When you’re heading into a big-budget production, you’ll need to consider how to keep everyone on set happy, healthy, and well-fed. You may need to hire a caterer or craft services, or both. While a catering service’s job is to provide full meals, craft services, sometimes called “crafties,” cover everything else between meals.
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Crafties are tasked with satisfying everyone with snacks, coffee, water, and pretty much anything that the crew and talent need, whenever they need it. They arrive on the scene to set up before anyone else, stay to clean up after everyone goes home, and may have a dedicated trailer or set up in the studio. They get to work before the production begins – shopping for fruit, snacks, drinks; preparing coolers with water; and then percolating the coffee immediately as the crew arrives.
What you pay for this type of service depends on the drinks and snacks you select and whether the craftie will cook something fresh on-site. My Kitchen Witch, a New Jersey-based restaurant offering catering services and specializing in craft services and production catering, charges $400 for a full-service attendant to be on-site daily. They have three menu packages that range from $12 to $22 per person. For a crew of 30, you’d pay $760 a day for their 1-star package.
It may be necessary to hire such a service for film or photo productions where more than thirty people are on set. A production assistant can provide almost anything for smaller shoots, but larger productions require someone dedicated to the daylong task of craft services.
Catering services provide three hot meals a day for everyone on set — crew, talent, producers, etc. The meals can be delivered and set out like a buffet, cooked on-site in a gourmet food truck, or individually wrapped due to Covid restrictions.
After moving to Atlanta from Orlando, Chef Samone Lett of Atlanta’s Red Door Events and Catering happened upon production catering, that is, for movie sets. She recounts watching credits from The Lord of the Rings and seeing the production catering services company listed as the credits rolled. She immediately knew it was her calling. She listed her company on Production Hub, and the rest is history.
Since then, she’s catered productions of up to 250 people for notable clients such as Tyler Perry, Disney, Google, and Athleta, to name a few.
What’s important to me is pleasing my clients by having a clear understanding of their needs. I personally stay on location to make sure everyone is satisfied.
When hiring a caterer, you may want to consider those specializing in film and photography production food services. These specialty caterers, like My Kitchen Witch and Red Door Events, are easier to locate near large metropolitan cities. However, most food service companies can provide photo shoot catering even if they are unfamiliar with the film and photography business.
Setareh Sarmadi, a Toronto, Canada-based producer, admits favoring photo shoot catering companies she’s worked with before who know her menu favorites. When hiring a new caterer she considers budget, quality, and reliability.
It can be stressful if the food isn’t on time because the crew only has so much time to eat. Meals need to run smoothly.
Once you’ve identified caterers near your location and perused their reviews, you’ll need to determine your budget. Then think about the menu and any special dietary restrictions you’ll need to accommodate. Lastly, think about the logistics.
Suppose the shoot will be on several locations within a state. In that case, you may need to think about food and catering services with the flexibility of being mobile like third-generation chef Raf Morales of Atlanta-based Ibiza Catering. He and his chefs prepare hot meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a food truck at the production site. The next day, they may meet the crew in another location and do it again. Raf explains:
We can be with a production for up to six weeks, so the menu needs to be different daily, unlike a food truck.
Food trucks cook the food right on site, which is advantageous if you want fresh meals. They also offer variety — you can have kabobs Monday, tacos Tuesday, falafels Wednesday, curry Thursday, and finish the week with Friday gyros. You’ll be able to provide a variety of cuisines and menus when using multiple food trucks on location, but you’ll pay more for the convenience.
When booking a food truck for production, you may want to consider Roaming Hunger, an agency that represents food trucks and caterers. The company has a network of over 18,000 businesses nationwide. On their website, select your location, then you’ll receive options of all the trucks available. Book your vehicle through Roaming Hunger, and they will negotiate prices, logistics, and payments. Also, they represent on-trend food trucks that provide 24-hour production catering flexibility.
The downside of hiring food trucks is the cost. The price is determined by the type of cuisine, location, number of guests, and then a base truck rental fee that ranges from $900 to $1500. The following prices are averages from a 2021 Roaming Hunger blog post.
Before selecting a menu, make sure you know any dietary restrictions and communicate this information to the caterer or craft food services company. Ask what vegan and gluten-free meal options they have. Are you sure there is no cross-contamination in the kitchen for someone with severe nut allergies?
While My Kitchen Witch always includes vegan and gluten-free options, many companies do not. My Kitchen Witch catering manager Lisa Iron Shooter-Vega explains they take dietary restrictions and food allergies very seriously:
The kitchen must be spotless to avoid cross-contamination for people with severe allergies. Every meal is tracked and labeled appropriately.
Avoid ordering hearty dishes that create a sluggish crew. You’ll want to provide light, healthy options. If you’re on a lengthy production, mix up the cuisines. Keep it healthy and offer variety to keep everyone content.
In addition to knowing dietary restrictions and allergies, it’s essential to know the type of person or crew who will be consuming the food. Lisa explains:
Knowing who I am feeding is the most important part of my job.
When she’s managing food for Fashion Week, she knows she’ll be feeding Teamsters — grips, gaffers, and electricians and plans to give them something a little satisfying like crumb cake on their mandated two coffee breaks every six hours. She’ll only have a short time to feed a crew of 100, and she’ll need to help them get their meals quickly.
Gone are the days of standing in buffet lines hovering overheated stainless steel chafers. Due to COVID, production buffets are manned by the staff who submit weekly to PCR tests, donning masks and gloves while remaining six feet apart and serving meals to the crew. According to Lisa, it’s certainly made things more difficult in the catering industry. “My nose is raw from all the PCR tests so that I can be on set,” says Lisa laughingly.
With many productions requiring a Covid Compliance Officer, every shoot is different and you’ll need to figure out the protocol before making plans with a caterer or craft food services provider.
We’re working Fashion Week this year, and everything will be individually wrapped.
Another challenge with photo shoot catering during Covid is the increase in costs and the inability to find workers. Chef Samone’s containers and disposable silverware costs have risen about 50%. She lost staff during the pandemic and is having to hire former employees in Florida to come to Atlanta to help out.
Prices vary by company, and with food prices on the rise, you’ll be dedicating more money to feeding people than pre-Covid. Most companies will give you a direct quote, but you’ll more than likely be able to get some basic pricing information on their websites. My Kitchen Witch charges $10.95 for breakfast and $16.95 per person for lunch and dinners. A production set of 30 people with three meals would run you approximately $1,350 a day. But, there may be some wiggle room with any company, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Since you’ll be in charge of people’s well-being on set and making sure their stomachs are happy, be sure that you’re working with a good caterer with options for all dietary needs and every palate. Ask lots of questions, look at reviews, and sample their menu. You can search for caterers on the Wonderful Machine Find Crew page. Hopefully, you get a catering manager like Lisa or a chef like Samone, who cares about who they are feeding.
Beverly Boy Productions: What is a Production Caterer?
LinkedIn: What’s the Difference Between Catering and Craft Services on a Film Set?
Producer to Producer: Craft Services 101
Variety: How Craft Services Adapted to Serve Film Crews During the Pandemic