Events range from cheese lunch drop-off to full-service catering. Caterers and their staff are part of the foodservice industry. Catering services provided vary depending on the event and can include: cooking and delivering food to an outside location; cooking, delivering and serving food; and full-service (preparing food, providing service staff, decoration of event location, prep and clean-up). In some cases of full-service catering, the caterer is called an event managing company.
When most people refer to a "caterer", they are referring to an event caterer who serves food with waiting staff at dining tables or sets up a self-serve buffet. The food may be prepared on site, i.e., made completely at the event, or the caterer may choose to bring prepared food and put the finishing touches on once it arrives.
The event caterer staff are not responsible for preparing the food but often help set up the dining area. This service is typically provided at banquets, conventions, and weddings. Any event where all who attend are provided with food and drinks or sometimes only hors d'oeuvres is often called a catered event.
Many events require working with an entire theme or color scheme. A catering company or specialist is expected to know how to prepare food and to make it attractive. As such, certain catering companies have moved toward a full-service business model commonly associated with event planners. They take charge of not only food preparation but also decorations, such as table settings and lighting.
The trend is towards satisfying all the clients senses with food as a focal point. With the correct atmosphere, professional event caterers with experience can make an event special and memorable.
Beautifully prepared food alone can appeal to the senses of taste, smell, and sight - perhaps even touch, but the decorations and ambiance can play a significant part in a successfully catered event.
Catering is often sold on a per-person basis, meaning that there is a flat price for each additional person. However, things like lighting and fire permits are not scaled with the guest count, so per-person pricing is not always appropriate. It is necessary to keep the cost of the food and supplies below a price margin in order to make a profit on the catering.
As many others in the food service industry, caterers and their staff work long hours. It is not uncommon for them to work on holidays or 7 days a week during holiday event seasons.