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!

Add-ons and Extras for a Memorable Reception

Give your guests a little something extra to remember your special day by, check out these great ideas to add to your wedding reception!

I often get asked about that extra little something to make for a distinctive wedding reception.  Today’s blog isn’t about money saving tips and tricks as much as that added special touch when you have some room left in your budget.  Below are some ideas to inspire you!

  • Starters and Cocktail Hour
    I see a lot of couples skip hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour as a way to save a little bit here and there.  If you are looking for a great flow for your reception, I recommend not forgoing something to snack on at the start of your party.  Whether it is passed bites or appetizing displays, this helps pass the time and keeps your guests mingling while awaiting your grand entrance.  Guests that have just been to the ceremony and are getting hungry appreciate a small bite before dinner.
    Bonus Tip: The important thing here is keeping guests occupied during cocktail hour while you take pictures and refresh. So not only nibbles, but drinks can also give them something to do. Creating a signature drink or having staff pass champagne or red and white wine at the door can give an elegant touch while making guests feel important and get them in the mood to begin the celebration.
  • Dinner
    When looking to add something unique to dinner feel free to think outside the box. A plated dinner doesn’t have to be just two courses.  Having two starter courses, for example, an Ahi Tuna Tartar, Apple Smoked Bacon wrapped Scallops, or a Wild Mushroom & Bleu Cheese Risotto Cake dish, before the salad comes out can make it a stand out affair!
    Bonus Tip: Another idea is adding a dessert course to a plated dinner, or even a dessert station.  I often see guests get excited about dessert options other than the wedding cake.  An interactive dessert station, for example, ice cream cookie sandwiches or homemade ice cream made on-site, gives guests something extra to remember.  Another option is offering bite size dessert displays, as attendees often tend to go towards smaller easy to grab options over a whole slice of cake.
  • Bar
    If you are looking for your guests to get down and dance, dine and really celebrate, having an open bar is a must.  Adding a couple signature drinks is also a great idea. A cute sign by the bar listing some unique specialty drink options will make things easier for your guests allowing them to go up to the bar and place their drink orders without having to give it much thought.  Signature drinks are great because guests will always remember the delicious tasting beverage they experienced exclusively at your wedding.
  • Late night
    A passed snack later in the evening after everyone has been dancing and burning some calories can be really fun.  This can be something unique to your style, your favorite things, or your wedding vibe/theme.  Think passed milk and cookies, quesadillas, pizza bites, sliders, milkshake shots, or truffle lollipops.  Late night bites are great because they are unique yet loved by everyone, think about it, all great nights usually end with your favorite foods.

So there you have it, it’s not often that I talk about extra things to add to your budget rather than things you can do without but these are definitely some great alternatives.  All of these options add to the feel of your reception and give your guests a little something extra to remember your special day by.  It’s almost always the little things that separate your event from all of the others.  Add one or more of these ideas to your wedding plans and make your event one that stands out from all the rest.  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!

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.

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!

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!