Do you have an upcoming event that requires catering services? While there are many elements that factor into a successful event, a fantastic menu selection is what most attendees will remember. When executed correctly, catering is something that gets guests excited for the occasion, helps ensure they’ll enjoy themselves throughout, and may even leave them raving in the days and weeks that follow.
Perhaps you have a set budget and a few menu guidelines to work with; or, on the other hand, maybe you’ve been given free rein and ultimate creativity with planning all things catering. In either case, we recommend keeping a few things in mind to ensure a seamless catering experience for both you and your attendees from start to finish.
Select your style of catering services.
With such an array of catering service styles to choose from these days, it can feel daunting to decide which will ultimately offer the best feel, flow, and function for your event. Are you striving for simple and effortless? Is the event more formal, perhaps a gala or evening wedding? Or perhaps, budget is your primary concern. Regardless of what your needs may be for your upcoming event, there’s a service style that is sure to meet your needs. Here are a few pros and cons of some of the most popular catering service styles.
Buffet service has undoubtedly grown to be one of the most commonly sought-after catering styles for a variety of events. If you plan on hosting an event that leans more toward the casual side, buffet service is a fantastic choice to consider. The various self-serve stations make it easy for guests to mingle and fill their own plate at their leisure; not to mention, buffet service offers a great way to effectively accommodate dietary restrictions, as guests can enjoy the freedom to pick and choose food items as they wish.
Another benefit? Buffets can help save money for event planners. Most notably, this cost-effective option allows hosts to skip the need for a large wait staff. Plus, production of food tends to feel much more seamless (and quick!). Dishes can be refilled at once as needed, rather than spending extra time making individual servings to order.
While a buffet catering service offers plenty of “pros,” there are a few challenges worth noting. If you’re planning on welcoming a large crowd for your upcoming event, buffet lines and wait times may be long. To combat this, try offering a double-sided buffet – or multiple serving stations throughout the venue – to allow a larger group of attendees to self-serve at once. Also keep in mind that a buffet service can often make it difficult for planners to accurately estimate the amount of food needed. Though you’ll likely be providing more than enough – and may have extra food waste – the amount the attendees eat can vary depending on what time your event is and how delicious the food is! Work with your catering team to get the best estimate of how much food should be served at your event.
Planning on putting together the ultimate corporate social event? A tray pass catering option could be the perfect solution. If you’re aiming to encourage guests to mix and mingle, this catering style allows them to do just that. There’s no need to interrupt the fun to head over to the buffet or sit down for a plated meal; instead, attendees can talk and taste throughout the entire event. Plus, a tray pass catering style typically means simple appetizers, smaller servings, and bite-sized selections are offered, all of which can be a big help when it comes to choosing a cuisine option that is sure to be more cost-effective. (Although, be sure to factor in the need for some wait staff here!)
Because this option lends itself to more of an hors d’oeuvres-type selection, it’s safe to assume you may have guests who hoped for a more filling meal. To combat this, consider making your event invitations extra clear – noting that small bites and hors d’oeuvres will be available to enjoy. Another tip: Choose an event time that generally won’t leave guests assuming that a full meal is involved, such as mid to late afternoon, or happy hour.
If you’re looking to add an element of sophistication to your upcoming event, consider plated catering. With this option, you’ll be providing a traditional, sit-down meal for your event attendees. A common choice for formal or upscale events of any size, plated meals offer a welcomed opportunity for guests to choose their menu items ahead of time – thereby allowing event hosts to skip out on the extra food waste that tends to come with a buffet or tray pass option. Another major pro to a classic plated meal is the sense of community that comes with the chance to sit down and enjoy a meal together. It’s a fantastic way to foster socialization and create a more intimate setting for those in attendance. Need to make a toast, share a presentation, or open the floor to speakers? A plated meal carves out the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Depending on the format of your event, plated meals can pose a couple of issues. A classic, plated meal is certainly the most time-consuming choice (plan for a minimum of 1.5 hours) which leaves less time for casual mingling among guests. Furthermore, it’s not always the most budget-friendly option – and for a few good reasons. A sit-down dinner means the event will require plenty of waitstaff, plus full meals for attendees. In many cases, a plated meal can also include multiple courses, which is an important factor to keep in mind when considering an event’s allotted budget.
Select the right event catering service.
With so many online resources available these days, event planners can easily find themselves just a few clicks away from hiring any catering professional. Though it may feel tempting to hire a company based on their online testimonials or a great website, it’s important to consider some key details when vetting a list of potential caterers.
On the top of your list of things to consider: What experience does this caterer have with your type of event? No two catering jobs are the same, and serving a wedding versus a corporate event often require entirely different approaches both leading up to and during the event. For quick reference, take note of the following details that are worth checking in on before officially giving a caterer your business:
- Insurance. Are they fully insured? You’ll also want to confirm that they have up-to-date food service licenses on-hand.
- Alcoholic Beverages. Believe it or not, not all caterers are licensed to provide alcoholic beverages. It’s a good idea to verify whether or not they have all necessary certifications and licenses to do so, if you do plan on offering alcohol as an option to event attendees.
- Vendor Requirements. Whether it’s a 50% event deposit upfront or a guest count that’s required far in advance, most caterers will have their own set of requirements for event planners. Be sure these are clearly outlined prior to signing a contract, and double-check that they work well with your own event timeline and needs, too.
