This is part of a series exploring common catering misconceptions written in conjunction with Auriana Albree, Vibrant Table event coordinator extraordinaire. For a discussion of budget-related misconceptions, see part 1.
When planning an event, experience is certainly an asset. For most of us, our event experience is usually as a guest, whether it be at a wedding, a conference, or a holiday party. We have absolutely no awareness of the months of planning and meetings that took place, and we don’t notice the action taking place behind the scenes. (And, as a guest, we shouldn’t!) At a well-organized event, we easily find our way around, our glasses are filled, bar lines are short, and the food is on time, warm, and delicious – life is bliss!
But now you’re engaged… or your boss has asked you to plan the summer barbecue. Have no fear, our freshman planner. Vibrant Table is here to help you with a little inside know-how so that you can meet with your vendors like a seasoned pro – impressing the in-laws-to-be or the top brass.
And for those reading this that already are seasoned pros, there might be a few take-home tidbits for you, too!
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“A plated dinner/buffet/hors d’oeuvre reception is less expensive than a plated dinner/buffet/hors d’oeuvre reception.”Look this up online and you’ll see a myriad of answers. The truth is: every event is different and every menu is different. Sure, plated dinners provide your caterer with more portion-control, but they also require more service staff. A grand buffet spread with wild Alaskan salmon and prime cut filet can be more costly than a plated dinner with pre-set salad and served pork shanks. Those adorable appetizers? It took five staff members five hours to prepare 400. They hardly sate the appetite and the French cheese runs $30 a pound wholesale. The seafood station? We’re not even going to go there. There are generalities (in our experience it’s plated dinner/heavy hors d’oeuvre reception/buffet from most to least), but there are exceptions, too.
“Catered food is tasteless and boring.”
As a caterer proud of our reputation and high standards, this common misconception saddens us. We cannot deny that the rubbery chicken cordon bleu exists – it certainly does – but caterers come in all shapes and sizes. Careful menu planning is essential. A high-quality caterer will look at your venue facilities, guest count, event theme and personal tastes. They’ll consider what’s in season at the time of your event. They’ll customize the menu and will prepare the food on site as much as possible.
If food quality is a priority, ask your caterer if where the food is prepared, and be open to their suggestions. An experienced caterer will know, for example, that it’s impossible to serve warm, perfectly flaky halibut to 300 guests on the garden lawn when the venue’s kitchen is the equivalent of two football fields away. A smart caterer will speak up. They have a reputation and professional standards to uphold.
“Some people won’t show, so I don’t need to order for everyone who RSVP’d.”
Weather, forgetfulness and illness are just a few of the reasons some expected guests fail to attend an event they’ve RSVP’d for. Yet there are also guests who didn’t RSVP that will show. Uncle Harry brought his new girlfriend and her three teenage sons; the boss invites a few top clients at the last minute. Folks notice when the food runs out. It’s not worth saving a few dollars to compromise a guest’s experience. Your caterer likely has a plan for leftovers (no one likes to see food wasted). Ask them about it. You can request they donate to a favorite relief shelter, or you can ask for boxes so that guests can take extra home.
“Caterers will bring extra alcohol so they can charge me more. I can figure out how much to order on my own.”
A tapped out bar generally closes the party. It’s best to leave quantities to the professionals. Many caterers, like Vibrant Table, only charge for beverages that are actually consumed or opened. Our proposals include what we expect your guests to drink (on average we estimate 1 drink per guest per hour, adjusting based on type of event), but we bring extra because neither of us wants to close the fun early. In the end, if we estimate high, it’s reflected in your final billing. How nice is that?
“If I order a keg and we don’t drink it all, I can take it home.”
Again, inquire with your caterer about their policies. Vibrant Table works in Oregon, a state known for its strict alcohol laws. In Oregon, only certain businesses are licensed to sell alcohol retail, i.e. stores and brewers. Caterers are licensed to serve and sell by the glass, and that’s it. Furthermore, both we as a company and our staff as individuals are liable for what happens as a result of alcohol consumed under our supervision. Allowing clients to take the keg home for the after-party breaks the law, jeopardizing our business, reputation, and staff – a risk not worth taking in our view.
We do, however, carefully calculate to ensure we order the proper amount for your event. We don’t want to run out, but perhaps a pony keg will be sufficient. As we charge per consumption/opened container, it may be better to have bottles on hand should the keg blow if there is no way your group will go through a second keg.
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Have we forgotten something? What were you surprised by when you first worked with a caterer? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
We are always indebted to the photographers who share their work with us. These photographers contributed to this blog post: Sara Gray Photography (header image, caprese skewers) and Evrim Icoz Photography (martinis, coronas)