Tips for successful catering at events

Allister Esau, Senior Vice President of the South African Chefs Association, is an expert in high-volume catering. With events for thousands of guests under his belt, Allister shares his tips.

Allister Esau | IFM

Chefs are artists

The plate is a chef’s canvas. Every chef’s passion is to create a spectacular and delicious foodscape on that canvas. Eliciting “Wow!” from sated diners is the moment of glory, the gratification that blots out the many hours of slog and sore feet.

But wow only comes if all the elements of the event merge into an indulgence of comfort, enjoyment and satisfaction for your client and guests. Unlike in a restaurant, an event’s food is a mere part of the occasion. Exceptional food is not enough. Every detail counts.

What, where, when, who, why?

Get answers to the five basic w-questions. In addition, understand your client and guests: what kind of people are they? Youths, seniors, executives, a mixture of cultures, sophisticated, casual, high-profile? What season is it? What is the weather likely to produce?

The venue

Go and inspect the venue if you can. Assess the available facilities and what your team must supply. Is there a stage for entertainment, a sound system, suitable lighting, air-conditioning, heating?

Security, health and safety, legal requirements

Ensure the correct level of security. What access control is required? Is there enough parking? Are evacuation procedures in place? If you have VIP guests, you need a separate evacuation route for them. Arrange for the required number of ambulances on standby.

Choose a theme

Create a theme that will delight your guests and showcase your food. Use the theme to guide your menu, table settings, entertainment, venue design and decor.


Choose the freshest produce and the ingredients that best suit your guests’ taste, the environment and the time of year. Local produce makes a statement. Design your menu to accommodate the dietary and religious requirements of your guests. Do trial runs to perfect you presentation and ingredients.

Consider the timing: guests sitting together expect to receive plated meals almost simultaneously. An option is for chefs at a buffet to plate the meals of guests preferring not to dish up for themselves.


Keep your entire team motivated and fresh. Let each one share in your passion and creativity – and the accolades.

IFM catering |Food preparation

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