Weddings Mitzvahs Corporate Social

Hiring a Caterer for Your Event – Tips from Sarah Merians

28 Feb 2024


Food is one of the most important elements of any celebration!  For many people, booking a caterer for a milestone event such as a wedding or a bar mitzvah can be an overwhelming process. Here are some basic questions that can help you to home in on the best fit for your affair. We have also included a list of recommendations, followed by featured images from recent events for inspiration!



Format – When and how you want to serve food at your event

While the most traditional format (a cocktail hour with passed hors devours followed by a sit-down dinner) is still the most popular choice, these days hosts are mixing it up in a variety of ways!  Here are some alternative ideas you may want to discuss with your catering team:

  1. Extended cocktail hour (1.5 to 2 hours) with “heavy” hors devours – think sliders, mini lobster rolls, tiny grilled cheese sandwiches.

  2. Raw bar, sushi bar, dumpling bar, quesadilla bar or pasta bar during cocktail hour in lieu of or in addition to passed bites.

  3. Instead of assigned seating at round tables of 8 to 10, consider a mix of unassigned seating at varied tables and high tops. Guests can approach chaffing dishes, serving bars or chef stations at their own pace throughout the event. This format is ideal for a fun dance party where seating for long periods of time may not be necessary or desired!

  4. Consider a thematic menu that compliments the tone of your event – For example, a tented summertime party is a great fit for a Southern BBQ theme – with hors devours like okra fries and oysters, followed by BBQ ribs and pulled pork with all the traditional sides! Take it up a notch with fun cocktails like “spiked sweet tea” and “bourbon lemonade”. When the menu compliments and underscores your event vibe, it creates a unique experience!

  5. Go local, organic, farm to table – source your menu from local purveyors/farmers and serve as a giant charcuterie board including fruits, cheeses, veggies, cured meats etc. Add title cards describing the dish (i.e. Hollander Gouda, Cow’s Milk, Abbot Farm NH). This spread can be a beautiful visual (think cornucopia meets napa valley) and so much fun for guests to peruse and interact with!



Staffing – Most people don’t have much knowledge or experience when it comes to the staffing element of event food service, which is why it’s important to ask yourself (and your caterer) the following questions:

  1. Do you provide bar tenders? How many per bar station? You will want to make sure your bar is large enough, and well-staffed, to accommodate your guests quickly. Discuss your guest count and also bar placement to avoid back-ups – There is nothing worse than waiting in line for a drink at a party!!

  2. What uniform choices are available for your staff? If you have a vision (for instance, all black with hair pulled back in tight bun or pony) be sure your caterer is comfortable executing it.

  3. Who will be my main point of contact throughout the planning process (menu development, contract execution) and at the event? Can I interview/meet with my Event Captain prior to booking?

  4. If your event is very formal, you may want to ask if the servers have fine dining experience. If you are having a rowdy party, you may want to make sure the bar staff are licensed bar tenders who know how to make a variety of drinks quickly, and also have fun with guests!



Set up / Service

  1. What tables, chairs, dinnerware, linens, serving platters, plates, utensils do you offer? Some companies have many options for you to select from, while other have standard plates, utensils etc. Most companies are open to sourcing custom for your event but keep in mind that this will add additional costs.

  2. Interesting presentation options – Hot pretzels hanging from umbrellas, fruit kebabs, shishito peppers served in a banana leaf cone. Creative presentations are fun to look at and to eat!! Some catering companies even create interactive dining experiences – For instance, guests are given bonsai scissors to harvest their own salad toppings from a garden of microgreens at the center of their table.

  3. How do you set up serving tables and can I see photos from previous events? Do you offer décor options for the serving tables? Can you collaborate with my florist/decorator on design concepts?

  4. How much time/space do you need to set up? How much time do you need to break down?

  5. Can you set up an area for other event staff and vendors to eat? (Your event team will love you for thinking of them!)

  6. Take out – Do you provide take-out/to-go goodies for guests at the end of the night? For example, grilled cheese or ice cream sandwiches



Dietary Restrictions

It’s important to discuss the options your caterer can provide for peanut allergies (especially if there will be lots of children as your event), vegan and vegetarian, kosher and gluten free guests. Also, you can ask how this food is presented/identified.


