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.  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!

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

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.  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!

3 Items That Will Transform Your Wedding Menu Into A Winter Wonderland

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I don’t just mean the holidays. If you are planning a winter wonderland wedding and need some inspiration, look no further! Here are some delicious ideas to help make your winter wedding memorable.

1. Cocktail Hour – Soup Shooters
What better way to help guests warm up? Soup shooters are a delicious and fun way to get the party started!  The best part about them is how many options you have, just choose your favorite soups. I recommend something smoother and/or creamy like tomato or lobster bisque. Depending on the size of the shooter, it may not be ideal for something chunkier such as chicken noodle.  Consider serving a complimentary second bite, such as lobster bisque shooters and crab cakes, or topping the shooter off with a small bite, like a mini grilled cheese. Guests won’t be able to get enough of them!

2. Dessert – Hot Cocoa Bar
Nothing says winter more than hot cocoa! This is a fun twist on the traditional coffee bar, and it is an easy switch.  I recommend having the hot cocoa in a large coffee/hot water urn, this is much more beneficial than providing just the hot water with individual cocoa packets to your guests.  Not only will the already prepared cocoa stay hot and fresh in the urn, it will also be less of a mess than your guests mixing it themselves and not to mention, less expensive than those individual packets!  Provide delicious sweets such as marshmallows, peppermint sticks, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup for guests to garnish their drinks to their liking. This bar works perfectly with cake or by itself for the non-cake lovers too!

3. Bar – Burr Royale
A wintery take on the traditional Kir Royale, your guests won’t be able to get enough of this delicious drink!  Start by sugaring the rim of a champagne flute with blue sugar crystals. Pour ¼oz of blue curacao into a champagne flute, followed by 3oz of champagne. Garnish with a lemon peel and raspberry, or any other fruit that may go better with your color scheme, and serve. Depending on the brand of champagne, you may find the drink can turn out slightly green, so it’s never a bad idea to supply your bartenders with some blue food coloring just in case!

So there you have it, 3 tasty ideas to enhance your winter wedding.  These ideas are all simple and delicious, but most importantly, they won’t break your budget!  Wedding planning is all about being creative and incorporating the things you love into your special day so don’t be scared to stray away from the traditional hors d’oeuvres or desserts.  Your guests are sure to love your original selection of winter treats and stations.  Happy wedding planning!

Three Simple Ways to Cut Your Wedding Costs

It sounds easy enough, but the further along you get in wedding planning, the tougher this concept can seem!  Rest assured, there are some quick and easy ways to cut costs, and don’t worry, none of them involve cutting back on the bar package or dress budget!

  1. Friday or Sunday Weddings
    Before you write this one off, put yourself in your guests’ shoes. Would you miss your friend’s wedding simply because it was on a Friday?  Of course not!  You may leave work a little early to give yourself time to get ready and get through the traffic, but it is all worth seeing your friend’s special day. Your guests will feel the same way!

    Often times, venues offer a reduced rental rate for a Friday or Sunday wedding because they are not as much in demand as a Saturday date.  They may also lift any food or beverage minimum they apply to a Saturday event, which helps reduce your costs even more.  When you tour venues, ask them for their Friday and Sunday rates. You could be pleasantly surprised, and if your guests value you as much as you value them, they will make time for you any day of the week.

  1. Buffet Dinner
    Again, put yourself in your guests’ shoes. Would you be traumatized if your friend’s Sunday wedding had a buffet dinner?  Probably not.  The second you smell the delicious food, all you will care about is making room for seconds!

    With most catering companies buffets are self-serve, which greatly reduces your staffing costs.  When you first start to research and look over menus, you may see the food is a couple dollars more per person than the plated option, which could steer you away, but you have to consider the OVERALL catering cost that comes with plated versus buffet. Less staff on site means a smaller percentage of your budget is being pulled toward labor. Even if you think you are set on plated or action stations, always ask for a buffet quote to compare. You never know – it could end up being the perfect fit!

  1. Cut the Guest List
    This one is always tough, but it can be done!  There are two approaches to cutting the guest list, some find one way works better than the other, while others use both rules.  It’s really up to you and your other half to decide what the two of you feel most comfortable with. There will always be pressure from family and friends on this topic, and when that happens, kindly remind them that their input matters, however, the budget will always win!

    Rule #1: We both have met you
    It’s simple, have both of you met this person?  By ‘met’ I mean, longer than those 10 seconds at that one barbecue 2 years ago, it needs to be a significant person in your lives together.  There’s no harm in mentioning work friends, old college roommates, etc. that may have played a big role in a chapter of your life before you met the person you are about to marry, however, they need to be placed on the ‘maybe’ list until your guest list is more developed.  Include all of those close to you that know BOTH of you first, and then add in the maybe’s after that.  It’s all about compromise.

