Just as the question title says, can the word "cater" be followed by an object?

I know what the word means and the prepositions that typically follow it. I just want to know if the construction where the word precedes a noun is acceptable. I've looked everywhere, from dictionaries to English forums for answers, and it seems no one has covered this topic before. My coworker said it should only strictly be followed by a preposition as it is an intransitive verb.

However, several articles even from native English sites are breaking this "convention", such as this one here:

It’s why they try to cater services to hunters, like this bird cleaning station at the Hawthorn Suites in town.

The excerpt was taken from here: https://www.kfyrtv.com/2021/11/02/hotels-have-been-very-pleased-hunters-staying-sw-north-dakota/

So, thoughts on this?

Edit: as suggested by one of the commenters, I am going to expand on the question a bit. I was looking for specific transitive usages where the catered content acts as an object similar to how the word "tailor" is used. This is slightly different from the transitive usage of the word to refer to providing food at an event.

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    1) If the answer about "cater the event" isn't what you're looking for, maybe edit to add a note that you're looking specifically for transitive usages that use the catered content as the object. 2) I'm not going on record saying it's wrong, but... if so, the fact that a local TV news article made a usage error is not shocking. Have you encountered other examples? Nov 30, 2021 at 19:08
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    I wonder if this is an error for 'It’s why they try to tailor [their] services to {the requirements of hunters, etc}'. Nov 30, 2021 at 19:12
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    Ngrams shows that "cater [noun] to..." is indeed used, including "cater services to...," but especially "cater meals to" (which starts to fall into confusion with "cater the event"). Nov 30, 2021 at 19:13
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    My thought is that it ain't great. Just poor writing.
    – Lambie
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:38
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    You're right @AndyBonner. I edited the question to make it a bit clearer. There are plenty of examples besides the one shown above. Here are more examples: "...and therefore able to recognise and cater services to their communities." gloucestershirelive.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/… "...to cater services to both traditional and modern arrangements unique to your loved one." drewandsonsfunerals.co.uk/funeral-services
    – rutuehurhu
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:42

2 Answers 2


The transitive use is acceptable to many people and is possibly becoming more so.

Merriam-Webster, Cambridge Dictionary, Collins, and Macmillan Dictionary all describe cater as transitive or intransitive. In fact, I could not find any dictionary that did not list both the transitive and intransitive meanings.

I could not tell by looking at these dictionary entries whether the transitive use is newer (although the Merriam-Webster entry suggests that this is so), but I suspect that this may be the case. Take a look at this ngram:

ngram viewer

The earliest uses of "cater the event" appear to be in the 1960s and the phrase's popularity has risen steeply since then.

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    Just to clarify, this is a bit distinct from the usage the OP cites. The quote uses, as an object, the "content" that's being catered. This would be equivalent to "We catered prime rib to the banquet," not "we catered the banquet." Nov 30, 2021 at 19:04
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    Totally fair point, @AndyBonner. I'm answering the question "can the word 'cater' be followed by an object," rather than the implied question, as you've noted.
    – Juhasz
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:11
  • That's general reference, as you indicate. The 'cater [services] to hunters' structure is more of an ELU topic for investigation (though OP should show at least some research). Nov 30, 2021 at 19:15
  • Hmm, I do wonder at what point does the construction become acceptable if more and more people begin to use it? The way I see it is that most people see the word as synonymous with "tailor" and think they can use both interchangeably.
    – rutuehurhu
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:51
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    The hospitality industry has its own language, which probably includes a lot of simplifications and back-formations from English, given the number of hospitality workers who have English as their second language, and a general need to communicate clearly in a noisy and busy environment.
    – user205876
    Nov 30, 2021 at 21:23

The first use of "cater something for someone" I have located in Google Books is:

It would appear from the representation of Kean, that Othello would have found his way to jealousy if Iago had never lived. Shakspeare never intended this; Kean makes Othello jealous too soon, and before Iago had made any exertion; Kean makes Othello cater food for the “monster," before it yet had been supplied with food by Iago. "Kean in Othello" in John Finlay; Miscellanies: The Foreign Relations of the British Empire (1835)

"Party catering" has been around at least since the 1880's according to Google Books. Jessup Whitehead; The Steward's Handbook an Guide to Party Catering (1889). Party catering (catering for parties) differs from food catering (catering food [for a party]).

The first transitive use with an event as object that I've found is:

"I cater the party. I don't come." Cosmopolitan, vol. 70, p.149 (1921) (Snippet view)

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