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What to look for in a Catering Company

What to Look for in a Catering Company   Let’s face it, most people don’t apply for a job and clearly listed in the job description is “Responsible for Ordering Office Catering”.    If you’re reading this, the chances are it’s one those add on jobs you need to do along with your actual job.   Emma at I love Catering has created this blog, to give you the main things to look for in a Caterer you can trust, without having to trawl through the internet.   Food Hygiene Rating   A premises food hygiene rating is always my first point of call, whether it be a catering company or somewhere to go for dinner.   It gives you a good understanding of how well the Kitchen is ran how the food is prepared and stored on the premises.   Any food establishment is legally required to notify the local council of its existence and have a Food Hygiene Inspection. Even a small independent individual operating from their home needs to be registered with an up to date Food Hygiene Rating.  You can find a companies food hygiene rating at ratings.food.gov.uk   A Food Hygiene Rating of 0-5 can be awarded to a Food Business upon inspection.
  • 5 – hygiene standards are very good
  • 4 – hygiene standards are good
  • 3 – hygiene standards are generally satisfactory
  • 2 – some improvement is necessary
  • 1 – major improvement is necessary
  • 0 – urgent improvement is necessary
They higher the rating, the more robust procedures they have in the following areas:
  • How hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored.
  • The physical condition of the business – including cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation, pest control and other facilities.
  • How the Business manages ways of keeping food safe, looking at processes, training, and systems to ensure good hygiene is maintained. The officer can then assess the level of confidence in standards being maintained in the future.
Any Caterer Operating a Good or Very Good Hygiene Rating (4 or a 5), will more than likely plaster it over their website and on their socials.   It’s something that Caterers are proud of.   If a Caterer has a lower Food Hygiene rating (under a 4), they may not show it on their website, this is when you should do an extra check.   If you cannot find the companies food hygiene rating, it might not necessarily mean its terrible or they don’t have one.  It could be that the company is registered as a slightly different name with EHO.   Never be afraid to ask a Caterer for their Food Hygiene Rating.   If they refuse, there is something very wrong. Do They Meet Your Requirements   After making sure they prepare and deliver food safely, you need to make sure they meet your requirements.     However, in order to properly answer the question, you need to know what the requirements are for your business.   Ask the people who will eat this food:   Find out what people in your business want to eat.  What do they like, what do they not like.  Just because you like wraps and salads, might not necessarily mean the larger audience does.   If you don’t find out what people want, you won’t please the group and may end up needing find another Caterer for no reason.  You could just be ordering the wrong menu.   We see this from time to time, when the person who is ordering the food isn’t part of the group eating it.   Typically, a group of men doing heavy manual labour have very different tastes to the Receptionist who is loves salad and chicken.   The more information you can provide a caterer the better they can advise you on the best menu suited to you and your company.   Menus & Tasters   The food is the most important thing.   You should be offered a range of menus to suit different tastes and give you variety.   Some caterers don’t change their sandwich fillings and finger foods anymore than once every 12 months.  So its worth asking the question.   Caterers who work with local suppliers within the area will make use of local ingredients and ingredients in season.  You will find that these types of Caterers will update their menus on a quarterly basis to give you the variety and stop the people eating the food getting bored.   Many Catering Companies will offer you a “Try Before You Buy”, and are more likely to do this if they are proud of their food.     Ordering & Flexibility   You need to be able to order quickly and effectively, plus make changes to your orders as efficiently as possible.   There will be plenty of times when numbers change, or someone additional is at the meeting who has a dietary requirement.   We have all been there, when your boss walks up to you with “Ummm……I did ask you to order that catering for ABC Client Meeting today”.    You silently think of an inappropriate reply before saying “I don’t think you did, or maybe I forgot,  not to worry I will sort it now”.    You then start scrambling around trying to find a way to feed these people.   Your Caterer, should be able to get you, or your Boss, out of the Doggy Doo.  Find out what lead times you need to give a Caterer when placing an order and do they do last minute requests.   Ideally, your chosen Caterer will have an easy to use Online Ordering system which will give you the following functionality, to make your life easier:   Order Online Your Own Account where you can Review previous orders Review up coming orders Quickly re-order a previous order Order for multiple dates in one go Amend your orders Review Invoices Pay Invoices by Card   The last thing you need to be doing is sending multiple emails or making multiple phone calls.   Payment   Your chosen Caterer, should be able to offer you multiple payment options.   Payment By Card You should be able to make a payment by card online.  Having to make a phone call to pay for invoice is time consuming   You may not be the person who pays the bill,  so rather than you having to forward payment links or invoices and worst of all being chased for payment.  