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5 Questions to Ask Every Event Caterer: ILEA Quick Tips for Event Planners

There are no stupid questions when it comes to coordinating your event's catering, but don't forget to ask these five.

5 Questions to Ask Every Event Caterer: ILEA Quick Tips for Event Planners

While it can be fun to work on the food and beverages for your event, knowing what you want to provide for catering and the costs involved can sometimes be challenging to figure out.

Whether there’s a long list of caterers at your event venue or you’re working with just one caterer, make sure you have a good sense on what the catering costs will look like before any bookings are made. Not only will you want to get an idea on the financial costs, but you should also educate yourself on what all of those different costs mean. Your caterer will be happy to walk you through the process, but it is always smart to come to the conversation prepared.

As you shop around for caterers, think about asking your caterer these 5 questions:

How many quantities would you recommend?

Every event is different, but your caterer is an expert in their field and has seen all types of menus and events. Asking them about what menu quantities they would recommend for your event can be very valuable information. If you’re on a budget, getting a sense of how many quantities of each menu item they would recommend and how many pieces per person that will realistically serve can better prepare you for the event outcome. Everything from event start and time, bar menu, and guest count play into what those quantities should look like. Your caterer will know how much food each guest will likely eat. 

How many servers would you estimate for my event?

Many people forget that not only will you be paying for food and beverages, but you will also be paying for staffing at your event. Caterers tend to do have their own way of determining how many event managers, servers, bartenders and chefs they estimate for your event. It’s to your benefit to inquire how and why they got to that number for your specific event.

What will the service staff be doing during my event?

Once you have established a quantity of staff people for your event, the next question often is: What exactly will that team be doing at my event and how are they scheduled? Understanding why staff may be coming in earlier, staying later and knowing what they are doing in between will help you to clarify the importance of those staff roles. Each staff person assigned to your event will have different tasks throughout the event, so knowing what those are ahead of the event should help you relax on the day of the event.

What is this service charge for?

Like determining the appropriate number of staff, caterers often have their own approach to breaking down a service charge. Some caterers’ service charge covers staffing for the event—others do not. Often the service charge goes towards the planning of the event with the office staff, kitchen team, and other resources needed to prepare the food. Please note: Service charge is often mistaken for gratuity, so be sure to confirm how that is handled with your caterer.

Do you include table wares and linens?

It is important not to assume items will be included with your event. Make sure to ask your caterers what they provide with their services and what might be additional costs. Some caterers may provide certain types of wares and linens while others may not. Costs will vary with these additional items, as well. Also consider what those wares will look like if there are photos of them to see.

As they say, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Don’t be afraid to ask you caterer as many questions as you need so you can feel confident about the dining and drinks aspect of your event.


About the author

Natalie Bowers is the Catering Sales Manager at Surdyk’s Catering and is a part of the 2018-2019 ILEA MSP Board. Natalie has been working in the events industry for over 10 years. Her previous events experience includes being the Senior Facility Rental Associate at the Walker Art Center and as a Catering Coordinator with D’Amico Catering. Natalie has her B.A. in Theater Arts from the University of Minnesota and M.A. in Arts Administration from St. Mary’s University. She loves working with clients to help bring their event’s vision to life and enjoys putting together a menu that will best fit each event she works on.

About ILEA

The International Live Events Association (ILEA) represents and supports more than 5,000 members globally - event professionals who do business together, share knowledge, nurture talent and progress the live events industry. For more information on how an ILEA professional can help you with your event, please contact communications@ilea-msp.org.

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