If you're an event planner, the caterer you choose will be a key partner in any project.
The Caterer's Job
Caterers can make or break a business meeting, conference, exhibition, wedding reception, or any other special event. They take responsibility for the food and beverages, as well as overseeing the staffing of servers, chefs, and others. Many caterers also handle event decoration, audiovisual equipment setup, and other key elements.
They may be independent operators or employees of a conference center, hotel, or restaurant. In either case, they handle all the logistics of food, beverage, decor, and entertainment, whether it's a cocktail hour or a formal sit-down dinner.
The Event Planner's Preliminary Work
By the time an event planner meets with a caterer, much of the preliminary work has been done.
The event planner understands in detail the type of event planned, its purpose, and its guest list. It might be serious or celebratory. It could be a business meeting or a bring-the-kids company bash. The guests might expect cocktails or vegan health drinks, a sit-down dinner or finger food.
As importantly, the planner knows the budget constraints.
All of that and more goes into choosing a venue that has the right size, location, facilities, pricing, and food and beverage services.
Deciding on a Menu
An event planner meets with the banquet or catering manager well ahead of an event to discuss the basics. A business meeting that will carry over into the afternoon may require box lunches, while a black-tie charity gala calls for a plated menu.
The planner and caterer then decide what they'll serve. An event planner needs to take into account the expectations of guests as well as the budget and should talk openly with the caterer about budget limitations. A good caterer can help create an event that looks elegant but isn't necessarily costly, with choices like using local seasonal produce.
Before the Event
While the catering manager takes care of the food, service staff and facilities, the event planner needs to keep in touch while researching and implementing a plethora of related details.
Transportation and on-site parking, the meeting agenda, audio-visual equipment needs, special menu requests, and last-minute changes all need to be ironed out before the event.
The goal must be to avoid last-minute surprises on either side. Menu substitutions, unexpected guests or drop-outs, and countless other snags can be taken care of before the big event.
Every industry has its jargon. Below are 10 common words and phrases—many of them borrowed from French chefs—that an event planner should know when talking to a caterer.
A la carte:A variety of dishes priced individually;
A la mode: A dessert topped with ice cream;
Amuse-bouche: A bite-sized hors d’oeuvre; literally a “mouth amuser;”
Apéritif: A light alcoholic beverage served before dinner to stimulate the appetite;
Back of House: Everything your guests do not and should not see; the equivalent of "backstage;"
BEO (banquet event order): The document that outlines the details and serves as a master plan to execute and communicate logistics to all departments;
Bowl Food: Small bowls of food passed among guests during a casual reception;
Charger: Also known as the under plate, large decorative plates that dress up the table and mark each diner's place;
Corkage: A fee charged per bottle for opening and serving wine brought in by the client;