Catering ‘Service Charge’ Explained

It is the most commonly asked question – what DOES the service charge include? It doesn’t always mean servers, which we know can be confusing. Find out what you are really paying for.

It is the most commonly asked question – what DOES the service charge include?  It doesn’t always mean servers, which we know can be confusing.  Most catering companies (and venues) have a lot of odds and ends that cost them money to make your event happen, and in turn, will apply a percentage to your event in order to cover those costs.   In lieu of sending you a 4-page breakdown of every single item they are charging you for, the end result is the service charge line on your invoice.  Typically this percentage ranges between 18–20% for offsite catering, and 21–23% for exclusive catering at a venue.

Your service charge includes the following:

  • Serving Items
    This includes things like chafers to keep the food hot, large salad platters, bowls for dressings, large serving spoons and other items at the buffet line.  Some caterers will also bring stands to elevate displayed food – not only does it look cool, but it is actually practical in making the most of the table’s space.  Passed hors d’oeuvres need something to be set on when they are moving around, such as platters and trays.  All of these extra items can really add up, so instead of listing every single spoon, tray, and pan, they are included under the umbrella of the service charge.
  • Large Equipment & Delivery Vehicles
    When your food is prepped at the catering kitchen it still has to travel to you and most times your event isn’t around the corner. Large warmers/ovens and refrigerated trucks keep your food at the appropriate temperature so it tastes just as fresh as it did the second it came out of the oven. This equipment requires purchasing and maintenance, just like your daily driver, our trucks need gas and routine oil changes/maintenance.  The service charge contributes to these costs, ensuring your caterer is able to afford to properly execute your event.  No one wants to eat a wilted salad or ice cold chicken parmesan!
  • Behind the Scenes Staff
    Before your event, operations staff prep and load the trucks with all the rentals and equipment needed to execute your event.  They are loading dishes that were cleaned by dishwashers and food prepped by prep cooks.  It takes 6–8 hours of pre-production before your caterer even arrives at your event. Before you, your family or your wedding planner see the caterer set foot at your venue, there have been at least 10 people already involved in the making of your event that day.  Once the event is over, staff unloads the equipment, sends the dishes, silverware, and glassware to the dishwasher area and it starts all over again the next day.  These staff members receive a wage just like any other job and the service charge contributes towards these pre and post event production costs.
  • Event Staff – MAYBE
    This one depends on the caterer and venue.  Most offsite caterers will have a separate line item for labor, and this is partly due to the fluctuation in venue layout, dinner style etc. The floor plan/number of floors at the venue, number of event hours, travel time, style of dinner, rentals, and other extras like wine service influence the off-site labor calculation. In this scenario, they charge on the lower end for service charge.  When a venue has an in-house caterer, they may only charge for EXTRA staff, such as security guards, or additional chefs, bartenders or servers if the event’s menu or special services require it.  A lot of venues include a certain time frame for your event time with your rental (ie: 4 hours of the event included in rental, $250 per additional hour). This helps them balance the costs of staff with the service charge alone and they don’t need to charge anything more than the 21- 23% service charge. When they are the exclusive caterer, they are able to store things at the venue as well, which eliminates the back and forth transport of many items that your offsite caterer has to bring every time.

So there you have it, the mysterious service charge line in your quote or invoice explained.  Every caterer may do things slightly different so it never hurts to ask them about all they include in their catering quote.  No matter what the case, there is A LOT that goes on behind the scenes of your event.  We understand you don’t do this every day, and we expect questions so don’t be afraid to ask!

Wedding Catering FAQs

With wedding planning comes questions – and you are not alone if you have a long list to ask! Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked wedding catering questions.

With wedding planning comes questions – and you are not alone if you have a long list to ask! Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked wedding catering questions.

