Food plays a part in so many of life’s memorable moments. We use it to celebrate, to come together, and even to soothe our bodies and our souls. It represents our heritage, our passions, and our unique personalities.

Great meals fill us up and make us happy. And sharing those notable meals allows us to form life-long memories with family and friends.

That’s why food well done is so important and why so many of us turn to the “professionals” to provide catering services for our most important – and special – occasions, whether it be a birthday or anniversary, the birth of a new little one, a meal with friends or colleagues, a bridal shower or wedding, or even a gathering to celebrate the life of that special someone who has passed on.

Why hire a caterer?

Do you love to cook? Many of us do. Cooking, for so many people, is a way to relax, a way to create, or a way to treat our loved ones to something they might not otherwise have the opportunity to sample. But some occasions better lend themselves to allowing someone else to pick up the spatula and do the creating.

If you’ve ever hosted a large event for which you’ve done the cooking, you likely understand just how demanding a task that is and how it detracts from your ability to be a gracious and attentive host. Simply put, when you’re in the kitchen, you’re not able to mingle with your guests. You’ll be too busy making sure the hors d’oeuvres are on the platters, the wine uncorked, and the main course in the oven. You’ll be barking orders at your appointed helpers, fretting over a forgotten ingredient, and worrying that your guests won’t enjoy your selections.

Furthermore, cooking for a crowd can be tough in your home kitchen or on your backyard grill. It’s likely you don’t have sufficient space, the right equipment, and maybe even the time necessary to do the immense amount of both planning and cooking it takes to pull off the event of your dreams.

Conversely, when you opt for the services of a caterer, the stress disappears as do the expectations, and often, for a similar amount of money as you’d spend on a DIY party, you can let go of the food-related responsibilities and enjoy time with those whom you decided were important enough to invite to your event.

In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to offer a more diverse menu. Unless you’ve trained at Le Cordon Bleu, perfected advanced barbecue techniques, or can bake like a pro, chances are your options will be limited as to what you’ll be able to prepare and serve. By hiring a professional caterer, your menu can likely be more attuned to what you were envisioning for your once-in-a-lifetime event or special party.

Choosing the right caterer

Of course, once you’ve decided to relinquish the cooking responsibilities, the most important task becomes choosing a caterer that can handle the demands of your occasion or event.

In short, you’re looking for someone with a proven track record, with diverse offerings, and – most importantly – someone who is responsive to your wants and needs and who can guide you in a direction that’s best for your event and for your guests. Whether it’s a corporate breakfast, a family reunion barbecue, a gala wedding, or a memorial dinner, you want someone who understands the ins and outs of these types of gatherings and who can offer experience-driven opinions as to which direction you should proceed.

Many caterers have specialties, so if you have a particular theme or food type in mind, look for someone who excels in that area. Some tend to be “boutique” caterers that are best for intimate gatherings while others have tons of experience catering events for large numbers of people. Choose appropriately.

Flexibility is a great attribute for a caterer to possess. While most offer “sample menus” to get you started on the process of considering what you wish to offer, a great caterer is willing to sit down and talk to you about other options that might better fit your needs or fulfill your vision.

And then there’s the nitty-gritty. Be sure that you are provided with a detailed contract outlining everything that’s necessary to make your day go as smoothly as possible, including not only the menu but also items such as what kind of tableware will be provided, what time the caterer will arrive, and how cancellations will be handled if the need arises.

Most of all, don’t hesitate to ask for the opportunity to taste the food to be offered and also seek the names of parties that have already used the services of the caterer you’re considering. While online reviews can be helpful, it’s always a good idea to talk to satisfied parties via telephone to be sure you’re getting the real story from a real client.