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Catering Basics: 7 Tips from a Professional Caterer

Personal Chef, Olivia Saez preparing finger foods for a cocktail party.
Personal Chef, Olivia Saez preparing finger foods for a cocktail party. 2014. Olivia Saez Olivia's Catering Shop

Parties. They are always a blast, but the stress of planning, buying, preparing and serving food is just not worth the work. You can't mingle with your guests or enjoy your own party because you're slaving away in the kitchen with your closest friends constantly asking you if you need help (because you do!). For some, hiring a caterer can be a daunting experience, particularly if you don't care for the Subway sandwich platter or another plastic drop off service that is still somewhat pricey yet completely mediocre. But you don't need to shell out thousands or create even more stress for yourself if you want to make your event just a little nicer.

Having run my own catering business for close to 4 years now, I know how challenging the process can be. I have seen the faces of my clients at our first meetings go from uncertain and apprehensive to relaxed and comforted knowing that not only will I deliver quality food, but I have my clients' back. Whether you are local (hire me!) or live throughout our delightful US of A, these top ten tips will help you choose the right caterer, make sure you have every dime accounted for, and feel at ease knowing you can throw your party and enjoy it too.

  1. How much is enough? The number one question I always receive is: How do you know how much to make? There is a reason we ask all the questions we ask as caterers. Its not to pry or be curious or even to bother you with details that may seem insignificant, its because these questions are crucial in our planning process. Raise the red flag if your caterer misses out on any specific details. I particularly like to schedule site visits, very early in the process, to make sure the facility is up to par with the menu we choose. If not, we can plan accordingly to either make the menu work with what we have or haul in equipment we need to make it work. Caterers are the ultimate planners so find the 5 Top Questions for Caterers to get your event on track.
  2. Regulating Food Temperatures. Your event location plays a big role in the type of food a caterer can serve. I prepared lunch for 100 guests in a hospital auditorium for a non profit organization two years in a row. The only facility we had to work with was a not so nice looking janitor sink. So with a little party planning magic, we draped a closed off area and planned our menu around items we could manage to "heat" without too much effort. We created a couple soups as well as salads meant to stand at room temperature, that we kept warm with chafing dishes. Not the most ideal situation, but making sure that we had ample time for the soups to heat was key. On the flip side, keeping perishable ingredients cold is equally as important. Make sure your caterer has the know how and resources to help you keep your menu as hot or cold as it needs to be.
  3. Will I or my guests get sick? Caterers are required in ALL states to have a food handler's permit or license to operate. We are trained to know the proper temperature of all kinds of foods, particularly meat products and mayonnaise laden salads that are at the root of food borne illnesses. Not to mention, rules for proper cleaning and handling of equipment to avoid cross contamination are just as important. If you are concerned, ask your caterer for a copy of their food handler's certificate, but I guarantee they can't be in business if they don't have one. Your guests will most likely get sick from that potato salad your very sweet neighbor brought over than from something your caterer served.
  4. Consider who your guests are and why you are serving them. Event planners are trained to know their audience and make sure a caterer isn't serving foie gras to a California PETA event in Alabama. Even for your own small event at home, knowing a group of guests are allergic to gluten is crucial in making your event a success. While it is impossible to turn a party for 30 or more into an individualized event, make sure you communicate with your caterer about allergies and other dietary specifics to make sure every single one of your guests has something to eat.
  5. Don't forget to plan the details. While your caterer had the food and perhaps some beverages set and ready, that doesn't mean the party planning stops there. Give yourself ample time to plan as many details as you can, in addition to the basic questions we need to know from point number 1 above. 6 Crucial Catering Questions You Need to Plan.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. While it is crucial to communicate with everyone in the planning process, this goes particularly for your caterer. Just because we have experience it doesn't mean we can read your mind. We want to meet every expectation you have so be clear about what you want, how you want it and when to get it done. If you want the event to flow as seamlessly as possible, you have to communicate with us.
  7. Be as flexible as possible. There is nothing worse than a crying bride on her wedding day because something major fell out of place. As the host, keep your mind as open to as many missteps as you possibly can. Realize that perfection is not real and while you can count on your caterer to produce the results they promised, not everything can go according to plan. As professionals, we have the ability to bounce back from problems and make things work as much as we can. Trust that we will do our jobs and keep your cool if changes need to take place.

To have your event catered by the French Girl, visit Olivia's Catering Shop and browse some sample menus! Email us at info@oliviascateringshop.com or call 760-845-6967 to get started.