  • How much is a wedding for 200 people?
    I am starting with this one because it seems like it would have an obvious answer, but it really doesn’t.  There is a common misconception when it comes to catering costs – in reality, there is not a flat rate per person for catering as a whole.  Whenever I get this question, I can only answer with MORE questions because there are so many factors that go into a quote.  Did you want a plated dinner, action stations or buffet? Any food for cocktail hour? Open bar, consumption bar, cash bar or bartender only? How many hours will your event be? Where is your event? The list goes on…
    Every caterer has their own style, not only with their cooking but with their execution. When you are looking for quotes, start with your date (or tentative date).  Ask the caterer if they are available that date, and ask them what they need from you to generate a quote.  If you don’t have answers to some of their questions, tell them what you think you would like, but that the detail is still flexible/TBD.  Vendors need a starting point in order to give you an estimate.  Telling them you are “unsure” to half of their questions will not get you the quote you want.  If they have to fill in the gaps for you, you may end up with a quote that is totally opposite of what you had in mind, and it could scare you away from an awesome vendor.
  • Do I need to include all guests in the head count?
    YES, 1,000% yes.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  If a guest is coming to your reception, they are assuming they are getting fed with everyone else and you should want to feed them!  You are hosting an important event; everyone that made it onto your guest list is important to you, and therefore you want to treat them as such.  There are two exceptions to this:
    1. “Cocktail Reception to Follow” – These are the only four words that will help you reduce the amount of food provided without disappointing guests.  When guests see this on their invite, it implies you will not be providing a full meal at the reception. In this scenario, you are ordering hors d’oeuvres by the dozen and/or a variety of displays that will each only feed around 75% of your guests.  All guests will still enjoy some items, but not every guest will be able to enjoy every item.  I get a lot of couples with the mindset of “when it runs out, it’s out”, and that’s okay as long as you are okay with some guests not eating a little bit of everything.  With this style, you want to make sure you are still covering at least 75% of your guest count.
    2. Action Stations/Specialty Items – We often get couples that want to feature an item that is special to them but know not everyone will even want to try it.  As long as your main meal has everyone included in your count, it is okay to have a partial count for the unique item. We want you to add your personal spin to things, after all, it is YOUR day!  Don’t be afraid to add in the cool Asian Taco Fusion Station – you just need to make sure everyone is fed outside of that.  You should also consider including a few extra people in the unique item count – you never know who may branch out and love the cool new food you just introduced to them!
  • Can I try the food before my wedding?
    Absolutely!  Every caterer has their own approach to tastings.  Some provide a private tasting, where you try only the items you are considering for your day. Others host group tastings or open houses.  With these types of tastings, you are trying a variety of items from their menu.  Some of it may be what you are considering for your event, or it may not. There is less customization with group/open house tastings; however, there is a bigger variety to help you try a little bit of everything.
    If you wish to try the food before signing with a caterer, ask them about their policy and potential pricing.  Just like the booked event tastings, caterers all have different approaches to tastings prior to booking. 
  • What is included in the service charge?
    The service charge is a percentage applied to overall event costs, which is why it can fluctuate as you tweak your menu and event details.  On average, the service charge is 18 – 22% of your total cost.  It covers all of the back-end costs that go into the event aside from the food itself.   Most companies do not charge for the large cooking/serving ware, tastings (after booking), walk-throughs, meetings, food/rental transport and delivery, insurance certificates, etc.  This fee offsets all of the costs to ensure your event runs perfectly!  Many believe service charge is the staffing and/or gratuity, but that is not always the case.  Labor typically is a separate charge and unless stated, gratuities are not included.  In my opinion, gratuities are never expected but always greatly appreciated!
    Sometimes it can be hard to stomach such a hefty charge – but consider all that is needed to feed your guests.  Imagine trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner in a field for 15 – 25 people. What would you need to make it happen?  Now multiply that 10 times.  It adds up faster than you’d expect!  Caterers are essentially restaurants on-the-go, and the service charge helps cover the “go”.
  • Do I really need the amount of staff you included in your quote?
    If a professional caterer recommends it, trust them! They do this all the time and know what it takes to execute your event.  If you have quotes from four different caterers, and one has double the staff that the others have for the exact same type of menu, it’s okay to ask that caterer how they calculate their staffing.  The same goes for a caterer who quoted far less staff than the others you are comparing it to – the last thing you want is an understaffed event.  Caterers typically staff 1 server for every 25 – 30 guests with a buffet dinner, and 1 server for every 15 – 18 guests with a plated dinner.  These ratios can vary depending on the timeline, venue layout, rentals provided and menu.  It never hurts to ask, but know that most caterers staff only what is necessary to make your wedding run smoothly.

