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A caterer, catering company or service is in the business of quality food and beverage preparation and presentation to its intended recipients, on either a once-off basis, such as for a party or function, or on an ongoing basis, where a caterer may be tasked with devising, preparing and serving daily menus to the same people. Caterers work in many different sectors, such as corporate, commercial, healthcare, retirement, industrial and education, where they are responsible for the operation of canteens which serve hot or cold prepared meals, snacks and beverages to their clients. Catering companies also work for many airlines in supplying the meals which are served on international flights.
A caterer will handle all the menus for parties and events such as weddings, engagement parties, anniversaries, birthdays, funerals and memorial services, product launches, training events, seminars, etc., where they are often responsible for the supply of associated items required such as tables, tablecloths, chairs, crockery, glassware and china. This is a full-service catering service, although this is not always required, and depends on the function to be catered. Smaller, more intimate functions may only require the supply of platters, offering both savoury and sweet selections. Wedding caterers may also be tasked with the making and decorating of a wedding cake which, in the past, was a highly individual and costly item one had to order from a specialised bakery.
A caterer will agree a menu and budget with the client upfront, so both parties are agreed on the costs involved. Some caterers will supply waitron personnel to assist during the event, especially if a meal is to be served at the tables rather than a self-serve buffet-style, but servers will still be required during buffets to ensure that the selection is adequately stocked at all times and dirty tableware is removed from the tables and washed. Where food platters only are required, these can be tailored around a set budget and made up according to restrictions such as vegetarian needs, variety of snacks on offer and whether they are a mix of savoury and sweet or just one option.
A spitbraai is a very popular choice for informal entertaining in South Africa, and there are caterers who are specifically geared for such choices. They will provide all the equipment needed, and see to the cooking of the meat, together with providing a selection of side dishes and drinks. In South Africa, the focus often rests on traditional specialities such as pap, wors, potjies, chicken and salads as well as whole lamb, pork or beef rotisseries. These are always a hit, and a great way to feed large groups of people in a casual outdoor setting.
Catering companies are the inspiration and muscle behind many canteens across all sectors, serving different menus to institutions such as hospitals, schools and training venues and across businesses in the industrial, healthcare, mining, corporate, commercial and retail sectors. Whilst they are primarily responsible for the main cooked hot and cold lunch menus, they may also serve sandwiches, snacks and beverages during the day as well. Many retirement homes use the services of caterers who are aware of the dietary requirements of older persons, and tailor their daily lunch menus accordingly.
In many office blocks, there is no central kitchen which is large enough to consistently produce full cooked lunches, and no communal dining area which can be used by all businesses in the building. Employees need to eat at lunchtime, and some office blocks or complexes are situated in areas with no easy or quick access to shops. In such cases, catered daily trolley services are an ideal solution, offering ready-made sandwiches and salads, or doughnuts and other sweet selections, as well as packaged snacks such as crisps and nuts, together with cold drinks. Employees are able to purchase from the trolleys without leaving their offices, and may even be able to place standard individual orders. Another popular option is vending machines which supply sandwiches, salads and a variety of snacks and cold drinks, and which are monitored, stocked and controlled by catering companies.
Well-known caterers and catering companies are easily found through their general market visibility and ongoing advertising promotions. The majority of these specialists advertise online through sites such as Uptasker, which lists businesses according to geographical area, and where online reviews can be found immediately. Always take note of such reviews, as they are the lifeblood of any good catering business, and will provide you with information you need on matters such as quality, cleanliness, food selection and freshness, presentation, service delivery, number of staff available and ability to cater for the number of people who will be attending the function. Word of mouth referrals are obviously preferable, but if this is not possible, you can always find caterers through newspapers, magazines, flyers and the Yellow Pages, but be aware that you will not always have immediate access to their reviews in such cases, and will have to source these yourself.
The choice of catering company you choose for your individual function will depend largely on the event itself and the atmosphere you want to create. Your decision will ultimately rest on whether you wish to go for a formal or informal approach, the size of the venue, number of attendees and whether you need tables, chairs, table coverings, crockery, cutlery and glassware to be included in the service or not. There are catering companies available to cover any event, with any size and budget. Take your time, plan carefully with the caterer, then relax in the knowledge that your function or party will be catered for by professionals who will work tirelessly and unobtrusively in the background to make it a success. For more tips, see our catering articles.
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