Hiring a caterer is easy right? Just find the one with the lowest price. Wrong! There are some questions that ABSOLUTELY MUST be asked before you even ask about price. These tips are intended to help you make a proper, educated choice when deciding on a catering company.

General Questions

1Does the caterer have a proper professional kitchen facility to work from?
This seems like a no brainier, but most don't. Some caterers can do small events in the kitchen of your house, but for large events a commercial kitchen and proper transportation equipment are absolute necessities. ALWAYS go see the facility. The reasons for this will become clear with the next question.
2Does the caterer have a valid health certificate from Interior Health Authority. Plus a Food Safety and Sanitation Plan?
This is for your guests safety as well as your own. A valid certificate means that the caterer has and does go through all the steps necessary to ensure a safe event. Proper storage, transportation of food and acceptable cooking techniques are hands down the very most important thing you should be looking at well before asking about price.
3What about insurance?
Every caterer should be carrying a good amount of up to date insurance. $5 million is an acceptable amount and you should ALWAYS ask to see this.
4Does the caterer hold a valid business license?
This is important as well as insurance may or may not be void if the contractor does not have a licence. Keep in mind that all of these things cost a lot of money. Those without these can and do offer catering at lower prices. But they also bring down the standards of the entire industry while putting you and your guests in danger!

Red Flags

1Where are you meeting the caterer?
If the caterer asks to meet at a coffee shop or at your house you need to ask to meet them at their facility if you are having an event of 40 or more guests.
2The caterer has no licencing or insurance.
NEVER hire a caterer that doesn't. Please, if you come across any of these unscrupulous people, report them to Interior Health immediately. They are dangerous and you could be saving some other people from a very bad experience.
3Is the price too good to be true?
If it seems to good to be true, IT IS! Everything costs money, so if too many promises are made at bargain basement prices, likely the food and service are going to suffer in the end. It is easy to be romanced by super low prices, but buyer beware.
4Did the quote come in an email?
If a caterer sends an email telling you how much it will cost get an itemized quote on paper, always.

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1Debunking The Myth
There is a sales strategy employed by some caterers that goes something like this: "I never send a cook to do a chef's job." Implying that if the Executive Chef or owner is not on site that somehow the experience will not be good. I want to debunk that myth once and for all. First, It would be impossible for the Executive Chef of a successful catering company to be on all sites. Secondly, one can assume that a company employs qualified staff for their own best interests. Otherwise they won't be successful for long. It's a silly claim that makes no sense. But by all means if you have more questions on this subject, you should definitely ask.
2Getting The Quote
A caterer should always send you a quote with as much information included as possible. But for the clients part it is so important to know how much you can spend. When you are asked what your budget is you need to have an answer. The reason is that quotes are just that and are not set in stone. Quite often a caterer can work with your budget if what you originally wanted will cost you too much. Catering will likely be the number one expense of the event. But it will also be the most memorable, so be reasonable and honest with your budget. If it is too much, then tell the caterer, don't make the assumption that they can't come up with something to fit your budget. Some caterers will even offer to try and beat a competitor quote. Take them up on the offer and send them the competitor quotes.
3Gratuities and Tax
This is a bit of a sticking point with many clients. All caterers will charge between 15%-20% gratuity or service charge on the entire bill. It may seem unfair to some but there is a lot going on behind the scenes that clients don't see and many people working that they also don't see. Generally, it's non negotiable. GST. It's the law. Plus gratuities are taxed by law as well. These two items you must keep in mind when figuring out your budget for catering. A $25 pp budget for food equals a total $30.18 pp for example.
4Other Fees
Sometimes there are additional fees for services rendered. Re-stocking, additional labor and travel are all things to consider. Maybe you are getting married in Kamloops and want your favorite Kelowna caterer to be there. It's going to cost a lot in travel fees to make it happen. Also many caterers don't include things like staff and flatware as part of their price. Make sure it is clear on the quote how much all this will cost or if it is included.