A 10 step guide to planning catering for your event
1. Book a venue and confirm your options
Before you get into the details of planning catering for your event, it’s important to decide on a venue, as this might affect your catering choices. Find out if your venue has an in-house caterer you are contracted to use. Or perhaps they have a list of approved suppliers that are registered to cater inside the venue. You should also consider the facilities available at the venue. Is there a kitchen and serving area that is big enough for your event?
The type of venue will usually determine how much flexibility you have with catering. For example, if you are hosting your event in a historic or listed building, you might find that the catering options are more restricted. On the other hand, if you are hosting your event outdoors, you might have more freedom. Before you book your venue, ask plenty of questions to ensure that you can provide the catering that you have planned. Is hot food possible? Can you serve red wine? Is there any kitchen equipment included in the hire fee?
2. Get quotes and plan your budget
When you are ready to plan the menu for your event, it’s time to get in touch with some catering companies for a quote. Unless you have already decided on a caterer, get quotes from 2 to 3 suppliers to compare their offer. When requesting a quote from a supplier, send them the following information:
- Date of the event
- Event timings
- Event location
- Number of guests
- Type of food and beverage
- Your budget
A catering company will usually put together a suggested menu as part of your quote, so it’s unnecessary to request specific food at this stage unless you want to.
Catering costs are often higher than you might expect, so don’t be put off if the first quotes you receive don’t fit within your budget. You might be able to lower the cost by changing the type of food you serve, or reducing the number of serving staff. For example, you could consider a self-service coffee station instead of paying for a staff member to serve drinks. Ask for a quote that includes a full breakdown of costs, so you can decide which things to cut out.
3. Don’t forget about equipments costs
Unless you are hosting your event at a restaurant or a venue that has a fully equipped kitchen, it’s most likely that you will need to hire some catering equipment for your event. If you are working with a completely empty shell, the hire fees can end up costing more than the food itself.
Usually the catering company will arrange all the equipment on your behalf, but you might also need to provide the following:
- Ice and ice buckets
- Tables and chairs
- Portable ovens
- Staff uniforms
4. Confirm your numbers
You will already know the number of guests you plan to have at your event, but it’s important to allow for dropouts. Reconfirm the numbers in the week before the event and relay any updates to your caterer. Accurate guest numbers are even more important for sit-down meals as you will need to make sure you have the right number of chairs, plates and glasses, etc.
5. Plan delivery routes and timings
You will need to consider the logistics of getting all the food and equipment delivered for your event. Work with the venue and caterers to identify loading areas, routes and storage. Find out if there are fridges on site that you can use, and discuss the best delivery time for your goods.
At the end of the event, make sure that all your equipment is packed away and removed from the venue by an agreed time. Often venues have a tight schedule and will require you to clear the venue on the same day.
6. Check the catering requirements
Before the event, it’s a good idea to arrange a site visit with your caterer to run through the logistics. Find out what access, power and ventilation requirements they have and work with the venue to get things ready. You might need to request access to a certain part of the building, or get a power extension in place. You may also need to isolate any smoke or heat detectors if your caterers are cooking outside of a standard kitchen.
7. Confirm staffing levels
Staffing levels will affect the entire experience of your event. For example, if you have the budget to hire additional waiting staff, then your guests will receive quicker and more attentive service. If you need to lower your costs, then you can consider a more casual set up for your event; Bar service, buffet style food and sharing boards are excellent alternatives. Consider how important the quality of service is to your event when you are planning your budget.
8. Organise a tasting
Depending on the type of catering you are ordering, it might be necessary to arrange a tasting before the event. This is more common for sit-down meals or large-scale events. Ask your caterer to prepare 3 to 5 different options for each course for you to try and decide on a final menu from the selection.
A tasting is also an opportunity to discuss with your caterer how the food will be presented. They can show you different plates, linen, cutlery and glassware and help you imagine how your event will be styled.
9. Create a floor plan
Once your menu is decided, it’s time to map out where your food will be served. Work with your catering company to put together a floor plan showing where furniture will be set up and equipment will be stored. You should also plan the service and clearing routes. It’s best to avoid bringing empty plates through crowded spaces, so you should plan to use different access routes for your guests if possible. You’ll also need to make sure that all of your equipment is stored out of the way and complies with fire exit regulations.
10. Put together a timetable
Keep on track by putting together a full catering schedule for your event. You will want to have a detailed timetable of every part of your catering process. Your timings should include:
- Staff arrival
- Set up
- Guest arrival
- Drinks service
- Food service
- Guest departure
- Equipment collection
Share the catering timetable with the venue, security and all catering staff so that everyone is informed about the timings of your event.