Every caterer structures their pricing differently, which is confusing. The best approach is to speak with the caterer about your event (date/time/location/guest count) and your vision, and ask for a preliminary quote with optional upgrades. This will give you a ball park budget as well as pricing for incremental add on’s and upgrades like raw bar, top shelf alcohol, dessert table, etc.


Questions For Brides and Grooms:

  1. Do you offer a champagne toast package and if so what are the options? Can you order a special type of champagne for my party (for instance, veuve Clicquot)? Can your staff serve and pour champagne/wine we provide from our personal collection? If so is there a corkage fee?

  2. Can you help us create a signature cocktail?

  3. Do you make wedding cakes? If so, how does that process work (i.e. overall design, flavor options, pricing)? Is there a cake cutting fee?



We eat with our eyes first and are drawn to beautiful presentations. Dishes that look thoughtfully planned and carefully curated are impressive and exciting. At Sarah Merians Photography & Video Company we are lucky enough to work with the best in the business. From delicate flowers to bold smears of sauce, here are some of the most artful and unique plates we have seen this past year. ENJOY




A little bit about the vendors featured above…

Pinch Food Design

As top-tier NYC culinary veterans with extensive experience in event catering, we believe our clients deserve a taste of something new and unpredictable, an experience that leverages the best food with never-before-seen presentation.

So we created Pinch Food Design, a bold new brand of catering powered by a state-of-the-art kitchen and design workshop devoted solely to the creation of one-of-a-kind “food furniture.” Our intention? To impress, entertain and inspire with food as delicious as it is daring, and design as inviting as it is innovative.

The groundbreaking Pinch team is driven by an uncompromising commitment to incite surprise, anticipation and delight with every bite while wowing our clients – and their guests – with imaginative presentation combinations that redefine the art of celebration.



Olivier Cheng

For over fifteen years Olivier Cheng Catering and Events has been creating innovative culinary experiences in New York’s finest cultural institutions, private estates across the country, and exotic locales like the Royal Palace in Qatar.  From fashion editor events and fundraising galas, to weddings and intimate home dinners, our team designs custom events from the ground up to bring our clients’ unique visions to life.



Ark Caterers

Ark Restaurants operates distinctively-designed dining establishments in New York City; Las Vegas; Washington, DC; Atlantic City; Alabama; and Florida. Whether you’re at Bryant Park Grill, located behind New York City’s Public Library; the newly-renovated Sequoia, our 1000-seat venue along the banks of Washington, DC’s beautiful Potomac River; ROBERT, situated on the 9th floor of NYC’s Museum of Art & Design with a breathtaking view of Central Park, on the beach at JB’s or on the “City Streets” of the New York, New York casino; you’re sure to enjoy yourself when dining at an Ark Restaurant.


Deborah Miller Catering

Rooted in cultivated experiences, Deborah Miller Catering & Events works with a diverse client base. We provide off-premise catering for corporate, social, and institutional clients. We specialize in corporate dining programs, weddings, and events at a variety of select venues in and around New York City. Established in 1995, we take pride in our reputation of honesty and innovation.

At Deborah Miller Catering & Events, we believe every event should feature inspiring food, beautiful design, and unparalleled service. Our culinary team sources locally and is continuously creating elegant, handcrafted dishes that surprise and delight. Our event team works with the best vendors in the city and has a delicate eye for detail, ensuring a sophisticated and unique event every time. Our passion is stirred by the colors, flavors, and textures found in this city we call home.



Ichiban means “number one” or “first place”. Like what our name implies, we devote ourselves to providing nothing but the best with the highest quality ingredients.

Family owned & operated, we pride ourselves on our 20-year legacy of providing exemplary Asian & sushi catering options in NYC with top-grade ingredients. We’ve built a career on becoming #1 sushi caterers— tailoring our craft to your wildest wishes. From intimate family celebrations to large corporate events, discover how exceptional service can transform into an unforgettable experience.



Major Food Group

Major Food Group is one of the most renowned, innovative, and successful companies in the history of the hospitality business.

