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Catering 101: The Catering Tips to Make Your Next Event a Success

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catering-tips

Invite anyone to a business meeting, social gathering or another large event, and the menu is sure to be one of their top questions. Of course, we’re sure your witty and engaging meeting planning is a big draw, but food is always a driving force when it comes to attending workshops, training sessions and other corporate events.

Your plate is probably already full with the other planning aspects of the event. You’re the expert on how to plan a business meeting. Why not let a food expert plan the menu? Catering your event can eliminate a lot of stress during an already hectic time. Learn what you need to know when it comes to catering an event, so no one goes hungry.

Why Choose Catering?

When it comes to catering a social or business gathering, you have two main options: do it yourself or hire a catering service. Handling the food yourself may initially appeal to you because you think it will save you money, but there are some definite advantages to letting someone else handle the cooking:

  • Convenience: This is usually one of the most appealing reasons to hire a catering service for your event. You can’t beat the convenience of passing off a major duty to someone else — especially a professional with experience in just those types of events.

    The caterer delivers and sets up the food, which is already prepared and ready to eat. If you do it yourself, you’ll spend hours preparing the menu, shopping for ingredients and cooking the food. It may sound easy, but cooking for a crowd is time-consuming and takes knowledge to coordinate all of the aspects to ensure the food turns out just right.prepared-food

  • Quality Food: We don’t doubt your cooking skills or your ability to choose an amazing menu, but a professional caterer has a lot of experience in pulling together menus perfect for any occasion. The caterer may even offer food options you wouldn’t think of on your own.
  • Range of Options: Catering companies typically have a wide range of options, and they are willing to work with you to come up with foods that fit your event. Unless you have culinary training, you may not have the skills to make certain foods, which limits your menu options.
  • Money Savings: Making food yourself sounds like a money saver, but it’s often worth the money when you figure in the time you’ll spend in the kitchen. It may even cost you more to make food yourself when you consider the cost of ingredients, equipment and serving dishes. Caterers have the equipment at their disposal and may even have decorations and other extras that save you money overall. Unless you cook on a large scale regularly, you probably don’t have large pots and pans, large kitchen appliances and other cooking tools to handle large-scale cooking.
  • Reliability: Caterers know all of the ins and outs of cooking for a crowd. You may crush that pasta bake recipe for your family, but there is no guarantee it will turn out when you multiple the recipe and make it on a larger scale. Large-batch cooking requires large pans, lots of kitchen space and food-handling skills to avoid foodborne illnesses. A caterer knows how to keep the food at the right temperature for safety and flavor.reliability
  • Preparation and Clean Up: If you make the food for your own event, you are responsible for every aspect, from food planning and shopping to cooking, serving and cleaning up. A caterer takes over all of that responsibility. Instead of scrambling to get the food out, you can focus on running the meeting or coordinating other aspects of the event. After the food is served, the caterer breaks everything down and cleans it up for you. Just think of all the stress and elbow grease you’ll avoid by hiring a caterer.

Catering Quick Business Meetings

Even small, quick business meetings warrant nourishment. These types of events may take place at lunch time when everyone can take a break from their regular schedules to meet over a quick meal and hash out all of those important business decisions. Catering these events gets the people on your attendee list more excited to come — who doesn’t get excited by free lunch? Plus, the food energizes the group and makes them happy, which can mean a more positive meeting with lots of ideas flowing in the room.

A quick business meeting might take place in a conference room in the office or a similar small space. This allows employees to get there quickly without losing a lot of work time. Another option is to go with a restaurant that caters and offers a private dining space. If you choose this option, check on the available amenities to fulfill your needs. Do you need electrical outlets for electronics? Perhaps you’re looking for extra table space to accommodate employee laptops or paperwork? The proximity to the office is also a consideration when going off site for a business meeting.

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The best foods for a quick business meeting are simple and easy to eat. This allows the employees to still focus on the meeting at hand without being completely distracted by the dining aspect. Keep in mind that some people prefer a light lunch, so don’t go too heavy or large with your catered meal. Some of the best foods to serve at a quick business meeting include:

  • Box-style lunches with a full meal in a convenient container
  • Sandwiches, which are easy to grab while taking notes or paying attention to a speaker
  • Salads because they are light and full of healthy veggies to keep your staff energized

Catering Larger Business Gatherings

Larger business gatherings involve a longer attendee list and may last longer. They may also be a little more formal or take place in the evening hours when you want a heartier meal. Examples of a larger business gathering include an all-company training, large company meeting, awards ceremony, presentation, holiday party or fundraiser event.

With a larger business gathering, you’re likely to have lots of details to plan, with food being only one small portion of it. You potentially have speakers, workshops, training sessions, entertainment and other components to consider. For this reason, letting someone else handle the food aspect reduces your workload and allows you to focus your energy on your area of expertise: the business end of the event.

