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!

Add-ons and Extras for a Memorable 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.  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!

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!

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!

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!

Brunch Weddings: Why and How-To

If you are a morning person, or just love brunch, I have good news for you!  There are many perks to a late morning/early afternoon wedding. Brunch weddings are a differentiating spring and summer trend that is starting to take off as couples tie the knot early in the day then get to the celebrating!

One of the perks of a brunch wedding is that it can actually save you a few bucks on venue fees, especially if you opt for a Sunday morning date as opposed to the premium Saturday rates. Another perk is the sun, daylight is a photographer’s dream and can make for some magical pictures. Late morning weddings are also very versatile in the sense that they can be made as dressy or casual as you would like. Most importantly in my book, of course, is the food and menu options. Brunch is great because breakfast and lunch foods are typically easier to please all the many palates of your weddings guests. Below are some wedding brunch menu ideas to get you started:

Hors D’oeuvres: Just because its early doesn’t mean you should skip the appetizers!  Most of your guests won’t have eaten anything yet that day and will be looking forward to anything you have to offer. Think mini quiches, donut skewers, bacon “lollipops”, french toast sticks, and shrimp cocktail shooters.

Breads and Pastries: Your morning meal would not be complete without breakfast breads. This can be something neat like a Biscuit Bar with jams, jellies, honey and gravy or maybe a Bagel Bar with all kinds of spreads from sweet to savory which can also include traditional salmon lox. Even an alluring display of mini muffins, breakfast breads, and pastries can turn out very impressive to both the eye and stomach.

Main Course: For your main dishes you can do anything from a sit-down breakfast or buffet to more casual and very fun stations. Examples of some delicious Brunch Stations are Waffle Bars or Chicken and Waffles, Made-to-Order Omelet Stations, Carvings Stations, and Cereal or Yogurt and Granola Bars.

Bar: One of the most exciting parts of a morning wedding is the brunch style drinks! Think Bellini as your signature cocktail and keep the mimosas flowing, both are breakfast beverage staples.  Bloody Marys are another must have, or hey maybe even a Bloody Mary Station to allow your guests to really get into it. Coffee Bars are also very well received at brunch events, which is no surprise.  Most guests will probably consider coffee a necessity, so make sure they are able to get their morning caffeine fix at your wedding!

Favors: To end the reception you can incorporate your breakfast theme into your favors as well. This could be coffee mugs, chocolate covered coffee beans, coffee grounds, bloody mary mix, mini vodka and OJ’s or mini champagne and OJ’s.

So there you have it, your how-to guide for a brunch wedding!  Feel free to make your brunch event as casual or as dressy as you would like.  Incorporating games and puzzles is something else that is very popular during a morning affair, as well as, wedding décor involving morning papers and mason jars or jazzing it up with charming tea-style themes. The party doesn’t have to stop there, the best part about an early wedding is that it provides the opportunity for great after party events surrounded by friends and family.   A morning wedding means more hours of celebration and who wouldn’t love that?!  Just remember, no matter what hour of the day you choose, happy wedding planning!