So there you have it, five of the most commonly asked wedding catering questions!  I hope these answers and explanations help ease your mind and maybe even make your wedding planning a little less stressful.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by a vendor’s quote if you don’t understand what all the charges mean or all the work that is going into the task at hand.  It is important to not let these charges take away any of the joy or excitement of your special day.  A great caterer will be able to work with you and your budget in order to compromise on getting you what you want at a price you can afford.  Don’t be afraid to shop around for a caterer you can trust and feel comfortable with, you want to be able to enjoy not only your wedding day but the whole planning process.  Happy wedding planning!

Save or Splurge – The Guide to Making Your Wedding Budget Work

For most couples, budget is the most stressful part of the wedding planning process. Here are a few tips to help make things easier!

The longer you have been planning your wedding, the more you have dealt with the juggle between what you want and what you actually need. There are so many options and features when it comes to a wedding, how do you decide what to prioritize for your budget? Here are a few tips for things you should keep as well as things you may want to ditch.

Programs – SAVE
Realistically, guests don’t need a program to know what happens – there’s no intermission and if they are at your wedding, they know your name.  Not to mention, ceremonies always end with ‘I do’!  Other than the five aunts, grandparents, and close family friends who have watched you grow up, not many people will care to have a program as a keepsake.  If you feel a program is a must-have, keep it simple and only print enough for the first 3 rows on each side. The most important people who care to have a program tend to have reserved seats closer to the front. To ensure they each get one, have your house party or coordinator place them on each chair in those special rows. If you have any leftovers, leave them by the sign-in book for others to grab.

Specialty Linens – SPLURGE & SAVE
It might sound confusing, but it’s simple – splurge on your important tables and keep the others basic.  Your sweetheart/head table, cake, gift, and welcome tables get the most attention, so it makes sense to deck those out!  Spare yourself from going overboard – no one will have eyes on random guest table #11, it can have a basic linen without hurting your wallet or anyone’s feelings.

Cocktail Hour Bites – SPLURGE
I may be biased, but I feel offering food is never a waste, especially after your guests have just sat through your ceremony.  Depending on what time dinner begins, some of your guests may get a bit cranky waiting for the main meal.  Cocktail hour is designed to keep your guests happy and entertained while you are taking photos.  Food is the easiest way to do this, and it doesn’t break the bank!  Passed hors d’oeuvres can be ordered per person or per dozen, which makes them more flexible for your budget.

Top Shelf Bar – SAVE
I see a lot of couples who feel pressured to offer nothing but the best for their guests, but realistically, guests are happy to spend the day with you!  Offering a well or call level bar is nothing to be ashamed of, after all,  an open bar is an open bar!  As long as guests don’t have to pull out their wallets, they won’t care what you are serving.  Some wedding budgets don’t have room to host open bar for more than 2 hours (or any drinks at all) and that’s okay too!  Don’t stress about it.  If you are worried about impressing a guest based off of what you have paid for them to enjoy, maybe they aren’t the right guest to keep on the list.  Offer whatever works for your budget and know that your guests will have a great time.

For most couples, maintaining your budget is the most stressful part of the wedding planning process.  I hope these tips help you to better prioritize where your wedding budget is going.  In the end, this day is all about you and your new spouse celebrating your love.  Whether you spend top dollar on every aspect of your event or go the money saving route for everything you can, your guest will just be happy to be able to share the wonderful memories to come with you!  You’ll be surprised at how well some money saving tips can ease the stress on your budget and your mind.  Happy wedding planning!

5 Unusual Foods Your Wedding Guests Will Love!

No matter what the event, food is always an important aspect. Here are a few of my top suggestions for unusual foods your guests will love!

