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!

5 Kitchen Items Every Wedding Registry Should Splurge On

Your wedding is a great time to get things you would want that you normally would not buy for yourself. Most of your guests will want to buy you something nice – so why not point them in the right direction! While it is fun to ask for a quirky waffle iron or countertop soda machine, make sure you ask for a few higher quality kitchen essentials. The items used daily are often times the most overlooked when building a registry because they aren’t fancy or super exciting, but let’s face it – you need them! These essential items are the last thing you want to skimp on as far as quality is concerned. It can be a little overwhelming wandering through the aisles and deciding the must-haves, so here are a few to help.

  1. Knives/Knife Set
    You will always appreciate an amazing knife set. They are a crucial tool no matter how large or small the meal. The last thing you want is to dread chopping potatoes or meat because you know it’s going to be a workout. Quality knives will allow you to slice and dice your way through dinner prep without any temptation to throw in the towel and order takeout.
  2. Pots and Pans
    Finer quality cookware doesn’t just end at the stove – they help shorten your time at the sink. Over time, the lesser quality items begin to rust and break. Before registering, do a little research. Think about what types of meals you typically cook, read reviews on different types and brands of cookware, and price out the different options. Some people prefer copper cookware while others prefer Teflon. No matter your preference, you want to ask for quality items that will save yourself from the short and long term headaches.
  3. Silverware
    Similar to pots and pans, silverware can last a while, or not so much. Quality silverware will be at your table for years to come – going a lesser route will result in rusted and bent cutlery. Choosing a nicer set of silverware can simplify things as well. If you choose a cleaner, simpler style, it can work with every day casual meals as well as grander holiday dinners without seeming out of place.
  4. Everyday China
    Your everyday meals deserve more than a paper plate. If you do not yet have durable, dishwasher friendly china, you should consider it. The fine china sets are beautiful additions to any formal table setting, however if you do not have the daily basics, build that first. Quality casual china will be more resistant to chips, fading and staining, and if you choose a more traditional, basic style, you will not have to worry about replacing out of date looks.
  5. Crockpot
    It might sound like a silly must have, but as you start your new life together, you will find more use for it than expected. Life will only get busier, and it will be your biggest ally at dinner time. There’s nothing better than coming home after a long work day to a delicious dinner waiting for you, and crockpots always make that a possibility. There are countless recipes online, as well as, cookbooks to give ideas. You want to make sure to invest in a good brand to avoid coming home to a burnt meal… or worse, a burned kitchen.

So there you have it, 5 items you should be sure to add to your wedding registry!  Don’t overlook the common, most-used items for all of the fancy gadgets that may seem amazing while registering but months later end up in the back of the cabinet never to be used again. Start with the basics and then go from there.  Happy wedding planning!