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Oct 31, 2009 07:37 PM

questions i should ask a caterer -- need help

i am responsible for organizing a breakfast buffet, and need your help on locating (or creating) a list of questions that i need to ask the caterer.


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  1. Couple of questions come to mind....what is the physical setting like (e.g. indoor/outdoor, seating)? And the occasion (business, celebration)? Are the guests all adults, or will there be children?

    In any case, this looks like a decent start, even though it is for weddings- hope it helps:

    Let your caterer know your budget up front. Don’t assume that a buffet or food station is less expensive than a sit down dinner. It depends on the type of food served not how it's served.

    Food Preparation
    Does the caterer use all fresh food and produce? Will any of the food for the reception be frozen or canned?

    Taste Testing
    Ask if your caterer will do a "tasting" and when. This is where the bride and groom can go sample and taste some of the caterer’s dishes. Yum Yum...

    Ask what is done with the leftover food. Particularly, if you are having a buffet or food station, there can be food leftover. Some brides choose to have the leftover food given to a homeless shelter or packed up and brought home. Some caterers do not offer the option because they can’t guarantee it’s freshness and they don’t want anyone to get sick if the food is not stored properly.

    Ethnic Recipes
    Ask if dishes can be prepared that are not included on the regular menu. Some brides have a special "family" dish they'd like or a particular type of ethnic food prepared. This is a great way to really personalize your dinner and reception.

    Guaranteed Numbers
    Many caterers will quote prices based upon a certain number or minimum number of guests. For instance, your caterer may have a minimum of 100 guests and if only 80 show up there may be an additional fee.

    Wedding Cakes
    Do they offer wedding cakes in their package? Can they make you a wedding cake?

    Taxes and Gratuities
    Are they included in the price or will they be added later? Find out what the final price is.

    Ratio of Servers to Guests
    Now, this will vary depending on the type of reception you have.

    Dress Code for Wait Staff
    How will the staff be dressed?

    Ask to see pictures of their table displays. Some caterers that do buffets or food stations will include floral arrangements and other decorations. As your wedding plans progress, talk to your caterer about your color theme so that all decorations and floral arrangements will coordinate.

    Also, find out what type of decorating they might do for you. Will they swag your head and cake tables? Will they set out your favors and seating cards?

    Tableware and Linens
    Does the price include table linens, napkins, dishes, and glassware? Ask to see samples. Remember, if you don’t like the tableware or linens they offer, most everything can be rented, but usually at an additional price!

    Your caterer should be licensed by the province. Most display their license in their office, but if you're not sure, ask!

    Do you need to get a Special Occasions Permit from the liquor board? If you are supplying the alcohol and they are bringing the mix, what is the price per person?


    1. Many of your questions may be related to the details of the function and location. Is this a professional conference, a day after the wedding event, a holiday open house? Each situation brings up different issues and concerns....

      *What is their level of experience?
      What is their specialty?
      What suggestions do they have based on the size of the group?
      Can they accommodate special needs (gluton free, Kosher, etc.)
      What is the window on confirming the number of guests?

      The location will determine much - if it is in a home, is the kitchen workable for the menu - or will the caterer have to transport the dishes already heated directly from shop to table?
      Who supplies the linens, table ware, decorations, etc.?
      What degree of cleanup is provided?
      If this is in a private home there may be concerns as to if all the staff are bonded.

      Most experienced caterers will have sample menus and per/person prices ready and are used to helping you determine what is needed for your event.

      There are probably on-line catering menus available for many of the places you are considering. As you study them your list of questions will become more defined.

      Have fun!

      1 Reply
      1. re: meatn3

        I would add to your good list, meatn3, that it is always important to speak with previous clients of this catering firm.

        There will obviously be a budget; there always is. Can this caterer work creatively within the budget?

      2. Here are Qs for breakfast catering:
        - since for many its all about the coffee -- is the coffee brewed on site, is it freshly ground, is the decaf brewed too?
        - depending on the guest list -- ask about the various options - no nuts, veggie, no pork, no beef, diabetic, are there non-gluten options for the baked goods?
        - what exactly included on the fruit tray at that time of year?
        - how often will the items be refreshed?
        - are there options that do not require cutlery

        1. alkapal, How did you select your caterer? I'm always curious about that w/my friends.
          Have you already experienced food prepared by this particular caterer? Is breakfast their specialty?

          re food: I'd ask for several breakfast menu scenarios.
          re expectation: I'd ask, what isn't included in hiring the caterer. This cuts to the chase.

          7 Replies
          1. re: HillJ

            haven't selected one yet.

            i like the "what don't you do" tack.

            1. re: alkapal

              So much simpler! I would recommend holding the meeting(s) in selecting your caterer in a breakfast atmosphere. In my late 20's I ran a breakfast in bed business. Every client meeting was held in a breakfast space. Sets the mood.

              Did you have a breakfast menu in build from?

              1. re: HillJ

                something a little more upscale and interesting than eggs and bacon.... ;-). frankly, we've got a couple of competing menus right now, and i haven't been able to really deal with the issue yet. others have to have input, but that'll be resolved on saturday, one way or another.

                1. re: alkapal


                  by way of example, this is the type of menu building I'm use to.
                  and client expectations/conversation builds from there.

                  Good luck!

                  1. re: HillJ

                    thanks for your help.

                    i know no matter what i do, people will gripe -- oh, it was too expensive, oh it was too mundane, oh it was too fancy, oh there was no meusli from the alps with freshly flown-in mountain goat's milk yogurt.....

                    1. re: alkapal

             true....but then you can always reply. Great ideas, how about volunteering to coordinate the breakfast next year?!

                      1. re: HillJ

                        yep. i'll put on my cat herder garb.