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Monday, October 4, 2010

First Steps To Choosing the Best Caterer

The food is one of the most important parts of your event planning.  Food transcends, and is a part of the lasting memories in our lives.  We tend to include food, in the special moments of our lives, so when you start to look for a caterer for your event, keep the importance of the food, in your mind.  Before you start contacting caterers for your events, there are a few things, that you should think about and decide on, so that the caterer can give you as much accurate, relevant information as possible.  It's somewhat redundant to ask for pricing information, before you've thought about what you want first.  So to make the most out of your time, take a moment to decide on some key components of your event menu.

The first thing you should establish, is the venue where you will have your event.  This should be picked
out first, because it will determine how much research you need to do, to find a caterer.  Some venues
have in-house catering, that you must use, to rent the venue.  If you know that you want to pick your
caterer, then this will be a key factor in picking your venue.  Once you have your venue picked out, and
are sure that you can bring in an outside caterer, now your caterer search can begin.

The best placed to start, would be to ask family and friends for catering referrals.  If someone you know
has had a great experience with a caterer, why not try them first.  Whether you go with a referral or
start from scratch, you'll need to have a basic idea of what you'd like from the caterer, before you
request a caterer quote.

1.  You need to have an estimated guest count.
Most caterers will price the menu, by a per person rate.  Also, having an approximate guest count will
help you set a budget for your food.  The more guests you have, the more carefully you need to create
your menu, to consider cost.  Small changes will greatly effect your total price, because of the large
guest count.

2.  You need to have a realistic understanding of pricing.
Before you set your price per person, please make sure that you consider everything that you are paying
for, in hiring a caterer.  Realistic pricing, for a caterer, is nothing like the cost of the food you buy
for your home, or even at a restaurant, for that matter.  Take a moment to think about a few things. 

*What you pay, for your home food bill, is for food at it's basic stage - not prepared or served.  So it
  would be obviously lower in total dollars spent.

We can take it a step further, and think about what we pay for a fast food combo meal, these days.  They
run, on average, $5-$8 per meal.  That meal usually consists of a sandwich, fries, and a drink.  There's
some variation, but for the most part, it's quick easy foods.  Mass productions of what we would quickly
make at home, for ourselves.  Now apply that thought, to how much your budget for a caterer will be. 

*I know times are tough, but to put your menu budget at $5-$8 per person is not realistic, if your trying to
  give your guests a full sized dinner entree and 2 side dishes, of a memorable gourmet meal, above the
  comparison to a fast food combo meal!

Now, if your budget is tight, that's okay.  You just have to rethink what your menu offerings will be. 
You may not be able to go for the full dinner, that you originally wanted.  Instead, try to stretch your
per person rate with appetizers/finger foods, and go for a cocktail reception, instead of a full dinner. 
Your guests can still get a variety of foods to eat, but your not breaking your budget with a full meal. 

*Get smaller quantities of different appetizers, to offer variety.  But unveil different appetizers through
  the night to stretch them.

When establishing your per person budget, consider what else you are receiving, from hiring a caterer, VS. not. 
Your time and energy can be focused on enjoying the day.  If you don't have a planner, coordinating your wedding day, hiring a caterer will at least allow for more time for other things.  You are paying, in essence, for your time.  Time that would be spent on buying the necessary food items and supplies, time spent preparing the foods, and the time out of your wedding day to set up, serve and replenish the food.  All this time is reclaimed, when you hire a catererWhat is that time worth to you?  It should be reflected in your per person budget!

3.  Know what type of menu is your 1st choice.I don't mean that you have to know what you want on the menu.  Just have a general idea of your
preference.  Are you having more of a cocktail hour reception, with appetizers only, being passed around?
Or would you rather have a more traditional dinner, with 2-3 entree choices, and multiple sides?  Whatever your preference is, it is vital information to have, before you start requesting quotes from a caterer.

****Rules of Thumb****
*The more information you can give the caterer, initially, the more accurate the quote will be, toward
  what you want.

*Try to have the venue picked out before looking for a caterer.  The venue choice may dictate who can
  provide the food.  Ask the venue about their catering policy.

*Make sure you know who will provide the place settings, linens, tables, etc.  You or the Caterer?  Get
  it in writing!

Good luck with your planning, and be creative!

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