It is estimated that one in six Americans get sick as a result of food poisoning every year, with around 128,000 of these individuals ending up in hospitals and more than 3,000 dying annually. One of the hardest parts of planning a successful wedding, get-together, class reunion, or other similar events, is providing quality food and drinks for your guests. It is best to leave this to a good caterer near you who can also help keep food poisoning from spoiling your party. Aside from saving you the effort to come up with a diverse menu, and helping provide sufficient and great-tasting meals, hiring a professional caterer nearby makes for easy planning and delivery on the job. When considering a local caterer, the following inquiries will help you determine the most competent hands.
Are You Licensed, Registered, or Certified?
Several states and local governments have a regulatory framework in place to ensure that the activities of caterers and catering businesses within their jurisdictions meet specific health and safety standards. As such, caterers are typically required to obtain relevant licenses and permits, and these are usually obtained after they complete relevant education and training programs with recognized organizations like the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals (NRFSP).
Although the department of health in each state is usually responsible for issuing food safety licenses, in states such as Florida, Michigan, New York, and Texas, caterers must also obtain separate state-level food establishment licenses. On the other hand, catering licensure requirements are more relaxed in states such as Nevada and Nebraska that enforce only county-level food safety licenses. Similarly, many states require caterers and catering services that provide alcoholic drinks to obtain a separate license for this service. Therefore, you should contact your state's consumer protection office for detailed information on the licensure and permits that a professional caterer in your state must possess.
Note that it is advisable to hire caterers who identify with recognized professional bodies, such as the NRFSP and the American Culinary Foundation(ACF). While membership of these associations is not required to offer catering services, it is more reassuring to hire a caterer who conforms to work and professional standards set by a recognized body. Also, in the event of poor service delivery, some professional bodies allow consumers to report erring and unprofessional members.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Caterer?
Caterers typically charge for their services based on the total time spent on the job or based on the number of guests they will serve. The cost of hiring a caterer per guest ranges from $7 to $45 for a simple dinner and $20 to $115 per person for cuisine services, while hourly fees typically fall between $25 and $30 per hour. These costs depend on factors like your location, the type of event, the type of dishes you want, and the estimated number of guests. Another major determinant of the cost of hiring a caterer near you is the caterer's pedigree. Popular and well-reputed caterers will typically charge more than smaller and less popular caterers. The pricing system of each caterer also sets their prices apart, with some of them charging. In some cases, especially for large catering events, you may have to make an advance payment that will be used to cover the cost of ingredients and other items needed for the dishes on the menu.
Below are some helpful tips to help you hire a professional caterer that will provide the top quality services that you want without breaking the bank:
- Take quotes from up to three caterers to prevent being overcharged and to select the most reasonable prices.
- Get an estimate that is as accurate as possible for the number of people that the caterer will serve. You can achieve this for bigger events by letting guests RSVP ahead of the day of the event. You can also ask that they choose their desired meal, preferably from a list. In addition to knowing the number of expected guests, this provides you with useful information on the type and amount of meals to prepare, thereby reducing food wastage.
- Make smart comparisons between per-person and per-hour pricing basis with the information that you have. For example, for small events where you expect a small number of guests, it may be more cost-effective to pay your caterer on a per-person basis. This will keep your costs in check. Also, a considerable variation in the kind of food requested by each guest may not cause a spike in costs. However, when you expect a large number of people at your event, it may be financially wiser to pay your caterer based on the time taken to prepare the dishes.
- Book your caterer way ahead of the event. Informing your caterer a few months ahead of time will save you from the advance or rush fee associated with hiring at the last minute. Also, top-quality caterers will typically have sold out weeks and months in advance. Not booking ahead may also force you to change your date or go for a less-preferred caterer.
- Be shrewd with your event menu. You can reduce catering costs significantly by choosing a menu that the majority of your guests are generally accustomed to, such as local foods and drinks. It is usually cheaper to prepare local dishes compared to foreign or exotic meals. Also, the use of locally available food items and ingredients helps you save on the cost of buying and preserving foreign items and ingredients ahead of time.
- Engage event planners, especially for large events. Event planners have access to various individuals and companies that can ensure the success of your event. Consulting with reputable local event planners can ensure that you book and work with an affordable caterer for your events' catering needs without compromising the quality of catering service you will receive.
What Are the Common Catering Expenses?
Asides from the cost of food preparation for which you will have to pay a caterer, other secondary costs also apply. Some of these costs are given below:
- Cancellation Fee: Caterers typically set this fee as a percentage of the agreed cost of the job, and you will only have to pay this if you cancel the booking at a time considered too close to the day. This fee serves to cover costs of logistics and other expenses that the caterer must have incurred in preparing for your event.
- Kitchen Fee: This fee typically applies if the cooking will be done in the caterer's kitchen. While some caterers add this cost to the total cost of service, others charge it as a stand-alone fee. This fee will cover the cost of gas, water, utensils, and other tools used to prepare the meals.
- Delivery Fee: For food preparation that will be done in a place other than the venue of the event, caterers will charge delivery fees for transporting the meals to your event. It is advisable to hire a caterer near you or close to the event center to reduce this fee. You may equally be able to reduce this cost by making delivery arrangements on your own.
