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!

Why You Need A Signature Cocktail at Your Wedding

Are you looking for a unique way to jazz up your reception without spending any extra cash? A great way to add a personal touch without adding to your bill is a signature drink! There are many wedding bar options, if you are unsure of them, take a look at this Wedding Bar 101 post which breaks down the positives and negatives of all you wedding bar choices in order to ensure you choose the right fit for you!  No matter which option you choose, a signature drink can always be incorporated and makes things fun.  Below are a few cocktail ideas for the upcoming Spring 2017 wedding season!

  • Pink Grapefruit Ginger– This cocktail includes selections that are popular on the cocktail scene at the moment – Gin, Pink Grapefruit, Ginger Ale, Lemon
  • Blood Orange Mimosa– It doesn’t have to be brunch for a mimosa on a refreshing spring day – Sparkling Wine, Fresh blood orange juice
  • Blueberry Orange Smash– A twist of fresh fruit in a bourbon cocktail – Blueberries, Bourbon, Orange Bitters, Vanilla

These are just a few options to get the ideas flowing.  You could also incorporate your theme into the signature drinks or even your wedding colors.  When it comes to cocktails, the possibilities are endless!

Bonus tip: if you have already decided on having an open bar during your reception a signature cocktail can be created and incorporated into your event for no extra charge at all!  Alcohol is no cheap commodity, so if you decided to splurge on the open bar, you might as well make the most of it!  Most caterers will create special cocktails unique to your event without charging you extra for this service because the liquor is already part of your bar package.  Now that’s a win-win!

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!

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!

Top 2 Reasons to Have Hors D’oeuvres During Cocktail Hour

The time has come for you to plan the menu for your wedding reception. You may be wondering if it is worth spending the extra money to serve hors d’oeuvres at your cocktail hour. When advising clients, I always say “Absolutely!” to this question. There are plenty of reasons giving your guests something to nibble on before the reception and dinner begin is money well spent, and here are the top two!

  1. No Need to Rush
    If you know your guests are not going to be starving waiting for dinner, you can feel free to take your time with post-ceremony pictures. Providing your guests with something to enjoy alongside their cocktails will assure you have no need to rush.  Not feeling rushed during photos will make it a less stressful experience and allow it to be much more enjoyable!  Your guests will be happy nibbling on something delicious like Bacon and Bleu Cheese Risotto Cakes or Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Pinwheels and you will be relaxed knowing they are taken care of.
  1. Enjoy Your Alone Time
    Another great way to use cocktail hour to your advantage is to enjoy a private dinner for you and your new spouse in the Bridal or Groom Suite. This may sound a little crazy at first, but hear me out.  At the reception you are going to be bombarded with all of your guests coming to say their congratulations, you may not get the opportunity to really sit and enjoy your meal. Cocktail hour is a great time to take 15-20 minutes to yourselves and just enjoy the moment together.  Not to mention, eating beforehand will allow you to avoid any crankiness and make all of your upcoming socializing much more enjoyable!

These top two reasons to have hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour are often overlooked.  I know planning a wedding is stressful, especially when it comes to your budget. Even so, in the end, the most important thing is being able to enjoy your day to the fullest.  Keep in mind, hors d’oeuvres do not have to be expensive!  You can do something like a fruit and cheese display for $3/guest and peace of mind is priceless.  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!

Creative and Imaginative Wedding Centerpiece Ideas

When you start tossing around decorating ideas for your big day, you will come to find that centerpieces are a must for your reception. Even if you are not into over-the-top décor, centerpieces are almost required for added ambiance on your tables. The most common, and often stunning, centerpiece is the classic floral arrangement. Today, however, I would like to offer up some alternative ideas that I have seen in the past in case flowers aren’t your thing or you are looking for a unique and creative replacement for your tabletop!

  • Edible Centerpieces – This one is my new favorite trend. It offers not only an inviting and original look for the table, but also an hors d’oeuvres option for your guests. This could be something like an antipasto platter, which if done correctly by a great caterer, can be both artistic and a great pre-dinner snack. Another option is fresh sliced fruit to provide great color for the table as well as an appealing spring and summer treat. Desserts can also be created as centerpieces, think a cupcake tower for a neat display done in your wedding colors.  Also, a great rustic or holiday tabletop idea can be cookie jars, pies or tarts.
  • Potted Herbs– This option is great for the spring and summer months when you and your guests are feeling the fresh summer vibe. This centerpiece idea comes off very sweet and shabby chic or rustic. Not to mention, this is a budget friendly option as well. These can be in pots, rustic jars, crates, the list goes on. Often they give off a pleasant aroma and you can even opt for herbs that compliment the dinner if you really want to take things to the next level.
  • Vintage Lanterns and Candles– Lanterns are a great base to work with. You can fill them up with candles from large to small, flowers, or succulents. These can save you on flowers and aren’t too difficult to play with if making your own DIY centerpieces. Floating candles or twinkle lights also give off the same cozy atmosphere.
  • Special Touches– Don’t forget you can also jazz up your table with all kinds of odds and ends. Think branches, pinecones, pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, cranberries, feathers and baby’s breath.

