Selecting a caterer for your corporate retreat or company meeting may sound like a simple task, however, a bad decision in this area can leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (so to speak). Don’t leave the selection of a caterer for your company event until the last minute. Caterers can book up weeks if not months in advance. Consider the following when you’re planning your next corporate retreat.

Number of Attendees at the Company Event

The size of the group will greatly impact your decisions around corporate caterers. Small groups are easy to accommodate in sit-down dinners, but the cost per person can be relatively high. Large groups are better suited to buffet-style meals, and the cost per person is relatively low.

Before you call any catering company, get an accurate headcount, and keep your caterer apprised about that figure throughout the planning process. Nearly all caterers will hold you responsible for a minimum number of diners, and lock that figure in about a week or two prior to the event.

Location of the Corporate Retreat

Where you hold your event can influence your choice of caterers. Conference centers, hotels, museums, and other meeting venues typically have a preferred caterer or a list from which you can choose that will best suit your group. If they don’t and you need to perform your own research, be prepared to discuss details about your location. For example, if it’s in a park, will there be pavilions? Community centers with kitchens? If your company retreat is going to be held at a private house or lodge, what sort of amenities are available?

Don’t assume that caterers will bring tables and chairs in addition to food, serving utensils and serving staff. In the past, clients have had to engage in some creative problem solving to compensate for oversights like these. Depending on your menu, your location may only need to provide a break from the wind and the rain and picnic benches…or you may need a formal dining hall with linen-clad tables and polished silver. Share as much information as possible with your caterer. Good caterers will ask these questions, so if you’re pre-screening one that doesn’t seem concerned with details, that’s a red flag.

Catering Budgets for Company Events

Most caterers will quote you an average price per person based upon the menu you choose. Costs can normally range from $5.00 per person for a simple box lunch up to $250 per person including drinks, appetizers, dessert, and wine or champagne with your dinner.
If you plan to accommodate a party of 30, you can expect to pay about $20 to $25 per person for food, another $12 to $15 for service, and $5 to $7 for wine and liquor. As the number of your guests increases, the per-person cost typically decreases.

The proposal from the caterer should include information about service, table settings, decor, entertainment and other extras. Be very clear about what is and is not included. When comparing proposal pricing, be sure to compare similar menus and services.

Generally, a 50% deposit is required with the reservation and the balance is due just before the event.

Planning Menus for Corporate Retreats

Choosing the menu is the fun part—and the hard part. We’ve put together some recommendations around that topic that should make it a little easier.

Do Your Due Dilligence

If you’re merely ordering 30 box lunches with a variety of cold-cuts, then you can skip this part of the planning process. Simply calling one of their past clients and asking them a few questions should suffice. However, if you are planning a full-scale meal (or several meals), then you’ll want to do some if not all of the following.

  • Make sure the caterer is properly insured, licensed and has all the necessary permits.
  • Make sure the caterer’s employees are covered by workers’ compensation.
  • Get 2-3 references and contact them with a list of questions.
  • Choose a caterer that has been established for a substantial amount of time and whose owner is an active part of the company.
  • Tour the facility if possible, especially the kitchen.
  • Always choose someone that you feel comfortable and confident with.
  • Find out how long the meal will last from start to finish and if they’re willing to stop clearing tables during speeches.
  • Determine who will be responsible for setting up tables and chairs, and clean-up.

Decorations and Uniforms

You may wish to inquire about the style of dress the caterer’s employees use at formal settings. It is wise to keep in mind that the service provided is a reflection of your company (and the person selected to make these arrangements). Also, ask about the decorations or centerpieces that are available, if any, for the occasion. Avoid a common pet peeve of corporate diners by making the centerpieces low enough to see over. It’s hard to make conversation over a shrub or candelabra.


If you think there will be a lot of leftovers, make arrangements to donate it. Food-rescue organizations like America’s Second Harvest work to quickly get perishable foods to hunger-relief programs in communities across America.

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