Information about Caterers and Catering Service Options
Like events, catering companies range in size, including small one-person operations, single-operation companies, multiple-site regional services, branches of national companies and owner-operated franchises.
For the most part, just about any kind of food you want is available from catering services, from vegetable crudites and fingerfood to coq-au-vin and whole-hog pit-roasted barbecue, not to mention desserts. While some caterers specialize in one particular area (clambakes, bbq, vegetarian/vegan, ethnic etc.), many will customize their menu to suit your wishes.
Caterers can generally handle any size event, from small and intimate to over-the-top large, but always make sure to have your event description, size, location, and date ready before you start checking out catering companies.
Catering Terms & Options
On-premise caterers prepare and cook the food at the location at which it's going to be served. While this generally refers to event facilities, many are also open to working in a home, provided there is suitable space and equipment.
Off-premise services will bring pre-cooked and pre-prepared food to the event location.
Take Out / Pick Up / No-Service Catering
With this option the catering service cooks the food and packages it in bulk for pick-up. Plating, serving, dishes and utensils need to be taken care of by you.
Drop Off / No-Service Catering
With this option the catering service cooks the food and packages it in bulk and delivers it to the event site. Plating, serving, dishes and utensils need to be taken care of by you.
When talking about buffet style events, catering companies are generally referring to fully staffed serving stations, where the service includes dishes, plates and utensils. Buffets can include any number of items: appetizers, entrees, salads, desserts and even drinks.
In many cases caterers use this term to apply to "self-serve" style buffets, where the stations are not staffed. However, catering services are increasingly open to a variety of partial service catering options, which can include simply cooking and dropping off the entree, offering served appetizers only, no clean up, no serving dishes and much more.
Sit-Down Plated Meal or Full-Service Catering
This is generally the most expensive option, but everything is handled by the caterer. Even here there are options, as full service may or may not include passed appetizers, desserts and beverage stations. In addition, full service catering generally includes accessories such as linens, plates, utensils, serving dishes and full clean-up.
Personal Chef Services
Personal chefs come in as many different styles as caterers.
Increasingly, many caterers are mobile - they work out of a food truck and will bring the "facility" to you! Another option is to simply arrange in advance to have a non-catering food truck arrive on site and cook from a pre-arranged menu.
In British English, "self-catering" usually refers to vacations where guest accommodations include kitchens and equipment for cooking their own meals. In entertaining terms, "self-catered" generally means that some of all party food for an event is prepared by the hosts, guests or both.
Looking for ideas on using alternative catering solutions?
Finding and Choosing a Caterer
The best way to choose a caterer is actually see (and taste their food) in action. Get recommendations from your friends, check out local foodie
showcases, and check the internet, phone books, directories of local caterers and local business sites. Don't even bother talking to caterers until you have at least a fair idea of
the scope, date, and attendees for your event, or you'll end up frustrated and wasting their time as well as your own.
For full information on making the right choice, see our article on finding and working with a catering service to get all the specifics.
Find a local caterer in your area!
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