I’m no chef, but I’ve worked enough events to know that the most fragile element at a live event is THE FOOD!  It’s also the easiest thing to screw up. This is because food is so temperamental.  It has to be served exactly right.  If you doubt this, just watch any episode of Top Chef. It can be overwhelming. So you can cook. Everyone you cook for confirms your food is fantastic, and you might even save a little money by doing it yourself. Great. You might figure that you’re ready to cater the event and utilize your best dishes for the task. In all but a few cases, this ends up being a huge mistake. Large menus lack focus. When you try and offer EVERYTHING to your guests, they become confused.  What’s worse, they’ll take more time choosing their food than enjoying the event.

Catering the event yourself, or worse, choosing the wrong caterer, can be stressful.  Like most other things on this list, planning well in advance is the key.  Below are ten tips to use to ensure you’ve hired the right caterer and to make the meals at your next event work:

  1. Have your caterer make as much as far in advance as they can.
  2. Avoid food that involves to-order cooking. Made to order omelets?  No way.  Steaks?  Forget ‘em.  Simple is best.
  3. Be sure your caterer stocks plenty of serving dishes, wineglasses, plates, etc., as well as plenty of ice and other necessities. No one wants lukewarm beer!
  4. Emphasize that the food must be colorful and fragrant–not just delicious.  Remember, people eat with their eyes and noses first!
  5. Ensure that linens and decorations complement the theme of the event.  Be sure that they add to the event without taking focus from it.  Massive centerpieces shouldn’t block attendees from seeing and speaking with each other across the table, for example.
  6. Make sure your caterer can/will accommodate last-minute changes in attendance.
  7. Plan menu items strategically.  Be sure that your caterer avoids dishes that require last-minute prep, exotic ingredients, long and arduous prep, etc.  Again, simple is best.
  8. Be sure that your caterer will accommodate special dietary requests (your job here:  be sure to keep track of them!).
  9. Go easy with the hors d’oeuvres.  Cocktail hour doesn’t need to consist of as much food as the dinner itself.
  10. Don’t skimp on dessert.  Unfortunately, the last course often seems like an afterthought.  Serve up a memorable course for the end of the meal and consider adding a healthier option, as well.

A successful meal service is one of the greatest achievements the event planner and caterer can claim.  Sure, entertaining can be stressful, but don’t let that stop you.

As the event draws near, you may get pressure from people to have certain items on the menu. You’ll get requests.  You’ll get complaints.  By deferring it all to the hands of a good caterer, you’re free to think about other things and they’ll take all the responsibility.  It is inherent in people to assume that somehow offering people more will make the food appeal to more people, but it’s just not true.  When you try to be all things to all people, you end up being very little to very many.  Keep the menu focused and you’ll keep everyone happy.

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