In order to reduce the chances of problems there are a few areas that need to be considered before a final choice is made.
This in itself will not guarantee quality but it suggests that they must be doing something right to survive in a competitive sector.
Rather than the “close your eyes and stick a pin in the yellow pages approach, you should ask all prospective suppliers for a list of their clients, either within your locality or within your sector so you know they have some knowledge of your sector.
Recognised by any national trade bodies, they will have probably done some work to ensure they are reputable.
Do they operate from a domestic location? This would question professionalism, and ability to cope with more than one job at a time or limit the amount of work they can handle, this may mean they will let you down if other work has been booked prior to your order. Are you happy they’re scrutinised by the relevant authorities?
Are they operating from a shop, is their main business sandwich/snack trade, if so does this mean your business is just a side line, when push comes to shove where will their interests lie? If you have time why not visit their premises, especially if you maybe putting a lot of business their way, you can get a feel for the company better than from a glossy brochure.
Ask to see copies of their public liability insurance documents, its important you are the public that needs to be covered, you should insist they are as professional at their job as you are at yours.
Are their staff qualified and if so as what? By law those working with food should at the very minimum hold a “Food Handlers Certificate”. Qualifications may not be vital, but do their staff have the suitable experience to look after you and your clients? If the caterer’s staff needs to be on your premises and deal with your clients will their manner and image reflect positively on you? Do they wear uniforms, are they reliable and courteous?
How will your food be delivered to your premises? Will somebody walk through the streets with it, will it be delivered out of the back of the family car or will it arrived in a purpose built refrigerated van. Is delivery included in the cost? Are there any other “hidden cost:?’ such as crockery, cutlery, napkins, tablecloths, collection and washing up? You need to know the total cost to ensure you are comparing like with like and also to avoid any unpleasant shocks when the bill arrives. Will the company invoice you after the event are do they insist on COD, this might not be convenient to have somebody running around the offices trying to find cash. What are there payment terms, who do they suit you?
Homemade V Factory Produced
Is the food homemade on the premises fresh each day or simply defrosted when required? Is this important to you, do you feel that homemade dishes have more taste; also they can be altered to suit your taste or requirements if homemade?
This is linked to being made fresh on site, are the menus you caterer provides a guide or are they ridged, can you swap items from different menus, can you ask for some ingredients to be left out or some to be included? Hours, can they cover a breakfast meeting as we as something for the evening?
Range of Products
What range can they offer you, if you choose them and use them regularly what will stop you getting bored and having to go through this process again. Can they do other services such as hot food, fork buffets, just sandwiches, soft drinks? Do they have knowledge and experience in ethnic food; vegetarian menus are requirements for special diets? If they do this will mean you don’t have to trying to find somebody else when these needs arise, you will already have a supplier with who you are happy and familiar.
Do they have a minimum number they will cater for or a minimum spend, both have reasonable economic reasons for both but if you have a couple of important clients visiting you want them to help you, they hopefully will look at the big picture i.e. helping you with the small functions you will remember them when you have something bigger.
Last Minute Requests
Most of us have been in the situation where visitors have had a meeting in the morning, which has over run. You want to put on some refreshment to help grease the wheels of industry; can these caterers help with last minute requests? Yes such jobs are a nuisance but you want to build a relationship where the company you choose are going to help you at every possible opportunity, they are going to be an important part of your team.
Ease of Contact
The year is 2009, ensure they can be contacted when you need them, the very minimum should be telephone (with 24hour answer phone backup) and fax for written confirmation. Nowadays it isn’t unreasonable to expect email and mobile phones.
Many areas to consider, some will be more important to you than others. To some, food and catering is just about keeping you alive so talk of quality and added value is wasted. To others food and catering can help break up a busy meeting help smooth troubled waters, help promote your company or your product. If this is the case a little care and attention to the choice of who will help you is worth the investment.