Like all catered events, the specific purpose of the event and the feeling of the event play a major role in deciding the final menu. For a larger business gathering, you may want to serve:

  • Pasta dishes, which lend a hearty tone to the meal, making it ideal for business events in the evening
  • Salads as a starter course for the meal
  • Appetizers to warm up the crowd

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Catering Social Events

Social events have a different vibe than most corporate events, often having a casual feeling to them. You want the food you serve at these events to match the vibe. Social events that benefit from catering include birthdays, anniversary parties, wedding receptions and family reunions.

Large social events often need a caterer because of the sheer amount of food you’ll need. For example, catering a large wedding reception takes a lot of coordination to get the food prepped and kept hot until it reaches the guests.

Even smaller social events are easier when you hire a caterer to handle the food. At a social event, you want to socialize. You want to chat with people you haven’t seen in a long time and soak in all of the special moments. You want to actually participate in the event, not spend the whole time racing back and forth from the kitchen trying to keep trays full so all of your guests are happy. A caterer handles all of the work for you, so you can join the celebration.

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The menu options for social events vary just as much as the events themselves. Consider how formal the event is and how people will be spending their time. If guests will be dancing and mingling, choose something that is easy to pick up and eat while moving around.

Not sure what to serve at your next catered social event? Consider offering guests:

  • Pizza: This option works well for casual social events, especially if guests will be moving around a lot. It’s easy to grab a slice of pizza between dances or while playing games and socializing.
  • Sandwiches: Like pizza, sandwiches are portable and work well for casual social situations where guests will spend a lot of time moving around.
  • Pasta: If you’re looking for something a little more formal, pasta works well for social events. This option works best if you’ll have tables, so guests can sit down and eat. Just keep in mind that pasta can get a little messy if you’re trying to eat it while moving around or doing other activities.
  • Buffet: A buffet with several different food options works well for a catered social event. Offer a combination of foods, such as salads, pizza and sandwiches, and let your guests decide what they want.

Basic Catering Planning Tips

While your caterer handles many of the details and can offer advice, hiring a caterer does take some work on your part. A business that caters events has the experience, but the caterer needs your input to get it just right. To ensure your event is successfully catered, you need to:

  • Know your number. How many people do you expect? The size of the crowd can affect the type of food or the way you serve the food. An accurate estimate also helps you order the right amount of food. Your caterer may want an exact head count as the event gets closer. Ask about the deadline for the number, so your caterer has the necessary information for food ordering and preparation.
  • Consider the feel. Is it a formal business event? A small, casual business meeting? A group of partiers? Foodies with high expectations? The type and feel of the event play a big role in the food you choose. Your caterer will want to know what type of vibe the event has before planning the menu.
  • Beware the bill. Know your catering budget, so you can effectively choose a catering service and pick the menu. The caterer can offer suggestions to fit within your budget. If you don’t have much wiggle room in the catering budget, a buffet-style service is often an affordable option. Picking up the catered food yourself or having the caterer drop off the food but not serve it can save money.
  • Choose a location. Some catering services, especially restaurants that cater, have some space available on location for your event. Some Giordano’s locations have private or semi-private space for catered events, for example. Most caterers will also bring the food to you at your event venue. Some event venues have preferred caterers, so check the terms if you have a caterer in mind.

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Food Quantity Estimates

Knowing how much food you’ll need is often a challenge, especially if you don’t often order food for large events. Ordering too little food leaves your guests hungry and cranky. The lack of food is likely to be a topic of conversation around the water cooler for some time.

Order too much food, and you’ll spend way more than you need to. Plus, you’ll end up with leftovers that you have to store, toss or convince people to take home.

A caterer should be able to help you figure out how much food to order based on the type of event and the number of people on your guest list. Crunching your own numbers helps you get an idea of what you need to order.

Factors that go into the calculation include the type of event, style of food and the length of the event. Longer events naturally mean you’ll need more food and beverages. An event during a meal time requires something substantial and meal-like, while an afternoon or late-evening event may be fine with snacks or appetizers.

So, what is the difference? And how do you figure out what to order? For accurately estimating food amounts for different foods and settings, follow these tips:

  • Appetizers without a meal: Plan on 10 to 15 pieces per person, possibly more if you serve appetizers on a buffet, as people may eat more from a buffet line.
  • Pre-dinner appetizers: Plan on three to five pieces per person paired with a light meal.
  • Breakfast: Choose a five-ounce main entrée per person plus two sides. For a pastry-only breakfast, estimate two pieces per person.
  • Lunch: Opt for a five-ounce main entrée per person with two to three sides. When serving sandwiches, calculate one to two sandwiches per person.
  • Dinner: Serve a five- to seven-ounce main entrée per person with two to three sides, plus a bread, soup or salad.
  • Desserts: Offer one to three servings per person, with smaller-size portions if you serve a variety of dessert options.

