Full Service Caterers vs Restaurants That Cater

Full service caterers vs restaurants that cater seems to be one of the top questions people have when choosing  a caterer now days. With so many restaurants advertising, “WE NOW CATER” we can see why it can get a little confusing! Truthfully, there are many restaurants that do a fantastic job at catering events. Please know this post is not to bash restaurants that cater, by any means. Our intentions are simply to show the similarities and differences so you can make a fully informed decision. It’s just like anything else – before you choose, do a little research and ask questions to make sure you really know what you’re getting for your money. The definition of “cater” can be different depending on who you hire.

buffet line

Beautiful Buffet

Changing Environments

Full service caterers are used to adapting to different environments because their work place is always changing. Setting up kitchens and working out of garages, open fields, warehouses or beautiful wedding venues is just a typical day.  Being exposed to extreme heat, cold, wind and sideways rain is just another work day obstacle. Because of these things, full service caterers are very good at being prepared and making split minute decisions to adapt quickly.

Restaurants are comfortable in their reliable environment. They work from the same kitchen, with the same staff, serving the same menu in the same dining room. It’s not the norm to learn new places with new policies on a daily basis. Though extremely helpful in a restaurant setting, this can cause slow downs everywhere from the kitchen to the service in the catering world. It can be very intimidating to serve 200 people in an unfamiliar place. It’s got to be second nature for it to happen smoothly.


Full service caterers have trained staff that know how to quickly work a room. They set up buffets, refill chafers and platters, maintain proper food levels and break down in a timely manner. This is all done simultaneously while clearing tables of dirty dishes and wine glasses. Catering staffs are very efficient because everything is on a time line during an event.

Restaurants may technically know how to fill chafers and platters, but they aren’t as familiar with how often it needs to be done. Buffets and stations need to be constantly tended, cleaned and refilled – never allowing them to completely empty. This is very time consuming and something easily overlooked if the staff is not familiar with the process. Remember, a buffet at a wedding is only open for a very short time. People are going through the line fast and furious and the food goes quickly! It’s not like a buffet at a restaurant that’s open all day for people to come and go. Same with plated meals. A guest list of 200 is expected to be served all at the same time! Remember, at a wedding or major event, everything is on a timeline!


Full service caterers know food in bulk! They know food sustainability, keeping it fresh and looking good for extended amounts of time. Caterers are very good at prepping accordingly and timing food just right for a crowd. Not an easy task, especially if something goes wrong or there’s last minute changes to the time line.

Restaurants know prepping ahead of time as well. However, they finish off a dish specific for the guest when it’s ready to be served. There aren’t may worries about food getting soggy or drying out because it took to long to get from the window to the table.


Customer Service

Full service caterers have the ability to customize menus. They have staff that sits down with you, reviews your entire event and creates a customized menu specific to your needs. After, the caterer will schedule a tasting to determine flavor profiles and aligning expectations.

Restaurants don’t always offer customized menus. If they do, most will ask you to choose from what they offer, not create something specific for you. There’s a difference.  In addition, most will just expect you to know what their food taste like. No need for that tasting appointment.

Being Prepared

Full service caterers bring everything they need everywhere they go. Dish ware, napkins, utensils, linens, display decor, not to mention everything needed for the kitchen. (And that’s WAY too much to mention.) They have staff that plans, labels, packs, loads, transports, unloads, loads back up, transports again, cleans and puts everything away after every event.  It is a tedious job that takes a dedicated person who’s extremely organized and pays attention to detail. As you can imagine, there are a lot of supplies that have to be brought in to make a successful event for 200 and NOTHING can be overlooked!

Christy Whitehead 2010 001Restaurants work with all their supplies already in their kitchen and at their disposal. They know where everything is and it’s cleaned, prepped and ready to go. There’re not packing or worrying about forgetting the ice. Everything is in it’s place so that they can be super efficient at what they do.

Are you wondering why you may be able to get a better price going with a restaurant? Caters can be a bit more because of all the extra steps and procedures. You’re paying for the time, transportation and event expertise. I could get really technical with you and talk about higher insurance rates, workman’s comp, transportation costs and additional staff, but that would bore you to death!  But, it does all lend to why catering prices can be a bit higher.  And the simple fact that you might not get FULL SERVICE catering when you hire a restaurant.

Christy Whitehead 2010 006Be warned, a lot of restaurants that say they “cater” simply drop off. They don’t supply staff and they don’t set up or clean up. Table decor? Forget about it! Some restaurants will send a couple staff, just to minimally oversee things. However, as soon as the meal is over, they are GONE and they don’t care that they left dirty tables! These staff don’t see the event to the end like most full service caterers do. If a restaurant caterer doesn’t have comparable prices to a full service caterer, they’re probably giving you the minimum service.

Bottom line is there are many restaurants that do a fabulous job at catering. But, they had to LEARN how to be a caterer. These restaurants have built their businesses and changed their business plans accordingly. And in turn, they are very successful, as they should be
! However, most are not that dedicated and only offer the minimum catering service – food. So when you’re considering using a restaurant to cater your event, please ask questions. Ask what services they provide. Ask what comes with the package you’re purchasing.  Ask how many servers you’ll have a what their duties are. Ask their definition of catering.

Please remember, full service caterers are just that… FULL SERVICE CATERERS. They caterer to your every need through the entire process – from the planning stages to the last call for alcohol!