How to Sue a Caterer

Party FoodEspecially during the busy holiday season, many people turn to caterers to provide the food and drink for social gatherings. This is obviously much more expensive than making all the preparations yourself; but the upside is you’ll have much more time to enjoy with family and friends. Is it possible to sue a caterer? Are you kidding? That’s probably the last thought on your mind.

But what if things don’t go as expected? What if the food is bad or doesn’t arrive on time? What if there isn’t enough of it, or it isn’t what was promised? If you’ve also hired staff from the caterer to assist, what if they aren’t as helpful or courteous as you’d hoped? When a catered event goes bad, you not only don’t get your money’s worth. You look bad in front of your guests. You may decide to seek legal redress.

Can you sue a caterer?

In order to successfully sue a caterer, two conditions must be met. First of all, the caterer must have done something they shouldn’t have or failed to do something they should. For example, did they violate their contract in some way? Did the contract specify filet mignon, but instead the caterer brought an inferior cut of meat? Wrongdoing, incidentally, does not always have to involve something that the content specifically mentioned. A contract may specify a salad. If it arrives made of lettuce so old that it’s inedible, you may well have a claim against the caterer even though the word “edible” wasn’t in the contract. You have a right to expect a salad to be edible without this being spelled out.

Second, there must be some kind of “damages.” In other words, the caterer’s wrongdoing must have “damaged” you in some way. If this is true, then you’re going to have to find a way to put a dollar amount on the damages, i.e. an amount that would reasonably compensate you.

If you feel that these conditions are fulfilled, then you may want to sue.

What will you need for your lawsuit against the caterer?

Catering contract

Make very sure that you keep a copy of your contract with the caterer and all correspondence. If there is no contract, you should at least have a receipt for what you purchased from them. Any brochures that they have, especially if they promise specific services, may also prove useful. If you relied on a Web site, print out the appropriate pages. If you end up going to court, you’re going to have to prove that you were promised something and didn’t receive it.

You would also do well, if possible, to photograph what you got from the caterer. If it’s too late, at least make written notes. Also, talk to some of the guest who may be potential witnesses.

Remember: your exasperation isn’t enough. The burden of proof is going to be on you to show that you weren’t merely unhappy, but rather, that the caterer failed to fulfill a specific obligation.

As with all lawsuits, you would be wise to consult an attorney, who will not only review the merits of your case, but will also be able to advise you on exactly how to proceed.

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