Hosting events, as Evan Williams does
at her bed-and-breakfast in Lawrence,
Kansas, gives caterers more control over
the ambience of a party. However, it adds
grounds maintenance and cleaning to
Below are six essential questions, culled from experienced
caterers across the country, to
ask before you hire a caterer
1 What kind of experience does the
caterer have? What is his or her
reputation? Ask for references and
follow up on them.
2 What sort of food does the caterer
serve? Can you arrange for a tasting?
3 What is the quality of the presentation? What sort of serving pieces
are used for buffets? Ask for pictures
of previous buffets or table settings.
4 Will the quote be the final cost
or are there other fees? Does the
quote include a gratuity?
5 How about leftovers? Some caterers
dispose of them; others bag up leftovers and put them in your fridge.
6 Is the caterer licensed and bonded?
retirees. And others are at various stages of life in
between. Some are classically trained at prestigious
culinary schools; others learn the business as
employees before striking out on their own.
Regardless of the type of food they serve or the
flair with which they serve it, there’s a common
thread: an undying zeal for food.
“Most foodies are in the business because they
have an obsession with food. It goes beyond what
you would call an interest,” says Biber, who launched
Two Guys Grilling after retiring from a career in the
computer industry. He worked in the food industry
as a youth and had maintained a passion for high-end cuisine before making a business of it. As a
result, Two Guys Grilling developed dishes, such as
Brazilian coconut chicken, Cajun shrimp scampi
and chipotle New York steak, that transcend most
people’s expectations of barbecue.
“It really started for me when I got my first
hibachi. I grilled everything I could on the four- to
six-coal marvel. My first professional lesson came
when I was 8. Always there was this voice calling to
me from the grill,” Biber says.
the San Clemente Inn, located in San Clemente,
California. “The way I interact with customers, the
way I work an event, is what drives sales.”
Linda Manca of Manca’s Catering in Bellevue,
Washington, agrees: “Because my husband, Mory,
and I understand our clients’ needs and have repeatedly delivered the kind of experience they want, they
expect to see at least one of us at each party.”
Pleasing the crowd often involves going the
extra mile for a client. That means accommodating
various guests by offering vegan, kosher, gluten-free
and many other dishes. These kinds of culinary
concerns are increasingly important in today’s
And it means an occasional customization of the
standard approach. For example, Andrew Lafflam, of
Mission Viejo, California–based Beyond Cuisine
( www.gobeyondcuisine.com), normally caters multicourse meals for small, very formal dinner parties.
“However, at a birthday party, I recently taught a
group of 15-year-olds to make sushi because my
client’s daughter absolutely loves sushi,” he says.
There’s a lot on the line with each production.
For a caterer, a crowd-pleasing event is the best
advertising for repeat or new business.
“Satisfied clients and happy guests make for a
successful catering business, because word-of-mouth
marketing is the single most effective marketing strategy in the industry,” points out Donna Billman, of
Donna B’s Gourmet Cookies ( www.donnab.com),
based in Laguna Niguel, California.
A love of food is at the heart of any good
caterer, but close behind is a knack for working well
with people. Bill Hansen, who runs Bill Hansen
Catering ( www.billhansencatering.com) in Coconut
Grove, Florida, which has served the greater Miami
area since 1980, says successful caterers tend to be
“This trait works in their favor, in that they are
naturally disposed to work extremely hard to satisfy
their clients,” says Hansen, who co-authored
Off-Premise Catering Management ( Wiley, 2005).
Clients associate the faces who make their parties exceptionally enjoyable with the experience.