Catering for an event at any venue can be a minefield simply because if you, your caterers or your venue get it wrong, your whole event or party is at risk of being ruined. Before handing over the complete catering package a venue do be absolutely sure to check whether your venue has good quality in-house catering with a competent chef and proper suppliers.

Check also whether they have plenty of menu choices and are flexible about any suggestions you may want to offer. To avoid mishaps or  you may want to consider the following points:

Does a venue they have vegetarian alternatives and can they accommodate special dietary requirements?

If the venue is supplying the tables, chairs, linens and full table settings are they good enough quality and the right colour for your event and, if not, would they allow you to hire in your own equipment?
Most venues worth their salt will give you a small food tasting before you finally book them for your event, if they are reluctant to do this because they are “too busy”, think carefully before using them.

If you employ caterers remember they will have many years experience on menu planning so take advantage of this and ask their advice.

If the venue will allow it (any many won’t) and you decide bring your own caterer in find out whether they will also be bringing in linen, china, cutlery, glassware etc. Also check with the venue that any outside caterers you bring in will have access to a proper kitchen with cooking facilities, power, running water etc.

Caterers normally supply everything you need including serving staff. They can also supply all drinks. If you are bringing your own drink they will probably add a small service or corkage charge.

The caterer can also provide a Master of Ceremonies and organise cutting and serving of any celebratory cake.

The caterer should clear everything away and leave the venue as he found it – but there may be an extra charge for this.

Decide at your event whether you are going to have a full sit down meal, a hot and cold buffet or finger food.

Enquire about staffing your reception. Will there be enough serving staff, will they be smartly dressed and is a toastmaster included in the staffing costs? Check also whether all serving staff will be properly attired.

All hired-in table linen should be unpacked at least two days before your event to check that it is the right colour, the right quantity and there are no damaged or unlaundered pieces. This will give the hire company time to rectify any problems.

When hiring glassware etc. from an outside source unpack them well in time to make sure they are scrupulously clean. Nothing detracts more from the joy of a wedding toast than sipping champagne from a glass covered in red lipstick!

When bringing in outside florists etc. check that they will be able to fit round catering staff so that they are all  a cohesive team.

Consider whether you will need additional refreshments later in the evening after dancing, or charity auctions for instance.

Work out with the venue the exact order of events, i.e. when the champagne will be served, how much time between courses, when will coffee be served etc.

Your guests should be offered a drink on arrival; this can be champagne, Bucks Fizz, Pimms, sparkling wine or soft drinks. You will find that a bottle of champagne normally does about five glasses.

Wine is usually served with meals with a soft drink option for teetotallers. The rule of thumb is white wine with fish or white meat and red wine with red meat.

Most venues and caterers will allow half a bottle of wine per person although some guests have been known to down two bottles on their own!

If you decide that self-catering is your only option either through dietary requirements or budget, be aware that this will require serious thought and planning.

Buffet food is by far the easiest option as it can be prepared in advance and you won’t require serving staff.

Months in advance you will need to draw-up a plan of action, listing the food to be prepared and allotted tasks to be done by your support team.

Make sure that you have plenty of storage space for food as it is prepared and frozen.

Furniture and table settings can be borrowed or hired in. Disposable plates and cutlery etc. are less work but do not give a sense of occasion.

A sitdown meal allows you to venture into more exotic dishes and more courses. Three or four courses are the norm followed by coffee and liqueurs and chocolates. A sit down buffet is even more flexible as it allows for hot and cold food to be served from one table. Guests usually serve themselves and then return to their places to eat the food.

A standing buffet is the most informal style since guests mingle while they eat. As they will not be allowed to use cutlery all food should be presented finger style. Some seating should be provided, especially for elderly people who will want to sit down.

Check that the venue has a licence to consume alcohol. If you want to supply your own alcohol, and the venue will allow you, ascertain what corkage fee you will have to pay.

You will also need to decide whether you want a free bar for your guests or whether at some point they will have to pay for their own drink. Discuss with the venue or the caterer which drinks you intend to serve at the beginning of the reception and for how long the bar will be open.

A bar can be provided by the venue where extra drink before and after the meal can be paid for by the host; or guests can be encouraged to purchase their own.

If you are bringing in a special cake make sure that there is somewhere safe to store it overnight and that a suitable cake table is put in a good enough position for all to see it. Ask if the venue or the caterers will supply a cake stand and knife.

Make sure it is all agreed beforehand who exactly clears up any mess or deals with any damage incurred. Find out what the venue expects and if you employ caterers check that they will leave the venue tidy and clean – you don’t want to be landed with an unexpected bill from the venue for clearing up after your event.

Finally if you have spent a huge sum of money employing caterers or the venue’s in-house team do try on the day of your event not to be too closely involved with the catering – it should at this point be dealt with by the professionals. You will need every moment to concentrate on the reality of the occasion and to mingle with your guests.