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General tips for picking a caterer or restaurant for a party? [Moved from General Topics]

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I am such a novice about this, and I don't even know if things are different in different parts of the country, but I thought I'd check the collective wisdom of folks here.
I'm planning a party for 75 people or so, and it looks like I can either choose a caterer and venue separately, or choose a restaurant that has a private room that can accomodate that large a group.

Does anyone know which is generally a better deal? Given that the quality of food is about the same? If we go with a caterer, of course we have to pay for whatever venue we find. The caterers all also ask us to provide our own beer and wine, and if we are buying it, it seems much less expensive than having the restaurants provide it. But caterers also seem to charge for staff, whereas that seems to be built into a restaurant's costs (as does the room itself).

So is there any general rule of thumb-does everyone (but me) know that one or the other is the more expensive way to go? And are there other considerations I should keep in mind?

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  1. There are too many variables to give you any hard numbers.

    How many entrées (meat chicken fish, vegan, Kosher?),apps,soups,desserts, etc do you want?

    The day of the week and time of day? weekends and holidays raise the price. Your location if catered?
    Do you want a formal catering service, or will casual will be sufficient?
    Number of waitstaff if catered?

    Cash or open bar, number of liquors and brands?

    It can range from $10 a person to $150 a person+liquor, its your choice.

    1. No, sorry, I'm not asking how much it costs. I know all that you stated above.

      I'm asking, if both the restaurant and caterer provide the same quantity and quality of food (a 3 course sit down dinner, or a lunch buffet), is a restaurant or a catered venue generally a better deal? Like, does everyone know, oh, a restaurant is way more expensive because they charge such a markup on booze? Or is it a way better deal because you don't have to pay an extra fee for a venue? Or is there no general rule?

      1 Reply
      1. re: christy319

        Christy - I am planning a similar sized party for this summer and have a similar delima. I fear it is going to be a different answer in every circumstance. Some venues provide staff, plates, flatware, and glasses. Others don't, and your caterer will charge you additionally for those, or you can rent yourself.

        So far, I think a tunrkey event is cheaper at a restaurant, but the problem I have is that I can't find a restaurant w/ decent food to accomodate 75 people, however, I do know a good caterer.

        One thing I've decided...if I don't hurry up and MAKE a decision, it will be decided for me: I'll just have to take whatever is available on short notice ;-)

        Good luck, I hope you get some more helpful replies than this one.

      2. Hi.

        As an event planner I have done more events than I can count.
        The better deal? I'm not sure I understand what you're asking.

        There are so many different options that I can't name them all.
        Using a unique venue works, hiring reputable catering is my first choice. You can also use hotel banquet rooms. We have so many lovely venues in our area that hiring catering has never been a problem for me. Your caterer will review with you your linens, tableware and tables, they should be able to accommodate you.

        The problem that I have often experienced with restaurants is that the food is usually substandard to what they usually serve diners. Staffing will usually be insufficient and I've often been left with a feeling of being rushed so that the room can be turned. So these details need to be established early on and part of your contract. (if you need time in the room before-hand make sure they know this could cause booking problems)

        There is just a lot to do with planning such parties, You should be able to do a tasting of menu choices and have help choose the menu if you can. With a caterer you can be more creative with your menu and won't be locked into what the restaurant serves. Ask that your guests have 3 dinner choices and a 2 vegetarian if you can.

        Be sure you have enough staff, that is key. And above all review the evenings agenda with the hotel/venue/caterer and staff to ensure everyone is onboard.

        I personally prefer caterers and choosing a venue that is different. Depending on your budget, you can have an outstanding event as long as you pay attention to the details.
        I've had some bad experiences with restaurants, unless the staff is specifically tuned in and you they are assigned to your group, you can get forgotten.

        Hope that helps....

        1. That does help a lot, actually-I am generally interested in the different experience, restaurant v. caterer. Thank you.

          1. I would suggest that you also check with the top hotels as well. For a group your size, they would have private rooms for functions. Many have excellent food service that rivals good caterers. At something of the level of a Four Seasons, they will work with you on the menu much as a private caterer would, you can bring in your own flowers, etc.
            I have done events at private clubs as well. Many clubs will grant access for non-members for an additional fee or if you are sponsored by a member.
            Restaurants have usually been my resort when I've had to do something quickly. They just haven't been as flexible as hotels, clubs and caterers who are more used to doing private parties.
            Function rooms at moderately priced hotels are what I usually steer my clients to when they are on a strict budget.

            1. The best advice I can offer you is to set up a sample tasting. Be sure to taste everything you decide on beforehand. Be it caterer or restaurant, they should be happy to accommodate you during an off-time, for about a hour to go over menu and samples.

              Have a great experience!

              1. Also wanted to add that make sure that you a coat check for your event, it adds a nice touch and their won't be coats hanging on the backs of chairs, which is dangerous and awkward. And your guest won't have to worry about watching their excpensive wraps.Make sure the hotel or whatever, gives them a claim ticket.

                Also if you go with the hotel, ask about the parking situation, you may want to take care of the parking for your guest, or get them a break on the fee. Some hotels offer alternative parking rather than valet.

                Check your tables so that no one is sitting on top or too close to speakers, you don't wnat to blow them out. This can be bad and ruin an evening. And that the chairs can be moved safely, comfortable, with space for walking through the dining room.With 75 people you will need a mic.

                Remember everything is negotiable. if it is a no host bar.Ask for breaks on your bar if they won't budge on the parking or elsewhere.