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Catering FAQs

When figuring out how to plan an event, you may have several questions about the catering aspect. Common questions about the catering process come up all the time.

While it’s always a good idea to ask specific questions of your caterer and to read the contract fully just in case the service you choose handles things differently, we wanted to give you a head start. Common frequently asked catering questions and their answers are:

    • Do most catering services offer custom food options for people who have food allergies or special diets? Many catering services can make some accommodations for common food allergies or special diets. If you know you have guests who need special meals, let your caterer know right away. The caterer may have suggestions for planning the entire menu to fit those dietary needs, so you don’t have to have special meals for certain people.

      If this isn’t possible, the caterer still needs to know ahead of time to plan the special meals and ensure the food is handled properly to prevent cross-contamination. Accommodating those special dietary needs makes everyone feel included and ensures all of your guests can enjoy a safe and delicious meal.

    • Is the gratuity usually included in the catering costs? The gratuity is something you definitely want to ask about when you talk to your caterer. Some catering services include a gratuity of a certain percentage in your total bill, while others do not. You should see the gratuity listed in the contract if the caterer includes it in the charges.

      You are always welcome to tip more than the amount for exceptional service, even if the gratuity is already included. Some catering services also include a service charge or production fee, which is usually a percentage of the total. This is often not the gratuity but a separate fee that covers incidentals. If you see this fee in the catering cost breakdown, ask exactly what it covers. Look through the contract carefully and ask your caterer if you’re not sure if the gratuity is included.

    • How much should I tip if the gratuity is not included in the pricing? If you’re sure the caterer didn’t build the gratuity into the cost of the service, you have the option of leaving a cash tip the day of the event. Just as tipping when you eat at a restaurant, the amount is up to you and is often related to the service. Good service gets a better tip, while mediocre or bad service gets a smaller amount.

      Banquet managers and executive chefs typically get tips between $50 and $100. Servers, bartenders and kitchen staff might get between $25 and $50 each. If you prefer, you can tip a percentage of the total as you would at a restaurant. When bartenders are separate from the caterer, assume a tip between 10 and 15 percent is adequate for the bartenders.how-much-tip

    • Does the caterer provide serving equipment? Caterers generally provide their own serving dishes and utensils, depending on the meal provided. You can usually expect the caterer to provide plates and utensils — either reusable or disposable based on the formality of the meal and the way it is served.

      Some caterers also offer the option to rent additional supplies, such as table linens, napkins and similar items. If you need additional things, such as tables and chairs, ask your caterer for a recommendation. Check with your caterer to determine what is included and what you need to provide yourself.

    • How does the pricing for catering work? The pricing method varies, but your caterer should provide a breakdown of the specific costs. The food cost is often listed as a per-person rate and typically includes food cost, preparation and serving items. The caterer may charge extra if you have staff on hand to serve your guests.

      You may also see a service charge or other fees. For a catered event that is not staffed by the catering company, you may pay an additional delivery or setup fee to cover the cost of transporting the food to the venue and setting it up. Ask for a complete breakdown of the costs before you agree to hire a catering service, so you know exactly how much you’ll end up paying. The breakdown also helps you compare two catering services to get a better idea of how the costs compare.

    • How can catering make my event easier and more enjoyable? Catering takes the work and stress off of you, so you can focus on the other aspects of your event. You don’t have to worry about planning the menu, preparing the food or cleaning up. The food is professionally prepared by experts who know how to cook in large quantities safely without sacrificing flavor. This means your guests get a quality meal, and you never have to set foot in the kitchen. Without the stress of worrying about the food, you can focus on enjoying the event and coordinating the other activities.
    • How do I reserve a catering service? Call the catering service directly as soon as you are sure you want to hire the company. Dates fill up quickly, especially for popular catering services, so scheduling as soon as possible increases the chances of securing the date you want. This also gives you plenty of time to meet with the caterer to determine the menu and make changes if necessary. Catering services usually require you to sign a contract and often put down a deposit on the order to secure your spot on the calendar.

Easily Feed the Crowd

Did you know Giordano’s offers catering services? We have you covered for all of your events, from small business gatherings to large events. We offer so much more than pizza. Choose from Italian specialties, sandwiches, salads, starters and more.

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You know how to plan business meetings — and we know how to cater. You’ll appreciate how easy it is to call or order online for your next event, and your guests will be talking about how smart you were to choose Giordano’s for your catering services. Place your catering order online today!