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!

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!

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!

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.

Refreshing Spring Wedding Ideas

Spring is upon us and with the change in weather, we are seeing couples opt for some less formal options, as well as, lighter menu selections to add to the big day.  Below are some fresh and cool ideas for the warmer months of 2016:

Grown up Popsicles:
“Poptails”, or frozen cocktails are a playful idea for the spring or summer and the options are endless. These can go with your wedding theme or be a take on your favorite cocktail. Great with champagne or prosecco, examples include champagne and raspberry, margarita, wine soaked, bourbon peach and many more. Also, feel free to leave out the alcohol in some for a kid-friendly version!

Mix and Matched Décor:
From stemware to plates to chairs not everything has to match anymore. If you are going for a slightly more casual and lively look, this is a new trend in the wedding world. You can also apply the same concept to bridesmaid dresses and color palates. Don’t be afraid to get eclectic!

Fruit and Veggie Bar:
This is a great cocktail hour idea for a lighter fare. For the veggies, this is all about the dips, be sure to have a few different dip options! To change up the traditional veggie and fruit display idea, you could offer individual veggie cups with dip or yogurt and fruit parfaits.

Dessert Shooters:
For a late night snack or appealing display, these are a standout dessert option. Wedding cake is often left untouched, but mini desserts seem to fly off the tray! Some ideas include Strawberry Shortcake, Key Lime, Lemon Meringue, Boston  Crème Pie, Banana Cream, and Lemon Cheesecake

Low-Key Ceremonies:
If you are a more private couple, you can choose to keep your wedding ceremony simple. I am seeing this more and more with couples who want to get to the celebrating while still having a meaningful intimate moment with one another. Another way to keep things relaxed is by offering pre-ceremony cocktails because, well, it’s never a bad time for a cocktail!

Spring weddings are great and super enjoyable.  Not only is the weather beautiful, but this time of year allows for a lot of fun food and drink options.  Whether you want a low-key wedding or to go above and beyond, these ideas can help make your special day complete.  Happy wedding planning!