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    Catering to all tastes

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    When it comes to event organising, if the food is good everyone has a great time but if it isn’t, your guests will be quick to complain. Anne Aitken explains how to choose, brief and manage your caterer to ensure you enjoy a successful event.

    Identify a shortlist

    If you are using a venue that is not a hotel or restaurant, there will be a list of caterers who are approved to work there. The venue team might suggest a few in particular, but it’s worth taking time to check the entire list. A quick browse on their websites should help you identify those that provide the style of food and presentation you’re looking for. If you’re concerned by food sourcing you can check this out at the same time.

    Gather your thoughts

    Once you’ve shortened your list to three or four companies, think about the kind of food and drink you want and any questions you might like to ask. Pick up the phone at this stage rather than emailing. Speaking to someone from the company will give you an idea of their approach and a chance to hear some of their ideas, plus this call will give you an early indication as to whether you will be able to work together.

    Understand the quotes

    Catering quotes can be confusing and, because caterers charge for some items in different ways, it can be difficult to compare like-for-like costs. The simplest way to evaluate your quotes on a cost basis is to compare the price per head.

    When reading through the quote, which is likely to include sample menus for food and drink, as well as a breakdown of additional costs such as staff and equipment, it’s worth remembering that this is a proposal rather than a fixed plan. Caterers are offering you a starting point that they fully expect to change – probably several times.

    If you’re happy in principle, it’s time to pick up the phone again. Ask each caterer to talk through the quote and explain any costs you don’t understand. Mention any concerns you have regarding the menus or prices and see if they can come up with a satisfactory alternative.

    Make your mind up

    The combination of written quotes and follow-up calls should lead you towards a decision. As well as costs, try to consider food quality and service, the experience of the team, their creative input and the chemistry you are feeling. Organising an event can be a stressful experience – especially if it isn’t something you do everyday – so it’s important that you feel you are in a safe hands.

    Taste the food

    It might seem a given that all top caterers produce great food – but you could be surprised. So don’t sign anything until you’ve tasted your chosen catering company’s cooking. Take a colleague along and use this meeting as an opportunity to work through all your menu options. Unless you are real foodie, listen to the advice of the chef in terms of a balanced menu.

    Once you have made your final decision, ask for a revised quote and an assurance that these costs will match your final invoice. It’s worth noting at this stage that most caterers will ask for half the costs a few weeks ahead of the event to cover their outgoings.

    Anne Aitken is Marketing Director at Jackson Gilmour, which specialises in modern British cuisine

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson