Catering tips

What to order?

If you are not already planning on providing vegan/vegetarian/nut free items, you may want to include a question about dietary restrictions in your invitation process or a selection option.  You may ask caterers to put certain ingredients on the side.  You may want to ensure that all items with common allergens are labeled so no accidental ingestions take place.

When to order?

The larger the order, the earlier you should place the order as even large operations can reach a limit of how much they can do on any given day due to food storage and preparation space limitations.  Ask the vendor by what date they will need to know final headcounts and any additions, subtractions or substitutions to the order. Even most pizza places can take orders many days in advance.

Always confirm ahead of time!

For large orders, you may want to put it on your calendar to call a day or two before your event, or if the vendor has not already contacted you for confirmation. Have the vendor read back the details they have recorded for your order.  For small orders, it’s wise to call the morning of the event. 

How much to order?

First ask: has this event or a similar one occurred before?  You can check old Travel & Expense reports to glean some information on how an event was catered the previous year.

For seated meals: ALWAYS order for the number of guests you are expecting. If you under order because you are used to having lots of food leftover you may run out of paper/china products and possibly beverages and food. 

For buffet-style events: It can be hard to know how much to order for a buffet.  Most good caterers will give you good advice. Also many caterers will bring enough to serve slightly over the attendance you give them, so try not to over order.  On the same note, if you over order because you have heavy eaters and you need an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet you will have more non-consumable products  (china/paper/labor) than necessary to do your event and possibly incur unnecessary expense to your unit.  An inaccurate guest count can cause a multitude of problems from an operational standpoint. 

For reception-type events: Many factors need to be considered when planning a reception to determine ideal quantities; how long it lasts, the time of day, will dinner be immediately following, the type of attendees, etc.  Your catering consultant can help recommend amounts for you.  There are basic guidelines on how to order for receptions below; however, keep in mind there are several factors that will influence the amount of food you should order.

Consider the length of your event.  For example, a 1.5 hour breakfast meeting for 10 people will not require as much as a 4 hour morning meeting for 10 people that has items brought in the beginning but those items also gets a second pass during a break.

Bottled waters are nice but it is often cheaper to go with pitchers or dispensers, especially if other beverages are provided. 

How to plan for catering quantities (direct document download)

When in doubt, use the catering quantity guidelines from University Catering or use the quantity estimitating worksheet (xlsx).