- Business History. How long has the caterer been in business? Are they experienced with the many challenges that can unexpectedly come about? Are they in good standing with the Better Business Bureau? Each of these questions should have a spot on your interview checklist.
Though the fine details aren’t necessarily the most fun part of the planning process, they’re crucial in ensuring you’ll end up with a caterer that truly delivers for both you and your attendees. Need a great, reputable catering reference? The Officer’s Club, located in McClellan Park, is known for its catering services in Sacramento. The restaurant and event center guarantees a fantastic and memorable experience for both event hosts and guests. Explore more about the restaurant’s award-winning catering services here.
Choose your food selection wisely.
While deciding on a catered menu selection can certainly be one of the most exciting aspects of planning your upcoming event, it can oftentimes prove to be one of the most challenging, too. Luckily, reputable caterers will be able to offer plenty of guidance in this area – it’s what they do best! However, it’s important to have a general idea of which menu options may be the best fit for your own unique event and guest list, even before touching base with a caterer.
There are a handful of things worth keeping in mind when it comes to narrowing down a menu that’s sure to help define a successful event. Since most of an event planner’s allotted budget often goes to catering, it’s imperative to define this element of the budget from the start. If possible, aim to have a range in mind for menu costs, rather than a concrete dollar amount. As guest counts fluctuate and calculations change (as they’re likely to!), it’s helpful to know you’ve allotted plenty of funds for those unexpected changes.
It’s also helpful to consider your venue choice as you begin considering potential menu options. In many cases, facilities may have constraints on meal sizes or types – largely depending on the capabilities of the venue’s kitchen. It’ll be beneficial to work closely with your caterer to determine what items may need to be prepared onsite and what extra space they will require to be able to do so effectively.
When it comes down to selecting what type of cuisine you’d like attendees to enjoy, the event type and timing are all important factors to consider. In most cases, opting for a morning or afternoon event is key to simplifying the catering menu. Simple breakfast or lunch options are oftentimes the most budget-friendly, making it a bit easier to offer a wide variety of items for guests to enjoy. From breakfast pastries to eggs and protein, to sandwich selections and salads galore, there are plenty of early to mid-day menu options that are sure to satisfy any palette.
Evening events often call for more of an extensive menu offering, and likely, a much higher allotted budget. However, choosing a cocktail hour or dinner menu also allows for more creativity from both event planners and caterers alike. Are you planning a corporate event that aims to feel celebratory and fun? If so, more casual fare - barbeque, handcrafted pizzas, or gourmet sliders - may be the perfect option. For more of a formal event, traditional menu items like poultry, pastas, and seasoned vegetables are classic staples.
Don’t forget to consider guest preferences.
As you begin brainstorming a potential catered menu selection, it’s important to keep in mind that your event attendees are essentially the stars of the show. Setting aside personal preferences in favor of what guests are most likely to enjoy can truly help make or break the dining and catering experience.
Consider your event’s demographics. Will you be welcoming older guests, who may prefer a more classic, less adventurous menu? Or, do you expect a crowd that’s likely up for a creative selection? Noting these factors can be a great starting point for choosing a catering option that will impress the masses.
And, speaking of preferences, pay extra attention to potential special dietary needs and restrictions, too. It’s likely that at least a handful of attendees may have a food allergy or intolerance, a voluntary dietary need (such as vegetarian), or even a religious requirement that prevents them from partaking in the traditional catering selection. To combat this, consider asking attendees to indicate any dietary restrictions with their RSVP, and plan on having a separate selection of options for those impacted.
Plan for the unexpected.
Last but certainly not least, it’s wise for event planners to keep in mind that events don’t always go as planned! Whether it may be a last-minute cost increase or a few attendee cancellations, there are bound to be some unexpected changes along the way.
Luckily, when it comes to the catering aspect of an event, there are a few ways to ensure you’re well-prepared for those unavoidable challenges as they arise. For starters, overestimating an event’s headcount can be one of the most surefire ways to avoid an eleventh-hour stressor. Planning ahead for a few last-minute RSVPs - or accommodating for those who may forget to RSVP all-together – means you’ll still have plenty of food on hand to serve each and every guest without worry. Not to mention, accounting for this possibility early-on in the planning process helps avoid those last-minute, unexpected budget increases.
It’s also important to allow for flexibility in your event’s schedule. For instance, if you’ll be opting for a plated dinner, aim to allow a few extra minutes to get guests seated and ready to enjoy their meal. (It’s often no easy task to bring the mingling to a halt!) By doing so, you’ll avoid worrying about serving cold food to guests, dealing with a backed-up kitchen, or a rushed wait staff attempting to play catch up.
Though ideally, a fantastic event caterer will already be keeping each of these things in mind, it’s only helpful to have them on your planning radar, too. Together, you can come up with a game plan that allows for some flexibility throughout the event and ensures that your cuisine has the chance to truly shine.
We hope you’ll find this assortment of tips helpful as you begin the planning process! Are you in need of a Sacramento event caterer? The Officer’s Club is proud to offer dependable, full-service, and customizable catering options for your guests to enjoy, in addition to offering beautiful indoor and outdoor event space. Learn more about their Sacramento event venue and catering options here.
We hope to serve you and your guests soon!