Yes, you could ask your aunt Hilda to bake her famous lasagna for your wedding reception, but she may not be equipped to wrangle pasta for 200 people. Instead of begging a relative to spend three days in the kitchen, hire a caterer. We spoke with a few catering professionals to demystify the price and process behind that perfectly roasted Cornish game hen.
Big Food On a Small Budget
Wedding caterers are adept at building a menu around your preferences and price point. “I don’t mind working with people who have a small budget as long as they know how to use it well,” says private chef, Andrea Gray. “You can do an amazing, interesting pasta or a fabulous salad. Keep your protein to something like chicken or pork,” she explains. “A good chef will know how to make great food on a budget.”
Here’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to catering: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of companies who quote five dollars a head. “How is that even possible? Where is that meat coming from?” says Sara Barham of Barham Catering. “I give three different price points – here’s what you’ll get for twenty dollars a head, here’s you’ll get for twenty-five dollars, and here’s your thirty dollar catering. Then I lay it out so they can understand the different price points and what you get.”
Plan For Taxes and Tipping
If the chef does the cooking at your facility, it’s considered a personal service and they don’t have to charge sales tax. But if food is being prepared off-site, it will usually be charged at your state’s tax rate. “It’s good to ask if the price includes taxes because mine don’t and taxes can be a lot of money,” says Gray.
Be sure to ask your caterer if tip is included. Barham incorporates a twenty percent gratuity. “It’s for my tim and effort – everything that goes on behind the scenes.” If you’re having a big wedding, a line item tip for six servers plus the chef should be at least 35 percent. Unlike Sara, Gianna Ianos of Divadish doesn’t figure in gratuity. “Sometimes I want to kick myself in the pants because people just don’t tip at all,” she says. Andrea’s policy is similar. “Gratuity is a separate check or cash. You don’t have to give me that up front,” she says. “If all my servers spill coffee on your guests, I don’t think we should have that gratuity.”
Find Out What’s Included
Sometimes caterers just provide the food, sometimes food and servers, sometimes food and servers and rental chairs. And what about the bar?
“Communication is so important,” says Ianos. “There has to be dialogue. What’s your expectation of the caterer?” Find out if they include service and clean-up, as well as how much food you can expect and how long the caterer will stay.
As for the ever-important bar question, Gray sends her customers to bulk stores to buy their own bottles of liquor for a few well-chosen signature cocktails. “I charge for a bartender and provide mixes,” she says. “That way they can decide if they want top-of-the-line tequila.”
Questions to Ask
Talk to potential caterers on the phone. “Ask what quality of food to expect for what you’re paying,” suggests Ianos. “Are these original recipes or do you do bucket-style?” Bucket-style refers to processed food – basically, opening a can of pre-made sauce and pouring it over your lasagna. “There’s no long cooking, there’s no recipe – I want to know what goes in my food,” she says.
Ask how long they’ve been doing it and why. “Is this just a hobby or is this a business they have a passion for?” says Ianos. “Do they love to make people happy? That’s how you tell whether or not that person really has their heart in their business.”