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Food’s up! Sly tips for catering meetings

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Question: "I'm surprised at how much of my new job is about ordering food for meetings—I'm responsible for four or five a day sometimes, anything from a basket of muffins for a team huddle to a 40-seat luncheon. Has anyone learned any catering 'cheats' that will save money, move lines along faster or just make me look like I really know what I'm doing?" - Becky, Assistant to Investing Services

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Diana August 28, 2017 at 3:28 pm

I agree with the ezcater idea. I use them whenever we have outsiders come in for lunch. However, I need to order executive lunches 5 days a week. Only 3-5 lunches. ezcater is too expensive for that. So I keep a spreadsheet of restaurants and who likes what. Then I use someone like DoorDash or GrubHub to do the delivery. They may charge for delivery, then need a tip, but those two costs are still cheaper than my time going out to pick up.

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Olivia L. Castro June 2, 2017 at 4:43 pm

I find that I learn by power point steps. I can always go back as a reminder if I get stuck on a process.

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jeannie ashman June 2, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Becky,
I stock up on items that store easily; and also have started buying baked goods and freezing them. This way when there is a last minute need for breakfast, or snack, items I just pull out of freezer. Most baked goods will defrost very quickly.

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Ruth June 2, 2017 at 9:18 am

Hi Becky, I started facing the same as the office got bigger and bigger. In nowadays, more and more restaurants are having options for catering. From Chick-Fil-A and pizzeria’s to Carraba’s, Olive Garden, Ruth Chris SteakHouse etc. They have great food at a great price (depending on your clientele of course).
First thing I did was to learn about my “clients’ ” preference. Then, I took some time and went online searching for common restaurants that I like to eat, or that have been recommended, to find out if they offer catering. Made a list of them all, and opened an account with them.
Second, as I started ordering or would go to a restaurant, I’d request a copy of the menu (or print from the restaurant website), and would offer it to the requestor, for him/her to choose whatever he/she would want to order to their guests or team.
Also, since each requestor has a different credit card, I made a list and saved it in my file, to salvage me time. It makes everything much easier.
Another thing that I did that has helped me a lot, was to sign up for Cater Nation. They’re great and have a variety of restaurants that you can choose from. Most of them offer breakfast, lunch, and happy hour options. Still need to improve their options as ezCater, but still very nice. Sara is right, ezCater is a great option for your caterings as well.
One of the benefits from CN, is that you get points for each order, and are rewarded with gift cards of your choice. The price is the same if you order directly from the restaurant. I have checked. They’re very efficient, and are your point of contact with the restaurant, keeping them in line, in case you don’ t like the food, time delivery, etc. 99% of the time everything is perfect. They not only deliver but set up everything for you.
Please feel free to reach me directly if you have any questions or need more info on this. Ruth Monte

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Anita June 1, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Becky, I built a relationship with a couple of restaurants that cater and they also help set up or clean up, which gives back valuable time. One caterer would start to cook food I suggested if I provided the recipes and they too would also suggest menu ideas or variations. We didn’t qualify for any discounts right away. Catering for different meetings is a time hog, especially if you have to set up and clean up. The executives in the company I work for finally saw how much money was spent on food and drinks, so they became strict on the criteria for catering. I hope this happens for you so you can focus on your primary tasks and will also save the company lots of dollars in a year.

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Treva Singleton June 1, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Knowing what people prefer is always helpful, but get to know the managers at local places you frequent because when they see that you order from them a LOT for various company events, they will start applying discounts as a “thank you” and even offer suggestions. Also, if you know when these meetings are going to take place and what “type” of meeting it is going to be, be proactive by being prepared. Already have in mind where you are going to order from; what you are going to order and call ahead. This will help the process run smoothly. I also keep a folder of menus to give me ideas when I am unsure and almost everywhere allows you to order online ahead of time. Personally, I like to speak to the person in charge of large orders because that’s how they get to know me and remember me when I re-order. Same applies to sit down luncheons, the catering manager will usually put it all together once you let her know your food/beverage selections and details of the event. However, being proactive by planning ahead saves a lot of time and reduces the stress of trying to figure it all out.

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Gail Erickson June 1, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Check with others in your company that have to order food, they are a good source of knowing who will and who will not deliver and how good the food is. We are a large company in a small town so our catering choices are limited. When you find the few ones that work well with you treat them like gold, the better you treat them the more they will come through for you in a pinch. Ordering boxed lunches with names on them is great, but so is having a supervisor who will let you order an assortment of lunches and drinks, you just tell the caterer how many you need and the type, i.e. so many boxed sandwiches, salads, wraps and so on, and they do all the rest. People are satisfied as long as the food is good.

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Brittany Z June 1, 2017 at 4:27 pm

I always ask if the restaurant will do box lunches when ordering for a crowd. I send the menu out prior to the designated employee who will be in the meeting. Once I have everyone’s order then I order the boxed lunches. Each box usually comes with drink, sandwich, dessert, napkins. It saves time and money in the long run. When placing the order for the box lunches I request that the names are put on the boxes so when the boxes arrive I can easily hand them out to the specific person. If putting names on the boxes is not an option then I make labels and affix to each box once the order arrives at the front desk.

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Connie June 1, 2017 at 4:26 pm

Additional ideas. Also stock up on a few serving utensils. Nice tongs, spoons, salad servers, dessert servers, etc. If you have an ice machine in your building, purchase a couple of ice buckets, and scoops. Can be purchased online for about $20 – $30 each. If you have a refrigerator available – stock bottles of water, cans of pop, juice, etc.

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Sara Garick June 1, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Order through a site like ezCater. They are a nationwide service that contracts with local caterers. You search for local vendors on the ezCater website and place the order. ezCater does the rest! So easy and convenient.

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Connie June 1, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Take over a storage area near you. Stock plates, cups, table service, napkins, etc. Get a few nice baskets. Keep a basket of chocolate type candies, another basket of mints (never mix w/chocolate – will give all chocolate mint taste.) Also get some small clear glass or clear plastic bowls – fill with candy for on tables. I also do the same with cracker packages, trail mix packages, granola bars, individual chip bags, etc. These can be brought out in a couple of minutes, allowing you to present a nice meeting without much work. For meals, baked goods, etc. – contact local restaurants, places like Panera Bread, or McAlisters Deli, etc. Find their catering manager and get acquainted. They will become your best resource. If you become a regular customer, many will deliver with less than 24 hour notice. Most of these can provide anything from desserts to fruit or veggie trays, to full meals.

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Yetunde Pinckney June 1, 2017 at 3:58 pm

If you’re able to plan in advance, using a site like Fresh Direct will allow you to order lovely trays (or build them diy style) and have them ahead of time. Where you can, learning the office favorites is very helpful.

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