How to Align Event Staff with Your Catering Brand

Waiter from catering service carrying champagne wine drinks on t

When customers book you for an event, they’re looking for more than just good food. They’re expecting a specific visual style, event atmosphere, and attitude from staff. They set those expectations based on what they see on your website, your reputation in the market, and your discussions throughout the sales process — in other words, your brand. And living up to that brand come event day is the only way to delight your customers and earn referrals.

But that can be hard for caterers relying on a team of mostly part-time event staff to run their events and interact with guests. Event staff typically work multiple jobs, aren’t in your building every day reinforcing their knowledge of your brand, and may not be as fanatically invested in upholding it as you are. How can you ensure these part-time employees stay aligned with your catering brand when they work your events? We have five ideas below.

1. Refine your interview process

You need a rock solid interview process to ensure everyone you hire is capable of delivering the experience your customers are expecting. More specifically, you want to answer three questions during event staff interviews:

Does this person have skills and experience in the job they applied for?
Does this person have a good attitude and work ethic?
Is this person friendly and fun to be around?

Surprisingly, the first question is the least important here. Anyone can learn how to be a great event staffer if they’re willing to put in the work. But a strong catering brand calls for event staff to do more than just serve plates or pour drinks — they need to add that extra flourish to make the experience unique, whether it’s a kind word or a friendly gesture. Your interview process needs to filter out people who only want to do the bare minimum and help you identify ones who can make guests feel at home.

2. Standardize onboarding

Once you hire new event staff, you need a uniform onboarding system that ensures they all get the same training. Like the interview process, training needs to be about more than just the nuts and bolts of how to serve, clear, and pour. Your training curriculum needs to focus just as much on branding: What makes an event with your catering company different from any other? How should staff speak to guests during events? What uniforms do your staff wear and why?

We recommend you tackle onboarding in a half-day training session, splitting the time between classroom-style instruction, practical demonstration, and role-playing of different scenarios that could arise during an event.

3. Distribute an employee handbook

An employee handbook is a great way to set clear expectations for new hires and establish the values that inform your company’s brand positioning. You may think that’s what training is for — and in many ways, you’d be right. But what’s great about the handbook is that it can pack in way more information for employees to consider than you can deliver during an in-person training session. That allows you to provide context and explanation for why your company does things a certain way.

For instance, some caterers say that when guests ask for something they don’t have in stock, staff should reply, “Let me check for you,” rather than just say no outright. That may seem arbitrary or even silly to a new hire, but caterers do it to ensure guests feel their wants are being taken seriously — that’s an argument that can be better delivered and elaborated on in a written format. Employees are much more likely to follow those kinds of rules when they understand why they’re in place, and an employee handbook makes that possible.

4. Write Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

While an employee handbook outlines your company’s cultural values and offers guidance on company policy, SOPs get into the nitty-gritty and provide step-by-step instructions for all the common day-to-day jobs your staff will need to complete. You can write an SOP for literally any task, but when it comes to your catering brand, focus on the stuff customers will see at an event. Those could include:

How to pour wine
How to clear a plate
How to serve at a buffet table
How to deal with difficult guests
How to make drink garnishes

All of those may seem like straightforward tasks, but the devil is in the details — and all those details add up to comprise your brand. Your SOPs should tell event staff what to say, what body language to use, and what other steps to take to ensure guests have the best possible experience.

5. Promote the best

Perhaps the best way to ensure event staff live up to your catering brand is to promote the ones who are already doing it to event captain. After all, these leaders will set the tone for every event. If they’re not the standard bearers for your company, the staff serving under them won’t feel the need to bring their A-game to an event, and may even conclude that they won’t need to work too hard to get promoted. Make sure your event captains are people who not only live up to your brand’s standards but demand that others do as well.

Event staff carry your brand

When it’s all said and done, event staff are the single biggest determinant of whether you live up to your catering brand on any given night, as they’re the ones interacting with guests and controlling the details that make or break their experience. That’s why it’s crucial that event staff understand what that experience is supposed to look like. By acting on the ideas above, you get five opportunities to reinforce that knowledge and keep your team on brand.