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Your menu is a huge part of any event, whether a wedding, corporate event or anything in between. Planning the perfect food service is essential for creating an event guests remember – in a good way.

Step 1: Set a Budget

Caterers are great at creating unique menus that fit your event within a reasonable budget. That’s our job! Planning a great menu, only to have to make significant changes due to previously unmentioned budget concerns, is a much bigger challenge. At this point in the process, a rough head count is also helpful.

Step 2: Choose Your Service Style

There are so many different ways to serve your guests. Plated dinners, buffet lunches, family-style celebrations and more are all options. The right one for your event depends on a few factors, including the overall feel of your event and your budget.

Step 3: Consider Your Timeline

Think about the other elements of your event and how your menu will fit into them. Do you have time for a sit-down meal? Should you stick to a cocktail hour with hearty appetizers? Will guests need to be able to eat while still participating in the event, such as watching the first dance, take notes during a presentation or listen to a speaker.

Step 4: Account for Venue Restrictions

Many popular venues, such as barns and industrial buildings, weren’t created to serve hundreds of people a catered meal. Talk to your venue to determine how much room there will be to keep chilled foods cold and heat up food prepared ahead of time. You also need to take into account how much room is available for serving guests.

Step 5: Know Your Guests

Consider the preferences of your guests. If they’re C-suite professionals used to eating in high-end restaurants, they’ll expect top-notch cuisine. Did you grow up in a meat-and-potatoes household? Don’t serve an exclusively vegan menu at your wedding. Alternately, if all your college friends are vegetarians, be sure to include a few meat-free options.

You also need to consider food allergies, intolerances and restrictions.

Step 6: Know What’s in Season

Incorporating as many local, in season ingredients as possible will make your catering menu fresher and more flavorful. You may also be able to save a few dollars by eliminating the need to source ingredients from far away.