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.

  • 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!

Wedding Catering Charges Breakdown

As you start researching caterers for your wedding, you may find you are seeing charges and fees you didn’t expect. Rest assured, the additional charges stated on your proposals are not your caterer’s way of scamming you – they are very much part of the norm.  Keep in mind, while hiring a caterer means you are purchasing food for your event, you are also purchasing a service.  Here is a breakdown of the most common charges that come with catering:

Service Charge
This one always gets the biggest reaction out of couples, so let’s start here.  A service charge is a fee that is typically 18 – 22% added to your total event costs. Couples think that this covers the staff tips, but it doesn’t.  It’s used to cover things like fuel costs, overhead, and wear and tear of equipment and serving ware. Think about what it takes to serve your family at Thanksgiving, now imagine doing that for 150 – 200 guests, in addition to having to set up your own kitchen in a new place to do it!  There are a lot more details and equipment needed than people realize. Even so, every company may work with a slight variation of what is included, so it is not taboo to ask what each company includes in their service charge.

Rentals
Once you choose your delicious menu, don’t forget you will need to provide a way for guests to enjoy it!  Venues may provide linens and napkins, however, they typically depend on your caterer to provide china, glassware and silverware. Be sure you confirm what the price covers – some caterers price things per person, while others are per item. You want to make sure you have all the bases covered, from cake plates and forks to coffee mugs and champagne flutes if you are planning on serving it.

Staffing
The food and drinks won’t serve themselves, and I certainly don’t want you or your bridal party bringing out giant pans of hot food while wearing beautiful attire. Servers are crucial for keeping your event running smoothly and your guests taken care of.  I’m sure I don’t even need to begin to explain how important bartenders are, and in some states, they are legally a must. All alcohol must be served by licensed bartenders. Most companies pay their staff $20-30 per hour, and while it can sometimes feel like a heavy hit to your budget, it is more of a necessity than anything. Your wedding should be a fun day for you and your guests.  The only time you should be breaking a sweat is on the dance floor!

Tax
Just like everything else you purchase, your catering is subject to the standard state tax. This applies to all goods and services provided by a business. If you do not see tax stated on a received proposal, check with the caterer to see if it is worked into another area/charge. While I hope all caterers are upfront about all charges and fees from the start, some may run things a bit differently, and you may have a second bill outlining the behind the scenes costs.

I hope this breakdown has helped shed some light on the commonly misunderstood catering charges.  It is no secret that planning a wedding is expensive and seeing so many charges can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that this is one of the most important days of your life!  A great caterer is worth it, in the end, your guests will enjoy every aspect of the night and so will you.  An experienced caterer will ensure that everything goes along without a hitch and leave you stress-free to enjoy the best day of your life!   Don’t go with a second-rate wedding caterer just to save a few bucks, choose based on who you think will  help make your day as special (and delicious) as possible.  Happy wedding planning!