The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.
Selecting & Hiring a Caterer
A catering service can prepare the meal for the hostess to serve or doing all the cooking, serving, and cleaning up. You can use help to direct guests, take coats, pass hors d'oeuvres, assist the bartender, serve at the table, and clean up. Be sure to discuss what specific services will be required when the hiring arrangements are made. Whatever the duties will be, make sure they are all clearly spelled out in the contract.
A catering cook and staff should arrive early enough to learn the workings of the kitchen and have time for preparation of the meal. The bartender should arrive to set up the bar before guests are expected. Make sure the contract stipulates that servers and bartenders arrive before the party starts.
If food is being prepared off the premises, it should be picked up or delivered early enough for the hostess to take care of whatever finishing touches are needed.
Bartenders and waiters ordinarily do not leave until the last guest has been ushered out, the last glass washed, and the last ashtray emptied. If the help has been hired on an hourly basis, the hostess may want to specify the hour that their duties will end. A cook generally leaves as soon as the cooking utensils and dinner service have been washed and the kitchen cleaned.
The method of paying temporary help varies.
- Some caterers include gratuities in their total price.
- Others send a bill indicating that you may add a tip.
- If your help has been hired from an employment agency or by you personally, pay them before they leave at the rate agreed upon, adding the appropriate tip.
The most important thing is to establish the method and amount of payment at the time the help is hired.
If friends help out, give them a small gift at the end of the evening.
Here are some tips on working with caterers:
- Get a Referral. Ask for names of recommended caterers from friends or coworkers.
- Find Out What is Included. Does the caterer design centerpieces and, if so, does he offer choices? Does the caterer provide china, silverware, and glasses? Are gratuities included in the total price? What are overtime costs?
- Get it in Writing. Make sure that everything you need done is detailed in the catering contract and is matched by a price.
- Sample the Goods. Have potential caterers prepare two or three different items from their menu for you to taste test before you make a decision.
- Stick to Your Budget. Don't buy unnecessary services.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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