How an Event Planner Works With a Caterer

(c) Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

If you're an event planner, the caterer you choose will be a key partner in any project.

The Caterer's Job

Caterers can make or break a business meeting, conference, exhibition, wedding reception, or any other special event. They take responsibility for the food and beverages, as well as overseeing the staffing of servers, chefs, and others. Many caterers also handle event decoration, audiovisual equipment setup, and other key elements.

They may be independent operators or employees of a conference center, hotel, or restaurant. In either case, they handle all the logistics of food, beverage, decor, and entertainment, whether it's a cocktail hour or a formal sit-down dinner.

The Event Planner's Preliminary Work

By the time an event planner meets with a caterer, much of the preliminary work has been done.

The event planner understands in detail the type of event planned, its purpose, and its guest list. It might be serious or celebratory. It could be a business meeting or a bring-the-kids company bash. The guests might expect cocktails or vegan health drinks, a sit-down dinner or finger food. As importantly, the planner knows the budget constraints.

All of that and more goes into choosing a venue that has the right size, location, facilities, pricing, and food and beverage services.

Deciding on a Menu

An event planner meets with the banquet or catering manager well ahead of an event to discuss the basics. A business meeting that will carry over into the afternoon may require box lunches, while a black-tie charity gala calls for a plated menu.

The planner and caterer then decide what they'll serve. An event planner needs to take into account the expectations of guests as well as the budget and should talk openly with the caterer about budget limitations. A good caterer can help create an event that looks elegant but isn't necessarily costly, with choices like using local seasonal produce.

Before the Event

While the catering manager takes care of the food, service staff and facilities, the event planner needs to keep in touch while researching and implementing a plethora of related details.

Transportation and on-site parking, the meeting agenda, audio-visual equipment needs, special menu requests, and last-minute changes all need to be ironed out before the event.

The goal must be to avoid last-minute surprises on either side. Menu substitutions, unexpected guests or drop-outs, and countless other snags can be taken care of before the big event.

Catering Lingo

Every industry has its jargon. Below are 42 common words and phrases—many of them borrowed from French chefs—that an event planner should know when talking to a caterer:

  1. A la carte: A variety of dishes priced individually;
  2. A la mode: A dessert topped with ice cream;
  3. Amuse-bouche: A bite-sized hors d’oeuvre; literally a “mouth amuser;”
  4. Apéritif: A light alcoholic beverage served before dinner to stimulate the appetite;
  5. Back of House: Everything your guests do not and should not see; the equivalent of "backstage;"
  6. BEO (banquet event order): The document that outlines the details and serves as a master plan to execute and communicate logistics to all departments;
  7. Bowl Food: Small bowls of food passed among guests during a casual reception;
  8. Canapé: Bite-sized appetizers;
  9. Charger: Also known as the under plate, large decorative plates that dress up the table and mark each diner's place;
  10. Corkage: A fee charged per bottle for opening and serving wine brought in by the client;
  11. Crudité: Raw vegetable appetizers, sliced or whole, for dipping in a sauce;
  12. Dry Hire: A venue rented without any labor, assistance, furniture, or delivery included;
  13. Deposit: The amount required up front before the event;
  14. Digestif: An alcoholic beverage served after dinner as an aid to digestion;
  15. Dueling Menus: A mixed entree, like surf-and-turf;
  16. F&B: Shorthand for food and beverage.
  17. Family Style: Service with platters set in the middle of the table so that diners can help themselves; 
  18. Food Stations: Cafeteria-style service with a number of manned tables featuring portions of the menu;
  19. French service: Table-side completion of food preparation, used for dramatic presentation of a menu item like crepes Suzette;
  20. Front of House: Everything you and your guests see, as in the audience of a theater;
  21. In-House: Everything that the caterer or venue provides, from the chairs to the audio-visual equipment;
  22. Intermezzo: A small delicacy such as sorbet served to cleanse the palate just before the main course;
  23. Linens or Napery: The tablecloths and napkins;
  24. Market Price: Indicates that the price for an item may fluctuate, as opposed to AQ or "as quoted" prices;
  25. Mise en place: Setting up or, literally, putting in place all details of the event;
  26. Paté: A food or mixture of foods mashed into a spreadable paste;
  27. Petit Fours: Bite-sized cakes;
  28. Plated service: A food course arranged on a plate by the chef before it is served;
  29. Out mess: Meals provided to the event team and suppliers to be eaten in the back of the house;
  30. Pre-con Meeting or Ops Meeting: A final get-together of vendors and suppliers a day or two prior to the event;
  31. Placement: The arrangement of cutlery, glassware, and linen on the table;
  32. Platters: Dishes used to display and serve canapés;
  33. Props: Anything that exists purely for aesthetics, like balloons and flowers;
  34. Service: Delivery of food and drinks to the guests;
  35. Set Up or The In: The process of getting all the equipment into a venue and set up for the event;
  36. Shuck: The delicate art of opening an oyster shell;
  37. Silencer: Padding used under the tablecloth to muffle annoying clattering from dishes, cups, and flatware while they're in use;
  38. Site Visit: A walk-through site inspection before booking the venue and just before the event;
  39. Snake Service or Ballet Service: Delivery of courses that is synchronized so that guests at a number of tables are served at the same time;
  40. Sommelier: A specialist in matching wine and food;
  41. Tasting: A meeting for the event planner and client to taste menu options before the meal plan is finalized, 
  42. Whisper Call: An indication that dinner is beginning, made by the maître d' walking among the guests and asking them to move to their seats