Catering Options for Your Next Event

Finding The Right Space for Your Gathering

Event and meeting planners, individuals, and groups will all find an abundance of venues for hosting varied events throughout our 708 sq mi county. Our area has hosted meetings, conferences, festivals, press conferences, product launches, weddings, vow renewals, workshops, fishing tournaments, golf championships, and much more year-round, both inside and outdoors, regardless of the season.

No matter the occasion, food is always an essential aspect of the festivities. Our caterers and approved food vendors offer a variety of menus and services to fit your event needs, covering everything from plated dinners and buffets to food trucks, happy hours, concessions, boxed lunches, restaurant catering, and even private chefs.

Chef Regina Minter, Department Chair of Culinary Arts and Hospitality at Central Carolina Community College, shares a few initial points to note on your checklist when working with a caterer and venue:

  1. What is the budget?
  2. Are there any food allergies?
  3. What time of day is the event (dinner, lunch, brunch, happy hour, etc…)?
  4. How many people will be served?
  5. Plated meal or buffet?

These initial questions are among the foremost to ask and will quickly determine whether the venue, the caterer, and the event organizer are a good fit. Some of these early considerations streamline what seems like an overwhelming list. Certified Master Chef Kelly Burton (Central Carolina Community College – Lead Culinary Instructor) notes the importance of detail when planning a menu and reminds event organizers to ask whether caterers can accommodate food intolerances.

Some of our venues have a preferred vendor list, and others will recommend their favorites based on those who are communicative, responsive, and dependable, as well as other qualities both planners and guests value in any vendor they work with. Tony Pendola, owner of Old Lystra Inn, shares, “We believe that every couple deserves to have the wedding THEY want, not options that are highly limited by the venue or subject to extra fees… because of this, we are able to say yes to exceptional and authentic caterers to match a theme or culture. We also allow the couple’s personal favorite caterer or even food trucks.”

What To Consider

According to the Chatham County Environmental Health (EH) Department, catering a meal is defined as “Hiring a foodservice operation to prepare and serve the meal at an offsite location.” Not all permitted foodservice establishments can cater, and EH only approves catering when 1) requested by the owner on the initial food service application or 2) requested by the owner via the plan review process. Many restaurants are approved to have take-out or offer delivery services – they just can’t cater food. They may have only some sternos, trays, racks, and other catering equipment required to serve onsite meals.

Catering is approved based on the catering menu, as well as the size of foodservice operations and the catered meal. For catered meals, Lisa Morgan, Environmental Health supervisor for the Chatham County Public Health Department, recommends clients ask foodservice establishments the following questions:

  1. Are you approved to cater (a foodservice operation that prepares, delivers, and serves food at the event)?
  2. Do you have a catering menu?
  3. How many meals are you approved to cater?

Sunette Bridges, owner of River and Bridges, recommends considering what works best for you, your budget, and your expectations for the event. “While the questions about catering were wide-ranging a few years ago, the first and last question from my couples at the moment is budget… outside of that, is the choice between Buffet-style dinner or a plated dinner service.” She notes that while plated dinner services are a little more expensive due to labor costs, they can help reduce food waste compared to buffet-style service – an essential consideration for eco-conscious event planners. “[Plated dinner services] are definitely my preferred style of catering, but again, the big question is budget.

While venues have always been inspected from all realms for public safety, venue managers are more knowledgeable than ever about requirements and regulations, especially given pandemic-related restrictions. Check with your venue manager if they have checklists to add or merge into your own. From bouncy houses to indoor fire pits for cultural ceremonies, many facets of an event may need a special event permit, exemption, or modification. Expectations for a seamless event are always high on everyone’s mind; therefore, it’s critical to note the more fantastic items within an event well in advance to learn about regulations and options. The more lead time and detail you can share with your venue team, the smoother the event will unfold, with last-minute questions kept to a minimum.

Event Trends and Catering Alternatives

Before the pandemic, many events and festivals hosted in our area were significant in scale, in terms of attendees and guests, and focused on large, in-person gatherings. Post-pandemic, our outdoor venues and the expansion of many smaller meeting spaces included spacious patios and socially-distanced outdoor gatherings. Venue managers and event planners have embraced intimate occasions, virtual events and live streaming, Bleisure travel, outdoor time as part of the retreat, and other facets that modify the core event. Many have found it possible to host multiple smaller events and still satisfy meeting goals and budget restraints.

Food trucks have become an increasingly popular option for event planners, especially those on a limited budget. Sunette Bridges of River & Bridges shares, “Many of my clients are opting for more affordable options like Mobile Vendors, of which there are many that provide an outstanding service.” Lisa Morgan, Environmental Health supervisor for the Chatham County Public Health Department, shares that approved mobile food units (MFUs) are an excellent option for community events. Event organizers can find a list of their currently permitted foodservice operations (restaurants and MFUs in Chatham County) here.

Foodies Unite! Working with Your Local CVB

The CVB works with event planners, sporting facilities, venues, and guests to assist with hosting meetings, weddings, special occasions, and other gatherings. Here are just a few of the services we provide, all available at no charge:

  • Information about local accommodations, venues, attractions, vendors, catering options, and more.
  • Scheduling a tour of our venues and sporting facilities.
  • Media connections.
  • Brochures and maps for registration packets and guest goody bags.
  • Contact information for local resources.

We’re here to help with all aspects of the event planning experience, from finding the site to hosting the event; we’re here to make the process as easy as possible. Make sure to tag and mention us on Facebook and Instagram. Adding our website link to your promotional posts and information can advance the promotion of your event while giving guests helpful information about resources for places to stay, eat, and play when they’re visiting.

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