    Rule #2: Have we seen you in the past year?
    This is for your own interpretation. Depending on where your families live, this rule may bend a little, because of course, you want to include your grandparents who live 2,000 miles away!  This is a general rule of thumb and up to you to enforce as you see fit.  Just as in Rule #1, there may be people who are important to you that you just don’t see as often as you used to, and it’s okay to add them to the maybe list!  But if you want to cut your costs down, you have to start with the essential guests and add from there.

Wedding planning is hard, and budget tends to be the most difficult thing about it.  Making the final decisions on all aspects of your big day is tough and some require more thought than others.  It is important to step back and look at the big picture when it comes to making the tough decisions.  Is your day really going to be ruined if you trim the guest list a little or make a tiny menu change?  Stay positive and remember, there are always ways to cut costs, even if your budget is small, you can still pull off the wedding of your dreams.  Happy wedding planning!

How To Do A Brunch Wedding Right!

If you are looking for a budget-friendly reception idea you may want to consider a brunch style menu.  With a brunch theme, there is so much flexibility and who doesn’t love breakfast foods?!  Here are some tips to make your brunch reception really “wow” your guests!

1. Classic Brunch Beverage Station
Mimosas and Bloody Marys are both classic brunch beverages that will add a fun element to your event!  For the Mimosas, have a variety of juices for your guests to use and get creative with. For those who aren’t a fan of the bubbly, have some chopped veggie sticks out for the Bloody Marys to allow your guests to make their beverage a little more fun and add a pop of color to the display!

2. Hors D’oeuvres & Spreads
Savory hors d’oeuvres like risotto cakes, deviled eggs, and chicken & waffle skewers really fit the brunch theme and are great for cocktail hour to really get your guest’s palette warmed up for the rest of the meal! Or maybe your guests want something a little lighter so they don’t fill up before the main course.  In this case, a fruit and cheese spread will be great for those who love to graze throughout the event. Since most people love either fruit or cheese, and sometimes both, this is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

3. Different Menu Styles
With a brunch themed menu, there are no rules!  Feel free to mix the styles of your menu, such as having a few family-style sides to make for an intimate feel and a carving station as a way to incorporate a great meat dish.
A delicious honey baked ham carving station is always a favorite and works as the perfect meat for brunch with it’s sweet and savory tastes.

4. Omelet Station
Speaking of mixing menu styles, why not add an omelet station?!  Instead of doing plain scrambled eggs in a chafer dish, go for an omelet station where your guests can pick and choose what add-ins they would like for a delicious custom, fresh-made omelet!

5. Coffee and Tea Bar
Having a coffee and tea bar is a great way to jazz up a simple beverage and give your guests the chance to make their cup exactly how they like it!  Not only does coffee or tea somehow come into play at every event, but you can also use this as a chance to provide wedding favors to your guests.  Whether you want to use this opportunity for a great takeaway gift, such as a custom ceramic mug, or just put your own personal touch to the station with monogrammed to-go cups or sleeves, it is sure to be a hit!
For an additional bonus, add some Baileys or Amoretto stir-in options to the station in order to really kick it up a notch! 

As you can see, going with a brunch-style wedding reception can be a lot of fun!  Not only do you get to choose from fun foods that are everyone’s favorites, but you also get to be creative and put a fun twist on the traditional. There is no doubt that your guests will enjoy all of your sweet and savory menu choices as well as your beverages, whether they are spiked or not!  Be creative, have fun, and as always, happy wedding planning.

Autumn Wedding Inspiration

Fall is a gorgeous time of year for weddings, there seems to be a romantic charge to the air as the weather begins to cool. One of mine, and many others, favorite things about fall is the seasonal harvest and by that I mean, the food!  This time of year brings us so many mouthwatering food options so why not use them to our wedding planning advantage?!  If you are looking to celebrate the season at your wedding, below is some fall foodie inspiration for all stages of the evening!

  • Hors D’oeuvres:
    Whether you are opting for passed hors d’oeuvres or plated displays, there are tons of delicious and fun fall inspired options!  For passed hors d’oeuvres think baked mac & cheese bites, deviled eggs, sliders, bourbon glazed meatballs, bleu cheese mousse stuffed figs, and bacon wrapped dates.  For appetizer displays, seasonal fruit is always a favorite, the display is not only delicious but will add a great pop of color. There are also endless rustic bread options that can include a wide array of apple butters, jams and honey.
  • Cocktails:
    Don’t forget the fall drinks for cocktail hour!  Anything with spice, maple or apple will put a delicious autumn twist on an ordinary cocktail.  For example, apple sangria, maple bourbon cocktails, hot buttered rum or anything with cinnamon.
  • Stations:
    Stations have become very popular this past year and there is plenty of reason for it. If you are looking for a mix and mingle or cozy and less formal atmosphere, this is a great way to mix it up! Some unique and seasonal stations include a chili bar, caramel apple station, or soup bar.
  • Dessert:
    Passing mini desserts can be a fun way to show off sweet fall flavors and provide an original end to the evening. It doesn’t get much cuter than passed mini caramel apples or mini pumpkin pies.  Other fall dessert displays include donuts and apple cider, brown sugar cupcakes, chocolate bourbon cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, rustic pies and mini pumpkin cheesecakes.  Keep in mind, you could also easily turn any of these dessert ideas into your favors instead!

