For example, this museum did have tables and chairs.
  • What type of equipment is included with the cost of food? In this case linens, glassware, plates and silverware were included.
  • What type of table decor is provided (e.g., plates rises, floral, fluff cloth, etc.)?
  • How many other events my size have they done in the past at this venue? This will give you an idea of their history handling groups your size.
  • What was their off-premise kitchen set-up like? What equipment would be coming with them to cook the food for your event?
  • Last, but equally important: What’s their staffing plan?

Here is where I hit the snag during my final meeting. When I asked about staffing, they said they were planning on only bringing eight people for a 200-person event. There were three bars and one barback, which only left four people to handle the rest of the room.

Plus, I was using china/glass, which technically requires more staff than disposable place settings. So they had enough staff to run the buffet food and no one to help clear! In the end, we ended up tripling the amount of staff. Because of their lack of experience, it became my job to educate them on why this was needed.

So, what’s the moral of this morsel? Always ask questions. Vendors that are venturing out aren’t always going to be as educated as we would like for them to be. It takes experience. If they’re lacking, they’ll need to borrow from yours.

Claire R. Gould is the owner of Possibilities Unlimited and Rx for Catering LLC, a full-service culinary and logistics company that works all over the world negotiating and designing menus for meetings and events. Her company has done work for Coca-Cola, IBM, Honeywell and Embraer Executive Jets, among others. Gould teaches and writes about culinary and banquet trends and topics, and publishes a quarterly online newsletter “The Claire Diaries.” Follow her on Twitter @Rx_for_Catering.

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