No matter what the event, food is always an important aspect.  If want your wedding to be memorable and enjoyable for all, food is a great way to win your guest’s hearts.  When it comes to your food choices don’t fear being original.  Traditional is great, but unusual foods can set your special day apart from the rest and make it a great experience for all of your guests.  Here are a few of my top suggestions for unusual foods your guests will love!

1. Milk & Cookies
Who doesn’t love this classic pairing of two favorites?!  This is great for a midnight snack to serve your guests after they have been dancing the night away. This could also be used in place of cake if you are looking for a more non-traditional dessert item.

2. Mini Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup
Mini grilled cheeses with tomato soup shooters work great as an hors d’oeuvre during cocktail hour.  This delicious comfort food combo is perfect for those chillier fall/winter months.

3. Macaroni & Cheese Bar
Guests love interactive food options where they are able to personalize their item. With a Mac & Cheese Bar, you have a ton of fixings displayed around the traditional and always delicious, mac & cheese.  Let your guests get creative by adding whatever they wish to their classic favorite allowing for a truly original dish.

4. Fish Tacos paired with Margaritas
Who doesn’t love fish tacos and margaritas?  Whether they are together or on their own, they are always delicious!  This pairing is a great option for a summer event when margaritas are in full demand.  You could do this as a station with full-size tacos and drinks or change it up a bit for hors d’oeuvres and use mini tacos and margarita shots to make it fun!

5. Popcorn Bar
A popcorn bar is also another great option for late night snacking!  Have a selection of savory flavors mixed with sweet flavors for guests to munch on as they celebrate with you!  Guests of all ages will love it and because popcorn is such a great grab and go treat, this snacking won’t stop the party!

So there you have it, 5 foods for your wedding reception that your guests will love!  Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and stray away from the traditional.  The most memorable aspects of a wedding are often the things you have never seen done before.  While shrimp cocktail and wedding cake will always work for the occasion, mini grilled cheese & tomato soup or sweet & salty popcorn mixtures can really make an impression and leave your guests talking about your special day for years to come.  Happy wedding planning!

Top 2 Reasons to Have Hors D’oeuvres During Cocktail Hour

The time has come for you to plan the menu for your wedding reception. You may be wondering if it is worth spending the extra money to serve hors d’oeuvres at your cocktail hour. When advising clients, I always say “Absolutely!” to this question. There are plenty of reasons giving your guests something to nibble on before the reception and dinner begin is money well spent, and here are the top two!

  1. No Need to Rush
    If you know your guests are not going to be starving waiting for dinner, you can feel free to take your time with post-ceremony pictures. Providing your guests with something to enjoy alongside their cocktails will assure you have no need to rush.  Not feeling rushed during photos will make it a less stressful experience and allow it to be much more enjoyable!  Your guests will be happy nibbling on something delicious like Bacon and Bleu Cheese Risotto Cakes or Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Pinwheels and you will be relaxed knowing they are taken care of.
  1. Enjoy Your Alone Time
    Another great way to use cocktail hour to your advantage is to enjoy a private dinner for you and your new spouse in the Bridal or Groom Suite. This may sound a little crazy at first, but hear me out.  At the reception you are going to be bombarded with all of your guests coming to say their congratulations, you may not get the opportunity to really sit and enjoy your meal. Cocktail hour is a great time to take 15-20 minutes to yourselves and just enjoy the moment together.  Not to mention, eating beforehand will allow you to avoid any crankiness and make all of your upcoming socializing much more enjoyable!

These top two reasons to have hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour are often overlooked.  I know planning a wedding is stressful, especially when it comes to your budget. Even so, in the end, the most important thing is being able to enjoy your day to the fullest.  Keep in mind, hors d’oeuvres do not have to be expensive!  You can do something like a fruit and cheese display for $3/guest and peace of mind is priceless.  Happy wedding planning!

Creative and Imaginative Wedding Centerpiece Ideas

When you start tossing around decorating ideas for your big day, you will come to find that centerpieces are a must for your reception. Even if you are not into over-the-top décor, centerpieces are almost required for added ambiance on your tables. The most common, and often stunning, centerpiece is the classic floral arrangement. Today, however, I would like to offer up some alternative ideas that I have seen in the past in case flowers aren’t your thing or you are looking for a unique and creative replacement for your tabletop!

