How To Pick A Corporate Caterer

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Whether you need breakfast and lunch for an upcoming market week or you’ve been assigned to find a new caterer the CEO will actually like, here is a guide to find the right fit for your company

1. IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE

Feeding a crowd of people you don’t know is very different from organizing a dinner for the corporate board of directors. You want to determine if the group is from your region or from other parts of the country. Tastes differ significantly for a group from the Napa Valley or a group of educators from Texas.

Once you know your audience better, think about the kind of menu you want to provide. Some options to consider: Classic American, Southern Cuisine, Fusion Cooking, Italian, Tex-Mex or Mexican, Mediterranean to name a few. Some of our fashion clients are now asking for Clean Food, which means no gloopy grey sauces, simple ingredients and preparations, like grilling or searing. Contemporary “clean food” is also pretty in presentation, like this baby beet and goat cheese mouse salad.

2. HAVE A CLEAR BUDGET

Before you contact caterers, have a clear idea of your budget so you can convey this to the potential caterer. If your boss gave you a budget of $12 per person for lunch, you don’t need to spend a lot of time searching top caterers. You will be better off using www.catercow.com or www.seamless.com, which aggregates menus from restaurants that can also do catering for your next event. Local delis and some chains like Panera and Pret-a- Manger also do this sort of simple drop-off catering.

If you have a good budget and are going for a highly professional experience, you must engage a caterer that works on a higher level, where the food will be handmade, beautifully presented and expertly served. When working at this level, asking a colleague or friend for a recommendation is a good start, but a Google search for “high-end corporate catering your city” or “best caterers your city” will lead you to the most popular caterers in your town. Don’t forget to put your city in the search. I cannot tell you how many times we have gotten calls from a potential client, only to learn half way through the conversation that the company is based in Seattle or Chicago.

Once you find a few catering companies that meet your budget, then what?

3. REQUEST A PROPOSAL

Our rule of thumb when selecting a vendor—get three proposals. This will give you a good idea of the range of pricing and also just enough variety of menus to make a decision We have met clients (brides especially!) who get 10 or more quotes. Trust me here, please. That is too much information to slog through.

A good proposal should have all of the following elements:

  • Straight forward pricing
  • An interesting selection of menu choices
  • Beautiful pictures
  • Terms of the contract such as payment, deposit requirements and cancellation policy
  • Explanation of “staff charges”, “service fees”, “administration fees” or “gratuity”

4. NEGOTIATE

to get an idea of how eager the catering company really is to work with you (believe me, you want a company that is eager for your business), ask about reducing or eliminating that “service fee” or “administration fee”. In most cases these charges are arbitrary and unless they also include the staff charges, they are pure profit margin for the caterer. We don’t add these fees, but instead include a small delivery | production fee which helps cover transportation, the driver’s wages, insurance and travel time to and from the event, which is explained on our invoice. All charges should be clearly explained and if they aren’t, always ask. Then ask to have them reduced.

5. SCHEDULE A TASTING

to make your final decision, schedule a tasting with your top candidates. Here are the questions to ask regarding the tasting:

Will they hold the tasting in your offices? That will tell you how accommodating they are.

Is there a charge for the tasting? This will also tell you a lot about the company. We believe this should be the cost of gaining your business. Some caterers don’t want to carry this cost. To be sure, tastings are expensive for the caterer. Those of us who have been around for 20 + years can tell you that in the “good old days” no one ever requested a tasting. Clients based their decision on personality and reputation. But hey, times change! This has become a part of running a successful business.

What if the caterer won’t do a tasting until you sign the contract? That’s simple. Find another caterer.

6. CHOOSE YOUR NEW CATERER

let’s say all three caterers were accommodating, flexible with their pricing and served delicious food. How do you decide? Here is our formula when we have to make a vendor selection — our three Ps:

Personality – will you actually enjoy working with these folks?

Passion – did the team seem genuinely excited about their food and service? If they were just going through the motions, no matter how good the food at the tasting, this catering company won’t go the extra mile for you.

Position – this is our own recipe: one part reputation, one part reviews and three dashes of experience in the industry = position

With these easy tips, we hope you’ll find the perfect corporate caterer!

Photo by @maggiemarguerite

Leslie Levin Nilsson, event planner, caterer, educator, Glamour editor, moved to New York from the Midwest with three passions: literature, food and throwing fabulous parties. Bartleby & Sage grew from those passions: early clients were fashion designer Thom Browne, Sarah Jessica and the gals at Sex & The City, rock and roll greats Sting and Gwen Stefani, Over the past 20 years, Leslie and her team have orchestrated thousands of cocktail parties, dinners, and weddings. Her "little black dress" of entertaining? The Venetian cheese toast.

Leslie Nilsson,
Founder & Creative Director
Bartleby & Sage

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