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Hiring a Caterer for your Home Party

Throwing a party for a special occasion is a huge responsibility, especially if the guest list is large and the menu is ambitious. Many amateur chefs thrive on challenges like this, but others find it a bit unnerving.

If you fall into the latter category, you may be among the many that opt to hire a caterer for such events, even for a party that will take place in your home and not a restaurant or banquet hall. Hiring a caterer for a home affair is a trend that is catching on, especially in households where both adults work and finding the time to organize, shop, and cook is pretty much out of the question.

Furthermore, hiring a caterer for your formal party allows you time to be with your guests as you won’t be spending the entire party shuffling back and forth to the kitchen.

However, finding a good caterer is more than just looking through the Yellow Pages or surfing the internet. Your party deserves someone who is experienced and knows not only how to cook but also the other intricacies of pulling off a successful party. So, how do you find that person or company?

The Search for a Caterer

After you’ve chosen your date and determined your invitation list and overall budget (or budget per person), it’s time to start shopping for your caterer. Where do you begin?
A good first step is to consider the catered parties you’ve attended and whether you were impressed with the food and service. If so, get the names of those caterers from the friends or family members who have used them in the past and ask them if they were pleased with this particular person. Remember, just because the end result turned out nicely, it doesn’t mean that all went smoothly behind the scenes. Ask about issues like promptness, flexibility, and other important issues that make for a successful dinner party.

If you can’t find referrals from friends or family, you’ll need to start scouring your local area for caterers that do in-house parties. (Some only work at catering or banquet facilities.) It’s likely that you’ll make lots of phone calls. Grab a notebook and jot down important questions you want to ask and keep a page for each person with whom you chat. Write down their answers and indicate your overall impression of the caterer or the person in charge. First impressions are usually accurate!

Next, narrow your selection down to two or three caterers and make comparisons of each. Ask if you can have phone numbers for references and if you may taste some of the potential selections they will prepare for your party. If they refuse on either count, move on to the next person on your list. You may also request to see a copy of their license and any health department permits pertaining to the facility where the food will be prepared, unless it is being prepared at your home.

Once you make your choice, be certain to get everything in writing so there are no last minute surprises. On that note, beware of “substitution” clauses, which allow the caterer to substitute another food item for one that may become unavailable at the last minute. If there is a substitution clause, you should have a say as to what substitutions can be used so that you’re still getting your money’s worth and not a cheap alternative.

Questions to Ask

When interviewing potential caterers, here’s a list of possible questions to ask each one.

o How many years have you been in the catering business?
o How many home parties have you catered?
o Are you able to accommodate my budget of $__ per head?
o Do you bring your own supplies or use mine? (i.e. cookware, tableware, glasses, centerpieces, etc.)
o How many staff members will you bring?
o Is a bartender included? (if applicable)
o Who supplies the wine or liquor?
o Can you make provisions for children attending the party or those with special dietary needs? (i.e. vegetarians, diabetics)
o What happens to the leftovers? (You paid for them, you should keep them!)
o How is clean up handled?