So while floral centerpieces are always timeless, there are also chic ways to change it up. The above are just a few ideas to get your creative mind thinking of ways to make your day even more distinguishable and memorable for you by adding your own touch and style.  Happy wedding planning!

5 Chic & Unique Summer Wedding Cocktails

Are you considering having a signature cocktail on your wedding day?  Whether you are thinking of creating one on your own or just looking for something delicious, here are some great recipes that will be sure to please your guests and beat the heat!

Sullivan Street Sour
This is a twist on the Disarrono Sour that uses cherry juice to pull out the sweet notes in the Disarrono.
Ingredients:
– 5oz Disaronno Liqueur
– 2oz Fresh-pressed lemon juice
– 1oz Simple syrup
– .5oz Cherry juice

Frida Tequila
This drink is the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. The mild spice of the jalapeno compliments the sweetness of the agave and the fruitiness of the watermelon.
Ingredients:
– 5oz Jalapeno- Infused Tequila
– 2oz of watermelon puree
– .5oz Fresh Lime Juice
– .75oz Simple syrup
– Lime garnish

Blackberry Mint Julep
This is a nice twist on a classic drink. The addition of the blackberries makes this drink extremely refreshing and tasty!
Ingredients:
– 2oz Bourbon
– .5oz Chambord
– .75oz Fresh Lime Juice
– .5oz muddled blackberries6 mint leaves

Shaken Lemonade
Lemonade is a summer staple. Try sprucing it up a bit with your favorite vodka, some bubbles for extra zest , and lovely garnish!
Ingredients:
– 2oz vodka
– 2oz lemon juice
– 2 oz club soda
– 2 Rosemary Sprigs for garnish

Grapefruit Goddess
This drink is super feminine and light. Its blush color pleases the eye while the sweet- sour taste pleases your taste buds!
Ingredients:
– 1oz citrus flavored vodka
– 1oz grapefruit juice
– .5oz Amontillado Sherry
– .5oz honey syrup
– Grapefruit wedge for garnish

Don’t be afraid to stray away from the traditional mixed drinks and create something completely your own.  Having a signature drink at your wedding will give your guests another way to remember your special day and keep them talking about it for months to come.  Even if you aren’t big on alcohol, or maybe you have a lot of younger guests attending, you can also create a signature “Mocktail” for all of those non-alcohol drinkers to still enjoy the experience of your unique beverage creation!  Alcohol or not, your guests are sure to enjoy your special day and all the deliciousness that comes with it.  As always, 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!

Kid-Friendly Wedding Ideas

If you and your fiancé do not have children, the decision whether or not to have kids attend your wedding can be a delicate one. It’s best to be clear on the save-the-dates or actual invites if children are invited or not.  Addressing the envelope to the whole family, for example, The Smith Family, versus addressing it to Mr. and Mrs. Smith helps clear up some confusion and is the most polite and subtle way to approach the issue.  Since today’s blog is about those who do wish for kids to take part in the festivities I will leave out the best ways to say “No Children Please” and continue on to how to make kids a sweet and fun addition to your celebration!

If you don’t want restless children at your event you will need to provide some entertainment options for them.  Here are 3 helpful trends I have been seeing:

  1. Ceremonies
    Unfortunately, during the time the children are expected to sit still and be quiet is when they seem to experience the most restlessness.  Ask your caterer to make the kid’s small individual bags of popcorn, or something similar, to keep them occupied during this time.
  1. Kid’s Meal Options
     Don’t be afraid to ask your caterer for kid’s meals. Young children don’t typically like the adult food served at receptions and a group of cranky, hungry little ones is the opposite of what you want. Most caterers are happy to provide a kid’s buffet or boxed meal option, this can even save you a couple bucks!
  1. The Tot’s Table
    If the children are old enough to be at their own table (think kindergarten and up), a Kids Only Table is the best way to keep them entertained throughout dinner and can be really fun. Don’t shy away from asking one of your closest mommy or daddy friends to help you get creative with this and even help you decorate it on the big day. Close friends, for the most part, like to be involved in the wedding planning in some shape or form so now is your chance to make them feel included, it’s a win-win!
    Some ideas for the kids table include bubbles, glow sticks, crayons, coloring books, and play dough.  The Crayola website, along with quite of few other free websites, provides downloadable coloring printables. I have even seen wedding themed coloring printables at receptions before. Don’t forget snacks and possibly juice boxes.  Centerpieces should be interactive, so swap that floral arrangement for pinwheels for example.  Stay away from glitter, paint, or confetti to avoid any venue restrictions and possible clean up fees if it gets all over.  Also, be sure to put signage on the kid’s area so parents can easily find it.

In the end, parents will also bring the items needed to help entertain their children so don’t feel too much pressure. However, providing a few kid-friendly options definitely doesn’t hurt. If all else fails, hire a babysitter to watch the children in the Kids Only Space at your wedding. This is an especially good option if your venue has a space that can be used as a kid’s lounge.  I hope these kid-friendly wedding ideas come in handy, happy wedding planning!