So as most of you know, I finished my last full-service catering business over eight years ago. Since then, I’ve helped friends, former clients, and local organizations, but I’ve officially stopped catering with a recent wedding I did for a friend in September 2021. I’ve had 188 weddings in my career, and with OCD, my health, my sanity, and the release of the first book in a book series Definitely Southern Cooking from Benwood, it’s time to close this chapter. With a second book, a tour, a TV show and a public appearance, it’s really, really good. Life has changed quite a bit in the past few years, let me tell you.
What should you look for in a caterer and how do you find the right caterer for the right type of event? I get these and all kinds of questions almost daily. This is generally my opinion after more than 15 years in the business.
What are your majors?
Want to know what they specialize in, and would this type of food fit your event/theme? A lot of catering companies don’t have an actual chef on the job. Often recipes and cooks. Don’t take this the wrong way, there is nothing wrong with it and it could be the best food you’ve ever had. But you don’t want a company to venture too far from their specialties if they don’t have a classically trained chef.
Ask them what they recommend based on specific ideals of budget and type of event.
This will give them (the professionals) a chance to explain what they envision for the event and see if they are creatively presenting what you are looking for or have the ability to point you in the direction you want to go.
What is the estimated cost?
Some caterers charge per person, and others have different ways of calculating the cost. Set a budget and be prepared to provide it to the caterer. I see a lot of people asking something like, How much would it cost me to offer a job to 100 people? Well that’s a loaded question, I’ve always tried to stay polite, but an honest answer based on what you just asked without more info you’ll probably get an answer, “Our minimum is $ per person or event, how many people on that depends on you” . Caterers must take into account disembarkation, seating, catering, buffet, event location, and foods served. Most caterers are very skilled at what they do, but they don’t mind reading. There are a lot of factors at play, and without those factors or your willingness to provide details, they will likely turn down the job or you will pay too much.
Do you provide a sample menu?
Most upscale and experienced restaurants offer this, some charge for it, some don’t, and most do. I would suggest if you haven’t spoken to previous customers, don’t know the caterer personally or happen to order a larger sampler. Sometimes it’s worth the fee.
Finally, since I’m retired, I’ll tell you what most restaurants don’t do. Don’t expect to pay what you would in a restaurant, days will end up being $10-$15, sometimes $20 per person. Caterers work with you to plan the food aspect of your event; they shop for or order ingredients; They often have to plan the purchase or rental of utensils, platters, napkins, serving pieces, and decor. They hire and schedule staff for not only the event but the days of pre-event preparations. They should plan how to get and serve warm or cold foods in a place you chose that doesn’t have a kitchen or doesn’t have a refrigerator, stove, ovens, maybe even a prep area, because you liked that. Then they execute the event in such a way as to make you look good, make them look good and bring out food that tastes great. In general, this is quite a task even for experienced caterers, but this is what they do. You will never see ninety percent of the work that will go into your event. You see a finished product for two to five hours, and it’s done.
Until next week, I’m Chef Hunter Lee
Remember, “Treat your kitchen, treat yourself.”