You caterer should  give you the option of having a different invoice contact to yourself.   Payment by BACS & PO’s   Your Caterer should be able to offer your Business the option of paying by BACS and for you to provide them with Purchase Orders.   However, a lot of Caterers are small family run businesses and may not have the cashflow capabilities to agree to long payment terms.   Delivery   This is one that a lot of people overlook.   Depending on the size of the Catering Company and how many vehicles they have.  They could be delivery between 10-25 orders before 12pm (when most people need food).   Environmental Health, recommend that food is eaten within 90 minutes once it has left a temperature controlled environment.   Your food should be delivered to you in a refrigerated vehicle.   Then you may need to question when the food left the Fridge.  You may also then need to keep it in a fridge(s) in your office depending on when it was delivered.   At I Love Catering, we can have in excess of 50 deliveries to make within a 2 hour window.  So we do need to make some deliveries early, despite having large fleet of refrigerated Vans.    In order to keep our food safe for our Customers, we deliver to you in Cool Bags, which extends the safety of the food to 3 hours once delivered, plus 90 minutes to consume.  So for a 12pm eating time, we can safely deliver to you at 9am.   ALLERGENS   Allergens and food intolerances are becoming more and more prominent.  Your caterer should take all allergens and intolerances seriously.   At I Love Catering, it doesn’t matter if someone has a Nut Allergy or a mild intolerance to Onion, they are treated the same.  Anyone with an allergen or intolerance should have a meal specifically made for them and be clearly labelled upon delivery.   Your Caterer should also label the 14 Main Allergens in the UK somewhere on your order.  Whether that be on the packaging, cool bag, a QR code for you to scan or on Menu Cards.   Packaging   With the environment being front of mind for the majority of Companies your Caterer should be no different.   They should be using packaging that limits the amount of single use plastics.  Whether that be reusable boards which get returned to them for cleaning and sanitising or compostable eco packaging, all the way down to wooden cutlery and eco friend serving utensils.   Pricing   Everyone wants the best value for money, but price shouldn’t be your only factor in deciding on who to use as your Catering supplier.   Value for money isn’t just in the form of what appears on the bill, you should be looking at the quality of the food.   Using smaller local suppliers and in season produce may increase the cost slightly but your food will be much tastier.   A Caterer who provides the following, as also adding value, as its saving you time  
  • Online ordering
  • Customer Service team to answer questions or queries as quickly as possible
  • Easy payment
  • Seamless Deliveries, ideally you will get notification of when your order will arrive, similar to your online food shopping delivery.  Saving you the time of wondering when it will arrive.
  • Innovation to Menus, if your Caterer updates their menus regularly, your people won’t get bored and start asking you for another cater.
  Most Caterers operate on very tight Margins so there isn’t always wriggle room on pricing.  However, if you really like the look of a Caterer and pricing is slightly too high.  Most Caterers will try to help you.  However, it needs to be a win for you and win for them.   Go to the Caterer with some factual evidence for a price reduction.  If the volume of orders is there for them they maybe able to reduce the price, but they need to the numbers.   How often you order catering How many heads Will you agree to use them exclusively Do you have other offices in the area who can use them too   All these things will put you in a stronger position for negotiation.     Issues   I would love to say that Catering is walk in the park and we never get things wrong.   When you are deal with humans, there is always the risk of a “hiccup” somewhere along the line.  Especially with Humans placing the order, humans making the order, humans packing the order and humans delivering it.   No matter how robust the Caterers internal processes and systems are, there is the risk of an incorrect or missing element of an order.   Or something out of your control happens and someone eating the food suddenly tells you they have an allergen.   Regardless of the issue your Caterers main priority at that point in time should “fix the problem” as soon as possible so the impact is as small as possible for you and your guests.    How the issue occurred and why can be dealt with afterwards.   Trust   You need to have trust with your Caterer and all the steps listed to date in this Blog will help to form that trust.   Trusted relationships between any customer and supplier, it doesn’t just relate to Catering, are about being open and honest with one another.   If you weren’t happy with a particular order, then tell your Caterer and give them feedback.   If they value, you as a customer they will welcome the feedback and make the necessary changes.  If you don’t tell them, they don’t know they need to change.   If you need changes to a menu or really love something, for example it could be sausage rolls. Or your MD loves Piccalilli and Pork Pies.  Talk to the Caterer and tell them.  Being honest with them will save you having to find a new caterer in the future.  If they aren’t open to change, then perhaps they aren’t the right fit for you and your business.   Positive feedback also goes a long way as well.  Many kitchen teams work long hours with very early starts.  There is nothing more motivating for a Kitchen Team than to receive feedback from a customer.

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