Catering to Your Meeting Needs

By Heather Baldwin

When budget constraints require that you hold your annual sales meeting across the street instead of across the country you can add some spice to the venue by ensuring the food is top notch. So how do you go about finding a caterer that will leave attendees raving about the menu instead of griping about the destination? Abby Fitzpatrick, director of catering for Marriott’s Hunt Valley Inn and a member of the National Association of Catering Executives’ (NACE) national board of directors, offers these recommendations.

1. Get word-of-mouth referrals. Nothing beats first-hand experience, so talk to people inside and outside your company who have planned meetings in your area. A good place to start is your HR department. HR people, says Fitzpatrick, often get roped into the meeting planning process and may have a good recommendation for a caterer.

2. Go with a recognizable brand. You’re almost always safe when you stick with a big, national name, such as Hilton or Marriott, whose reputations are staked on the service they provide. Still, service levels can vary from property to property so it’s wise to check references to be safe. If the company can’t provide any, steer clear.

3. Call your local convention and visitors bureau. CVBs have relationships with most businesses in their area and can direct you to recommended caterers.

4. Ask your meeting venue for a list of recommended caterers. Most places keep a list and the caterers on that list are almost always good bets. Caterers that come recommended by a meeting place tend to know the facility, have a good working relationship with the people there and have received positive feedback from meeting attendees. They’re a good choice, says Fitzpatrick, because if they don’t do a good job they’ll get booted off the facility’s A list.

5. Look for professional affiliations. Check potential caterers for membership in a professional organization, such as NACE. People who invest time and money to be part of a professional group care about what they’re doing and where their future is. Chances are they’ll be more reputable and dedicated than a caterer who hasn’t made that investment, says Fitzpatrick.