You've secured the venue and the entertainment and discovered that Tom Cruise will be attending your event. But how do you select a caterer from the myriad of outfits offering their services?
Event variables can be as diverse as the dishes on offer - the guest number and profile, season and event theming are just some of the factors that influence menus and food presentation - but a good organiser will focus on the overall enhancement of the event.
Event organisers would be well-advised to employ catering firms that can think "outside of the kitchen" and select one that sees itself as an event partner rather than a passive contractor. As Chevalier Event Design sales and marketing manager Liz Madden puts it: "We seek to create a memorable experience of the highest quality and take away all the hassle from the client."
Of course, the proof is in the pudding ... and the canapes ... and the risotto, which is why the vast majority of caterers will offer tasting sessions.
Most firms will do this on their own premises, but some are willing to offer tastings at clients' offices. For the harried organiser, this can be a useful way to introduce the caterer to the client.
But let's not put all the pressure on the catering firms. As the event linchpin, the organiser has an obligation to furnish caterers with information about guest dietary requirements, seating plans and issues such as timing.
Delivery on time and on budget is what organisers seek from their caterers, and the right caterer will be at pains to clarify costs. "We pride ourselves in our ability to accurately forecast all the costs," explains Moving Venue Caterers' managing director John Stockton.
We now hand you over to the experts, who aim to help your event achieve gastronomic glory - whether Mr Cruise shows up or not.
CHEVALIER EVENT DESIGN
With offices in the UK and the US, Chevalier Event Design and sister company Eat to the Beat know how to deliver diversity. Recent events catered for include the FHM Party to celebrate 10 years of the 100 Sexiest Women at Guildhall, T4 Pop Beach VIP hospitality in Great Yarmouth and the Scooby Doo 2 film premiere party.
Chevalier deals with budgets and lead times individually. "As no two events are the same, neither are the costs," explains marketing manager Liz Madden.
"To be given a budget to work to at the time of enquiry would save a lot of time for all concerned," she says.
"Ideally, we look for a minimum of two weeks' notice, although we have been known to turn an event around in 72 hours." she adds.
Chevalier regularly caters for events at Gainsborough Studio, Hammersmith Palais, The Roundhouse, Angelspace, The Chainstore, The Deluxe Gallery and Turnmills. Eat to the Beat specialises in crew catering and hospitality, and has worked with some of the world's top music promoters.
Contact Liz Madden (01923) 204644
CROWN SOCIETY SPECIAL EVENT CATERERS
"We constantly seek inspiration from many sources," says Colin Sayers, director of customer services at Crown Society Special Event Caterers.
"My colleagues and I, including executive chef Laurence Clifford, keep a close eye on the latest trends and innovations throughout the industry." Crown's impressive venue contracts also benefit prospective clients. "We always offer tastings at whichever venue is most appropriate," Sayers comments. "We have sole contracts at venues including Zandra Rhodes Fashion & Textile Museum and London Dungeon, and we own The Gibson Hall in the City of London so we are never stuck for a tasting venue." Budgets range from £15 per head for a Family Fun Day BBQ for 1,000 people and from £75 per head for a formal dinner with beverages. Organisers can also opt for a bespoke menu written and managed by a Michelin star-rated chef.
"Ideally, we require three months' notice but we regularly produce a whole event in a few days," concludes Sayers.
Contact Colin Sayers (020) 7236 2149
MOVING VENUE CATERERS
"Our (menu) recommendations will be based on our expertise and our understanding of the complexities involved in event catering," says John Stockton, managing director of Moving Venue Caterers.
"We will propose menus that we can guarantee to be delivered in time. Event organisers can have a major input into the choice of menu, but where they have requirements we consider impractical, we would decline to undertake the work rather than agree to provide a service that we cannot guarantee will be successful.
"We have a dedication to quality control, which reveals itself not only in our rigorous approach to planning, but also in our approach to non-glamorous issues, such as food safety, health and safety, risk assessment and licensing," he adds.
Recent events include a dinner for a national rail company and a major hairdressing awards evening at the Design Museum in May, where dessert canapes and shots were served on sweet-themed perspex boxes at a cost of £35 per head.
Moving Venue Caterers has preferred supplier contracts at venues such as Hampton Court Palace, Imax Waterloo, ll Bottaccio, Imperial War Museum, Kensington Palace, Royal Academy of Arts, Saatchi Gallery and Vinopolis.
Contact John Stockton (020) 8691 6661
"We are a small independent company that provides great food at sensible prices as our operation has smaller overheads than the larger caterers," says director of Dish, Fiona Stewart-Brown. "The client always has the final choice and we can only guide and advise them," she adds.
Part of this guidance comes from product sampling. "We have seasonal Dish menus, but should an event organiser want a bespoke menu with a specific theme we will happily create a menu to suit," Stewart-Brown states.
A transparent approach is favoured by Dish. "Our prices are inclusive of all management, hire and floor staff (although not furniture or kitchen) since we do not believe in hidden extras," she adds.
Guest information from organisers makes the job easier. "Knowing where vegetarians will sit, for example, is helpful," Stewart-Brown advises.
Recent Dish events include a Pop Idol wrap party at Madame Tussauds, with bento boxes and US-inspired canapes such as mini burgers, chips, sweetcorn fritters and Cajun chicken for £35per person.
Contact Fiona Stewart-Brown (020) 7231 8304
INN OR OUT
Client rapport has been key to the success of London-based caterers Inn or Out. "I believe we offer so much more then just 'catering'. Everything we do, we do with integrity and I think the client feels this," says managing director Lena Bjorck. The trust of clients has allowed Inn or Out to largely dispense with client tasting sessions.
The importance of adequate lead times is acknowledged but not enforced rigidly. "You have to be as flexible as you can," Bjorck says. "The biggest problem (during the event) is often speeches in between hot courses, but it is our job to get the right information to eliminate such problems."
Budgets per head for canape receptions are roughly £25-£40 excluding drinks. A three-course a la carte dinner costs £55-£125 excluding drinks .
Recent events have included BMW's hospitality suite at Goodwood Festival of Speed, and Inn or Out boasts sole supplier contracts at Number Six Gresham Street and the Hackney Empire.
Contact Lena Bjorck (020) 7726 0510.