Angie's LIST Guide to
Catering and Food Services

With so many caterers to choose from, use these tips to help select the caterer from our list of food service companies that is best suited for your event.
 

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catering service
If having an event with many guests, consider hiring a catering service to provide the food. Other available services may include food servers or bartenders. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Linda S.)
 
 

Options for catered food

Before you begin calling catering and food-service companies, prepare a list with as much detail about the event as possible. The most important thing to know, beside the event date, is the location. Have at least a general idea of your budget for food and drink. The caterer will also need to know the number of guests and how the meal will be served.

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A caterer can bring waiters to serve hors d'oeuvres, but to save money you can have them be self serve. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Jennifer D. of Reston, Va.)

There are several options for meal style:

Buffet style is when all the food items are set out on tables and the guests serve themselves. If you are on a tight budget, a buffet is typically the least expensive option.

A sit-down dinner is usually more expensive because there is a wait staff to serve the food.

A food station is when foods are grouped together and different stations are placed around the room.

Hors d'oeuvres are served by a wait staff or set on a table for the guests to serve themselves.

Also, let the caterer know if you or guests will provide some of the food. Ask about serving pieces as well. Special foods, cakes, for examples, will need special utensils.

If you plan to serve alcoholic beverages, ask if the caterer provides the bartender and drink supplies and whether the number of guests necessitate more than one bartender. If you have a tight budget for drinks, ask about only serving cocktails for a specific time. If you provide the alcohol, ask how much the bartender charges per hour. Also ask if bartenders are tipped separately or if tip is included in the total price.

How to choose the right caterer

One of the best ways to find a caterer is through an event you've attended. Get referrals through friends and family or if you have a favorite restaurant, ask about catering. Get referrals where you shop for specialty foods. Consider also how Angie's List can help. Members have access to local reviews on caterers, chefs and experts in more than 550 other service categories.

caterers
Consider setting up food stations at your special event. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Tonya F. of Nashville, Tenn.)

When you interview a caterer, ask about:

  • Certifications, including health certificates. When the health department inspects a food service, they give the company a report. Ask to see the most recent reports.
  • How long they've been in business.
  • Where the caterer shops. Does he or she use fresh, local meat and produce or canned and frozen foods?
  • Special dietary concerns of any guests. Ask if the caterer can prepare a separate meal for guests with food allergies or specific needs, such as a kosher, vegan, gluten free or children's meal.
  • Where the food is prepared and cooked. A small, new caterer may cook at home, while an established caterer may have a separate preparation facility. If at all possible, tour where the food is cooked. Notice if the area is clean and organized.
  • Whether the caterer is licensed to serve alcohol. Ask if bartenders are experienced with mixing drinks to order or if there will be one kind of cocktail available.
  • How the food is being transported. Does the caterer have vans or other vehicles used solely to transport food? A small or new caterer may use a family vehicle. Consider asking to see the type of transportation that will be used.

MORE: Wedding catering tips for your special day

Attend a tasting

Always ask to sample the caterer's food. During the tasting, the caterer typically will prepare several options from different menus. Request a tasting for each course that will be served, including meat, side dishes and desserts. Be sure to have a tasting close to your event date, so you can taste what's in season. Remember to discuss any guests' special dietary needs again.

Catering contracts

Before you sign a contract with a caterer, be sure to ask about:

  • The caterer's insurance.
  • Whether the staff are employees of the caterer or are hired through a temporary agency.
  • Whether the staff are covered by workers' compensation insurance.

If you have any questions, ask before you sign the contract. Be sure that the document:

  • Is concise and clear.
  • Includes all important information, such as details about cost, food, beverages, duties and hours for wait staff and how they'll be dressed. If you prefer the wait staff be in uniform, or have any other specific requests, make sure it's covered in the contract.

Hiring a caterer? Five things to consider

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