The Company was founded in 2011, when chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone joined forces with fellow New Yorker and like-minded entrepreneur Jeff Zalaznick. Their deep friendship and trailblazing partnership took what began as an intimate, acclaimed destination in downtown Manhattan—Torrisi Italian Specialties—and turned it into a multifaceted global hospitality brand with a thrillingly modern, celebratory approach to luxury lifestyle experiences.

MFG’s landmark achievements across genres and disciplines are nearly impossible to count. They include legendary restaurants (CARBONE, Sadelle’s, THE GRILL), exclusive private venues (The Crown Club at Barclays Center), and fine hotels such as The Newbury Boston. Each of these endeavors combines MFG’s incomparable execution and unwavering belief that the guest comes first, with the contributions of luminaries in the worlds of art, design, and industry—from Julian Schnabel and Ronnie Fieg to Aby Rosen and Ken Fulk, Inc.

In recent years, MFG has expanded across continents, risen to the top of the Miami and Dallas dining scenes, and introduced new concepts such as ZZ’s Club, Contessa, and VINO. In 2023, the company returned to the block where it all began, launching Torrisi Bar & Restaurant in the iconic Puck Building on Mulberry Street. The restaurant received a three-star rave from Pete Wells, in which the New York Times critic wrote, “Mr. Torrisi can take a food I know well and give it to me in a version that blew past any others.” The sentiment captures not only the spirit of Torrisi, but the very ethos that inspires everything MFG.


Thomas Pretti

People who know caterers choose Thomas Preti for the events that matter. When we promise grilled grouper, that’s precisely what we serve. Grilled perfectly. Served impeccably. We’ve been delighting our clients and their guests for over 30 years. We’ve seen fads come and go. We don’t follow fads. We focus on what really matters. Real food, prepared in surprising and delicious ways. Preti is famous for delivering what we promise, flawlessly.

Sure, it’s got to be tasty and inventive. But food also has a higher purpose: it is the catalyst that brings people together. An original take on the classic slider can get two strangers talking. A clever combination of seafood can get them laughing. And if they’ve really enjoyed themselves over dinner, they’ll be buzzing about how much fun they had the morning after the event.


Catering by Ziegfeld Ballroom

Welcome to Ziegfeld Ballroom, New York City’s premier special events venue.  Conjuring the elegance and grandeur of the 1920s movie palaces that once lined Broadway and Seventh Avenue, Ziegfeld Ballroom is a Manhattan mecca for society galas and corporate events.

Our Art Deco-inspired space is as iconic as the historic theatre from which it takes its name:  both steeped in heritage and equipped with cutting edge technology, Ziegfeld Ballroom is the intersection of glamorous days-gone-by and of-the-moment modernity.

Whether yours will be a sumptuous celebration or a corporate gathering, our expert event management team will collaborate with you to ensure that your occasion is distinctive and unforgettable. From planning and coordinating through execution, our event planners and exclusively-recommended vendors will tailor an event to delight even the most discerning taste, working side by side with you to create the event of your dreams.


Catering by Cipriani

Cipriani has become throughout the years a leader in the event business, acquiring a portfolio of exquisite historic buildings, adding elegant spaces to its locations around the world and offering the Cipriani experience at guests’ desired locations. From glamorous social events, galas and corporate affairs to more intimate celebrations we create longstanding memories.


Marcia Selden Catering

With a history as rich and flavorful as its gourmet creations, Marcia Selden Catering is a family-run group of first-class foodies, servicing New York and Connecticut’s most luxurious events — and it all started in Marcia’s kitchen more than 40 years ago.

Marcia, her daughter Robin, and her son Jeffrey lead a savvy squad of culinary gurus and party perfectors who believe the belly rules the mind, and that the best way to kick off a party is to toast over a custom-made cocktail (or several). Whether it’s a low-key clambake or the wedding of the century, MSC creates inclusive, memorable feasts of any celebration, matched with polished, personalized service that makes everyone feel like part of the family.

Marcia Selden Catering services the bold and the epicurious — and anyone looking to commemorate a big day in style, without all the stress. With MSC everything is always taken care of, always memorable, and always a party!