Other fees may apply during and after the event. For example, the caterer may charge you for serving guests at the event and cleaning dishes and other utensils after the event. You must therefore ensure to clearly understand the terms and conditions of a caterer's service contract. Also, ensure that all composite costs are broken down to you to avoid hidden charges and to have a clear understanding of the services that you will be paying for.
Who Will Do the Work?
Hiring a caterer near you may involve working with individual-run catering outfits or large catering companies. When you work directly with the caterers, you can usually carry out all your qualification and certification checks and relate all your concerns to them. It is also relatively easier to monitor the progress of planning and preparation for your events. However, for large events where you will typically have to engage big catering firms and interact with a manager or the business unit, you will need to make extra efforts to monitor and supervise the caterers where necessary.
Therefore, you must ask to be introduced to the exact catering professional who will handle your event. This way, you can go beyond checking the catering business license and ask to see proof of certification and other forms of qualification from this caterer. You can equally enforce proper monitoring and determine if the caterer assigned to your event has handled similar events or food menus in the past.
What Qualifications Should a Caterer Have?
Caterers in the United States do not require extensive formal education. However, most catering professionals require a high school diploma or a GED certificate to complete food safety certification courses and similar programs. Caterers also do not require previous job experience for admission into vocational catering training, education, and apprenticeship programs offered by universities and other recognized learning institutions.
Professional bodies such as the American Culinary Federation (ACF), the National Association for Catering & Events (NACE), and the National Restaurant Association (NRA) offer training and certification programs for interested members. This makes it easier for members to improve their skill set and receive training that helps them maintain professional and ethical standards.
When hiring a caterer near you, it is always a good idea to hire one that has been certified by a professional body as this is usually an excellent indicator of a caterer's level of expertise and exposure.
Will You Provide References?
References are a great way to properly assess a caterer's level of expertise and professionalism. It is a good practice to ask for caterer references from relatives, neighbors, and close associates. Ask any prospective caterers that are referred by these individuals to point you to clients they have served in the past. It is always always a good idea to hire well-reputed caterers in your immediate locality as this makes it easier to visit their past clients and get a first-hand review of the caterers' services. You can ask these past clients the types of dishes that these caterers prepared, the number of guests that were served, and whether they would be willing to hire the caterer again for future events.
You can also conduct independent background research and get reviews on prospective caterers through online search engines and review websites like Yelp and Better Business Bureau.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Caterers typically handle various types of events, such as weddings, funerals, birthdays, holidays, and reunions. However, some professional caterers may specialize in specific types of events, and it is generally preferable to look for a caterer near you that does this for the event you have at hand. Therefore, it would be best to make inquiries directly from the caterer about what type of events they cater to.
Many catering businesses take reservations and orders on a first-come-first-served basis and it is advisable to reserve your date as early as possible, preferably as soon as the date of your event is certain. Note that you may be required to pay a deposit when making your reservation.
Yes, many professional caterers will allow you to either make changes to the menu that they offer or come up with a special menu that will be suited to your guests. However, you should always verify this with the caterer that you intend to hire.
Most professional catering businesses try to render services that are as inclusive as possible, and this involves making provisions for guests with food allergies and special dietary requirements. A professional caterer will usually ask you about dietary restrictions and require that you provide details on any dietary adjustments that you would like them to make to the event's menu.
Many caterers typically charge a corkage fee for every drink opened and served at your event. Nevertheless, you should always confirm this from the caterer that you intend to hire. To cut the charges for corkage in large events, you may agree to a lump sum payment for this service beforehand, that is, payment will not be dependent on the number of drinks opened and served. For small events or those that you envisage will not involve heavy drink consumption, you may pay on a per-drink basis at the end of your event.
The availability of taste testing varies across catering businesses. Some catering outfits offer prospective customers taste tastings across a variety of meals. Depending on the caterer, you may be charged a fee for this taste testing or it may come at no additional cost to your total bill.
On the other hand, some caterers do not offer tastings at all, and instead, refer you to their restaurants where you may purchase and assess a wide variety of meals that they have prepared. Alternatively, some of these caterers may provide you with references who can vouch for the quality and specific flavor of each food on the menu.
Many caterers generally require a final guest count no later than two weeks before the event. However, you should confirm the specific timeframe for this with the caterer near you that you intend to hire. Note that you may have to pay a surcharge if you adjust this count after it has been submitted to the caterer.
Most professional caterers typically have policies for handling customer cancellations. This includes how to cancel a booking, arrangements for refunds, and a specified time frame after which you may no longer be able to get a complete refund. It is always a good idea to request a written contract from any caterer that you intend to hire and make sure that this contract contains the terms and conditions attached to any service cancellations.
Catering outfits provide custom-delivered services that are rendered according to each customer's individual preferences, while restaurants provide ready-made options that are usually limited in variety and unable to cater to customer-specific needs. In addition to this, some catering outfits also provide auxiliary services like properly packaging or disposing of leftover foods and post-event venue cleanup, all of which contribute to making them generally more expensive than restaurants.