Lessons From a Caterer: What to Expect When Planning a Summer Wedding or Party

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By Cucina Paradiso

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If it's June that means that catering season is kicking into high gear. From graduation parties to summer weddings to family reunions, this is the season to celebrate with a party. It can be easy enough to find a caterer, but how do you determine if that company is prepared to meet your needs? Taking the time before hand to delve into the business side of the transaction can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying your summer party.

On an initial interview with a caterer, before you focus on the food, it is wise to first look at the big picture. Anthony Gambino, who with his brother Nick owns and operates Oak Park's Cucina Paradiso and Burger Boss, has a wealth of experience catering through the brothers' Twomaytoz Event Catering. Gambino notes that there are certain categories to focus on.

Pricing

Come armed with specific ideas on both what you need and what you can afford to pay. When asking a caterer for a proposal, it saves everyone a lot of time if you have already narrowed down your options. Do you want a sit down dinner or a buffet? Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres? Making these decisions ahead of time can give your caterer the opportunity to create a more personalized proposal for you.

Ask the caterer about the extras. It's great to know what you can afford to pay per person attending, but extras can add up. Find out what is included, or not included in the price. Items like linens, tax and gratuity can add a lot to your bottom line.

Service

While the food may be the focus, don't forget to ask about the service, which can play a large role in the success of an event. Will the caterer be working other large events the same day as your event, or will your event be the focus of the day? Make sure your caterer has a designated contact person for the event who can answer any and all questions that are likely to arise.

Many caterers provide tables, chairs, plates, linens, silverware and more, and you should be involved in choosing these items. Waitstaff is another important element for the night. Gambino suggests that there is a maximum of twenty guests per server for a plated dinner.

Nuts and Bolts

Once you've covered food and service, don't overlook the logistics of the event. When choosing a venue, find out if a caterer will have access to on-site equipment for food preparation or need to bring his own. If alcohol will be served, find out if your caterer has a liquor license, meaning he has met health department standards and has liability insurance. Discuss early on who will provide the alcohol at the event and whether or not any special request can be made.

Schedule a tasting to make sure you like the food your caterer prepares, and finally, don't forget to check references. For a special event, you want to make sure that your chosen caterer has the appropriate experience to handle your type of event.

Gambino says that for obvious reasons, the summer season is a popular time to throw a party in the Chicago area. Once you take care of the basics, he recommends focusing on the little touches that reflect the hosts as well as the season. Popular summer dishes like bacon wrapped dates and rustic salads are favorites, and for a special touch at weddings, he notes that brides often like to choose a signature drink associated with a memory of the couple.

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