How to Create Catering Menus

Creating a client’s event menu is one of the most important task for caterers. A caterer must consider the client and her guests’ likes and dislikes, health and medical conditions, eating habits, the number of portions to make and the type of event being planned. Create a client questionnaire, which will help you determine the best approach to creating the best custom menu. Consider the following items when planning a basic catering menu.

Create a Client Questionnaire

Provide the client a questionnaire at the first interview. Asking a few simple questions in the beginning will save money and time for the client and the caterer. Know who the client is, what type of event it is, and who and how many guests will attend. Other questions to be asked:

  • What is the professional level of your guests? 
  • What is the client’s profession? 
  • Is the event a business-related party? 
  • What type of event will it be? 
  • Cocktail, sit-down dinner or buffet style? 
  • How frequently does your client attend similar events? 
  • What did your client like or not like about such events? 
  • What location and type of venue does your client prefer? 
  • What is the ethnic background of your client and her guests? 
  • Does the food need to meet any ethnic or religious guidelines?

Determine Food Preferences

Ask questions that will provide a basic understanding of your client's food preferences. Some examples: What is the general age group of the guests? Older attendees may prefer a milder or less spicy menu. What are the client's and guests' health concerns? Are there diabetics among the guests? Do guests have allergies to seafood, peanuts or dairy products? Are there guests who are vegetarians? Are there religious restrictions to consider? Are there foods your client does not like?

Offer a Variety of Options

Give your client a menu that includes several choices and options. Build a basic catering menu plan and then add options and choices for substitutions. Create menus that provide local and seasonal produce or seafood. Some general guidelines: Offer at least two or three choices of entrees. Include a vegetarian entree choice. Offer several salad dressing options. Include creamy or cheesy, a vinaigrette and low-fat options. Serve condiments on the side.

Do not over spice or salt, unless the client approves the choice. Offer two dessert options: one very decadent and indulgent, the other a healthy choice. Balance the menu with a variety of foods. Do not just serve meat and potatoes; add a variety of vegetable choices. Serve locally grown, organic or free-range foods when possible.

Tailor the Menu to the Event

Discuss venue, event type and budget with the client, then create a menu that fits both. Think about time and schedule when determining the menu. Sit-down, plated meals usually require at least 1.5 hours of preparation time. Buffets may be finished about one hour before serving. Serve cocktails and appetizers one hour before dinner. If the sole purpose of the menu is a cocktail party with appetizers, then hot appetizers should be served within 10 minutes after coming out of the kitchen. Working breakfasts or lunches should incorporate menu items that can hold up for long periods of time.

Plan to Stimulate the Senses

Your basic catering menu should always have a pleasing final presentation. The food should stimulate the client’s senses. Clients and guests eat with their eyes and noses first. If the food does not appeal to those senses, you have lost your client.