These are just a few ideas to turn up the theme of your wedding and match your food to the season. While a lot of weddings concentrate on the décor for their theme, sometimes the food ideas can be what is most memorable and talked about for years to come.  Happy wedding planning!

Must-Have Flavors to Include in Your Fall Wedding Menu

Fall is finally here and with it comes a ton of tasty things many of us wait all year to enjoy! Here are some easy and delicious ways to incorporate a touch of autumn into your wedding day dishes.

Salad Flavors: Cranberry & Pumpkin Seeds
Nothing says fall more than cranberry and pumpkin! These items are the perfect addition to hearty greens like kale and spinach. Take a classic spinach and almond salad and add some fresh cranberries for a fall accent, or take it a step further and try our favorite Autumn Kale Salad!  For this delicious salad favorite, take fresh kale tossed in olive oil and lemon juice then top with shredded carrots and cucumber. For the finish, drizzle a semi-sweet dressing, such as champagne vinaigrette, and top it off with dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds to add just the right amount of fall flair!

Entrée Flavors: Fig & Honey
Throwing in the sweetness of fig and honey will instantly transform your meal into a fall favorite! We love fig and honey glazed chicken accompanied by a quinoa and squash side. If you are looking for something a little less traditional, this dish can easily be converted into sliders which pair great with sweet potato fries.  Whether you choose a plated or buffet style reception, you can easily work these fall flavors into your menu and your guests will love them!

Dessert Flavors: Cinnamon &  Nutmeg
Whether you are looking for a second dessert option or something in lieu of cake entirely, choose something with cinnamon and nutmeg. These spices are the go-to addition to any autumn sweets recipe. A dessert we can’t stop dreaming about is Gingerbread S’mores! Simply substitute gingerbread cookies for the graham cracker, then get the marshmallows and chocolate ready! Since this involves high temperatures, your caterer will typically have an attendant at the station to assist guests, but it is well worth it, guests of all ages will be going crazy over this delicious dessert!

It is no secret that the fall season and weddings go hand-in-hand.  Not only is autumn the perfect wedding season but it is also amazing for planning a menu, the most delicious flavors and treats are in full swing during the fall months so be sure to take advantage of them.  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!

Fun and Clever Ways to Keep Your Wedding Buffet Moving

If you are considering having a buffet style dinner service at your reception, one of the concerns you may have is how to manage your guests to ensure there won’t be a long line of hungry people!  There are a few ways to handle this task while keeping things interesting and a bit more interactive for your guests rather than just calling them up by a table number. Here are some fun ways to keep your buffet running smoothly and get your guests fed in a timely manner.

1. Play Your Favorite Tunes
On each table, instead of a number, put one of your favorite tunes. Have the DJ announce to the guests to listen for the song on their table to be played and when they hear it to “dance” over to the buffet line. This keeps your guests engaged, plus who doesn’t like music while they wait.

2. Centerpiece Specifics 
Instead of having the same floral centerpiece at each table, try mixing it up by featuring a different flower at each table. Have your DJ call out the names of the different flowers and whichever table has those on it gets to go. If you go this route, remember to keep it limited to flowers that most people will recognize; some good ones would be: roses, daisies, carnations, sunflowers, lilies, and tulips.  If you really doubt your guest’s ability to recognize flowers, you could always go by color, maybe different colored roses, or whichever flower is your favorite, on each table.
Keep in mind, you can make this idea work with any type of centerpieces you choose to have, straying away from the traditional florals is never a bad thing either!

3. Sing For Your Supper
Have your DJ pick a secret song with “Love” in the title then go from table to table and ask your guests to sing a few bars of a song that they think it might be. Whichever table has the guest that guesses the correct song gets to hit the buffet line first!

4. Relationship Trivia
This idea has a similar set-up to the previous but this time, instead of singing, the DJ will ask a question about you and your significant other. The first person to get the question correct earns their table the right to head to the buffet!

These are just a few ideas that will keep your guests engaged and entertained. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and have fun with it.  Make your wedding so much fun that your guests will even enjoy waiting for their food (now that’s impressive).  Happy wedding planning!