Catering Expectations Vs. Reality

A lovely evening filled with luxurious 5-star dishes, a picturesque sunset painted in the background, and a guest list curated for the stars; is what people expect when they plan an event and hire a caterer, right?
Catering table set service various snacks on a table at banquet. Set of cold snacks, canape, beverages, closeup. Side view. Banquet table

A lovely evening filled with luxurious 5-star dishes, a picturesque sunset painted in the background, and a guest list curated for the stars; is what people expect when they plan an event and hire a caterer, right? These ideals are awesome if you have a budget of $1,000,000 and a friend group that consists of movie stars and celebrity athletes, but in most cases, clients are just like you and me! Despite the lack of fame and enormous amounts of money, clients still desire top-notch quality. This concept is all good and well, but the quality and experience they envision is usually not realistic. As a caterer, this is where your job can get sticky because a client’s expectations often do not meet reality.

Impressing guests with beautifully crafted dishes sounds amazing, but these dishes come with a hefty price. On average, higher-end dishes can start at $85 per person. Unrealistically, clients tend to aim high when it comes to what the event will look like, and the type of food served. It’s a daunting task to impress a client with food when they expect artistically beautiful dishes from the very beginning. When a guest desires filet mignon, how do you casually serve sirloin as if it’s comparable? As a caterer, this is an aspect of your job that can make or break an entire event. Giving the client the best quality food out of what they can afford is a tricky task that only some can manage to do without affecting the client’s expectations. Another issue with picturesque dishes that clients don’t understand is that most of the foods have elements in them that aren’t edible. In order to make all the food pictured in magazines look delicious, chefs frequently use glue, shaving cream, cotton, motor oil, and even deodorant to create the perfect shot. For example, when a picture needs to capture the steam coming off a soup, they will soak and microwave cotton balls to create an ideal flow of steam. The beauty and tantalizing images of food can be deceiving when so much movie magic goes on behind the scenes. This idea creates unrealistic expectations of what food should look like when clients hire a caterer. Food will look a lot different when cardboard isn’t holding it up or when motor oil isn’t making it look extra unctuous.

Another aspect of an event that can primarily affect the catering experience is the expectation of perfect weather. When a client plans an event, they probably imagine it taking place on an afternoon or evening with ideal weather. For example, if you wish to have an event on a Saturday night with catered barbecue, you’d probably picture it being warm and breezy. Although this situation would be ideal, relying on weather can ruin the catering experience quite quickly. The food could be mind-blowing, but if an event turns sour, people will remember every aspect of the event in a negative manner. Therefore, it is so important to communicate with vendors and the event planner to seek alternative routes for the event in case of a weather change.

Depending on the setting of the event, caterers can implement different serving styles. If it’s a more laid-back environment, a buffet could be a great option. Buffets give guests the freedom to roam and choose their food right when their hungry, instead of having to wait to be served. On the other hand, if the event is more intimate and professional, hiring a waitstaff gives guests the luxury of relaxation and feeling of status. Choosing a serving style can be an unrealistic expectation for clients, as well. You’d like to think that hiring a waitstaff that waits on you hand and foot would be easy to implement at an event, but it’s not a cheap option. It’s easy to imagine yourself seated at a large table, filled with delicious foods that were served by high-end waitstaff, but when it comes down to it, buffets and self-serve events are more common and realistic for many.

As a professional, it’s essential to have the skill and ability to be able to bring the client back down to earth and give them a great yet realistic catering experience. For the client, it’s easy to expect the best. As a caterer, it can be difficult is to deliver the reality of the client’s circumstances. Your goal is to find the balance between providing a-list catering experience and their budget.