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How to Pick the Perfect Caterer

Food, food, food! I love food, as most of us do. I also have the privilege to live in the mood mecca right now. Being based in Portland, Oregon makes it easy for me to have food carts that are open late, limitless restaurants that have been published in several foodie magazines and the super popular pop-up restaurants that serve local sourced food. That being said, it can sometimes be a double-edged sword when trying to find the right caterer for a special event that I am planning. There are so many great caterers out there that doing your due diligence in finding a reputable, insured and the right cuisine you’re looking for can sometimes be a challenge. Below are eight things that I always make sure are checked off my list when looking for the right caterer for my event.


  1. Schedule a tasting
    Caterers who have been in the business or know the proper etiquette provide a tasting. This is essential in gaining your business for a large contract. Keep in mind though that this tasting will be the very best product the caterers can produce. There is a sometimes a big difference in quality when you are preparing a meal for 2 compared to 300.
  2. Consider the type of services you need
    Some caterers are a drop off only style of catering. This does not mean they are not good. I’ve had delicious catered food at events that where a drop off service, but that’s the service they provide. Other caterers can do drop off service and also offer banquet style service.  Make sure to be detailed as possible with the caterer that you’re considering hiring that they meet the style of what you need for your event. Also feel free to ask if their staff comes from a temporary agency or if they are employees of the catering company. Wait staff that comes from a temp agency can imply that the catering company doesn’t often handle large, staffed events.
  3. Consider the caterer’s specialty
    Some caterers are specific in what they offer. It’s always good to make sure they can provide what style and type of food your looking for. If you’re looking to have a Hawaiian themed event with that type of food make sure that your caterer can provide that or find a caterer who can. Also some caterers specialize in large-scale events and have the equipment and knowledge to professionally handle larger number of guests. Other caterers specialize in smaller intimate events, cocktail parties, or even just delivery of catered food. Be aware of the caterer who states that they can do it all and then some. Professional caterers know what they excel at and have learned to work that into their profession as their selling point. Sometimes it’s best to hire someone who specializes in that one specific area of catering.
  4. Ask for references
    When entrusting a single company to handle the food for your event, it is essential that you ask for references. Don’t just ask them to hand over names. Instead ask for referrals of several events they have catered. This is not something that should be difficult for an established caterer to answer for you. If they are unable to provide events that they have catered then they might not be the one for you.
  5. Ask about food freshness
    There are times that you will find a caterer cutting corner in food preparation by using frozen food (gasp!). Fresh is always going to be the best choice and it shows in the quality of the food. On this one, I strongly urge only using a caterer that uses fresh food, not frozen.
  6. Call the local health department
    This is something that should be on your checklist of things to make sure is completed in order to make the final decision hiring a caterer. Most catering companies are subject to licensing and regulation by their local health department, and there will be records on any prior complaints, issues and inspections. This is usually considered public record. If the catering company you’re considering hiring has had violations or complaints it’s time to look elsewhere.
  7. Read the contract
    Never hire a contractor without a firm contract in place. This protects your interest in case the caterer doesn’t follow through. Once you’ve decided on your caterer and you have agreed upon a price, sign the contract once you have read it through carefully.
  8. Ask for a quotation
    Often asking to see the bottom line price is the first step in hiring a caterer when in fact it should be the last. I know you’re probably thinking that this is a backwards statement, but the food for a wedding can be more than 50 percent of the entire wedding cost; you’re going to get what you pay for. If your caterer is dropping their price you can be assured they’re dropping the quality of their food as well.

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