  • Edible Centerpieces – This one is my new favorite trend. It offers not only an inviting and original look for the table, but also an hors d’oeuvres option for your guests. This could be something like an antipasto platter, which if done correctly by a great caterer, can be both artistic and a great pre-dinner snack. Another option is fresh sliced fruit to provide great color for the table as well as an appealing spring and summer treat. Desserts can also be created as centerpieces, think a cupcake tower for a neat display done in your wedding colors.  Also, a great rustic or holiday tabletop idea can be cookie jars, pies or tarts.
  • Potted Herbs– This option is great for the spring and summer months when you and your guests are feeling the fresh summer vibe. This centerpiece idea comes off very sweet and shabby chic or rustic. Not to mention, this is a budget friendly option as well. These can be in pots, rustic jars, crates, the list goes on. Often they give off a pleasant aroma and you can even opt for herbs that compliment the dinner if you really want to take things to the next level.
  • Vintage Lanterns and Candles– Lanterns are a great base to work with. You can fill them up with candles from large to small, flowers, or succulents. These can save you on flowers and aren’t too difficult to play with if making your own DIY centerpieces. Floating candles or twinkle lights also give off the same cozy atmosphere.
  • Special Touches– Don’t forget you can also jazz up your table with all kinds of odds and ends. Think branches, pinecones, pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, cranberries, feathers and baby’s breath.

So while floral centerpieces are always timeless, there are also chic ways to change it up. The above are just a few ideas to get your creative mind thinking of ways to make your day even more distinguishable and memorable for you by adding your own touch and style.  Happy wedding planning!

5 Chic & Unique Summer Wedding Cocktails

Are you considering having a signature cocktail on your wedding day?  Whether you are thinking of creating one on your own or just looking for something delicious, here are some great recipes that will be sure to please your guests and beat the heat!

Sullivan Street Sour
This is a twist on the Disarrono Sour that uses cherry juice to pull out the sweet notes in the Disarrono.
Ingredients:
– 5oz Disaronno Liqueur
– 2oz Fresh-pressed lemon juice
– 1oz Simple syrup
– .5oz Cherry juice

Frida Tequila
This drink is the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. The mild spice of the jalapeno compliments the sweetness of the agave and the fruitiness of the watermelon.
Ingredients:
– 5oz Jalapeno- Infused Tequila
– 2oz of watermelon puree
– .5oz Fresh Lime Juice
– .75oz Simple syrup
– Lime garnish

Blackberry Mint Julep
This is a nice twist on a classic drink. The addition of the blackberries makes this drink extremely refreshing and tasty!
Ingredients:
– 2oz Bourbon
– .5oz Chambord
– .75oz Fresh Lime Juice
– .5oz muddled blackberries6 mint leaves

Shaken Lemonade
Lemonade is a summer staple. Try sprucing it up a bit with your favorite vodka, some bubbles for extra zest , and lovely garnish!
Ingredients:
– 2oz vodka
– 2oz lemon juice
– 2 oz club soda
– 2 Rosemary Sprigs for garnish

Grapefruit Goddess
This drink is super feminine and light. Its blush color pleases the eye while the sweet- sour taste pleases your taste buds!
Ingredients:
– 1oz citrus flavored vodka
– 1oz grapefruit juice
– .5oz Amontillado Sherry
– .5oz honey syrup
– Grapefruit wedge for garnish

Don’t be afraid to stray away from the traditional mixed drinks and create something completely your own.  Having a signature drink at your wedding will give your guests another way to remember your special day and keep them talking about it for months to come.  Even if you aren’t big on alcohol, or maybe you have a lot of younger guests attending, you can also create a signature “Mocktail” for all of those non-alcohol drinkers to still enjoy the experience of your unique beverage creation!  Alcohol or not, your guests are sure to enjoy your special day and all the deliciousness that comes with it.  As always, happy wedding planning!