Wedding and Event Catering

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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

How do you find a good caterer?

Reviews, interviews and menu tastings will help you find the right catering choice for your big day. Start by screening possible wedding caterers based on past reviews. If a caterer you are interested in has a review that concerns you, ask them about it; how they respond will be very telling. Next, ask about their availability for your wedding date.

If the wedding caterer is available on your date, it’s time to talk about menus and prices. Be clear about what your maximum budget is find out what choices this will allow you. Caterers may custom-create a menu for your event, or they may have menu templates within different price ranges that can guide your decision. A clear budget gives the caterer clear parameters within which to work and offer creative suggestions. Schedule a menu tasting to confirm you love your wedding menu. Once you have a menu and date, and have paid a deposit to reserve the caterer’s services, confirm additional details including when the food will be delivered to the site, what kind of service will be provided, how many servers will be onsite and for how long, and who is responsible for setup and cleanup. The more specific your contract, the fewer worries you’ll have on your wedding day. Get more smart hiring tips here.

How much does a personal chef cost?

Hiring a personal chef usually costs anywhere from $40-$100 or more per person. Request free cost estimates from personal chefs in your area so you’ll know exactly how much it will cost to hire one for your needs. For an accurate quote, be sure to let the chefs know the number of people they’ll need to feed, what you’d like on the menu and other relevant details. 

To learn more about the factors that impact the cost to hire a personal or private home chef, read our cost guide.

What should you look for in a caterer?

A delicious meal is a critical element of a successful wedding, with happy guests fondly remembering your fabulous wedding food. The right caterer for you will be:

  • Available: Even the best caterer is no good if they aren’t available on your wedding date. Ask early before you get your heart set on someone.
  • Affordable for you: Find a caterer that you can afford. Having a spending plan ahead of time will mean you won’t overspend on food.
  • A good personality fit: Wedding planning is stressful, so work with someone that you can get along with and communicate with easily.
  • Experienced and recommended: Ensure the company has a proven track record with events of your size and the references to back it up.
  • Transparent about money: Steer clear of shady pricing. Find a caterer who is very clear about costs and is happy to talk you through budgets and pricing options.
  • Transparent about food: Find someone who is clear about where they source their food from and where it is prepared.

How much does it cost to hire a caterer?

Catering prices depend mainly on how fancy you want the food and service to be and how many guests you’ll have. When you’re first looking to hire a caterer for your event, consider how many guests you’ll have and your total food and drink budget. The national average for event catering is $340, but catering prices can range into the thousands depending on your menu, guest count, and service.

Event catering is a broad term that covers everything from fully prepared, ready-to-eat food that the hosts plate and serve themselves to full-service, multicourse meals, including rental of linens, glassware and other items, with service staff organized by the catering company. Usually a caterer will determine cost based on the type of event you’re having, how many guests will attend, the level of service you desire, and what type of menu you’d like to have. For example, if you have a set catering budget, say $1,500, and you plan to have 50 people attend, that means you have $30 per person for food. If you have the same budget with 100 people, you have $15 per person for food. In this way, the number of people you want to attend your event and the level of food you want to serve them determines how much catering will cost.

How much should catering cost per person?

Catering prices can range from about $10 per guest on the low end to $150 or more per person on the high end. Catering costs represent the quality of food, presentation, variety, ingredients and service. But catering prices are more than the cost to cook the food that will be at your party; they also include the cost for the company to do business. Here is a simple breakdown of catering prices:

  • Menu: The food you serve your guests will directly affect the price per person. Organic ingredients, complex recipes, elaborate presentations, or high-ticket items like lobster or filet mignon all add to the cost.
  • Service: Buffet, family style, plated dinners — how you serve the food affects the cost per person. For example, a true plated meal can cost about twice the price of a staff-assisted buffet because of staffing costs. Hiring waiters, bartenders and cleanup crew will all be calculated into the per-person catering price.
  • Drinks: Providing beverages and alcoholic drinks for guests greatly increases your catering budget. Hosting an open bar can cost as much per person as the meal.
  • Rentals: Seating, plates, glassware, etc., will all have an effect on the cost per person for catering. For example, a plastic conference table that seats 10 costs about $6 to rent on average, while a wooden farmhouse table is about $80 to rent on average.
  • Business costs: Any catering cost will also include the cost for the company to do business such as insurance, employee wages, commercial kitchen space and more.

How much does wedding catering cost per person?

Wedding catering costs will always vary based on the number of guests you’re inviting, the menu you want to serve, and the way the food will be served to your guests. As you interview wedding catering companies, you’ll be presented with a cost per person for various menus. On the low end, wedding catering may cost approximately $15-$18 per person. This would include prepared food only, with no setup or service of any kind. The starting price for a simple buffet meal with minimal service typically averages $22 per person. Opting for the same menu with all organic ingredients could raise your costs to about $33 per person. A moderately upscale menu (finer ingredients, more elaborate presentation) could range from $24 to $34 per person. High-end wedding catering cost truly has no limit. Lobster, filet mignon, specialty seafood, organic ingredients — menu choices like these can boost your cost per person up to $150 and more.

How much should catering cost for a wedding?

The cost of wedding catering will reflect the level of service, the menu you choose, the luxury you desire and the number of guests you invite. Where you live also plays a major role in your wedding catering costs. The regional cost to do business and local cost of food will affect your catering bill. There is no set price for wedding catering, because each wedding and each menu is different. This is why many caterers provide a per-person price. This allows you to break down what it costs to feed each person based on the menu you want. Working with your caterer, you can adjust menu items, service level and more to accommodate your budget and guest count. Keep in mind that wedding catering costs are not just for the food. The bill reflects all the components that go into commercial food catering: a commercial kitchen, ingredients, staff, insurance, marketing and more. Here are some examples of average costs:

  • Three-course plated meal, moderately upscale, for 125 in Los Angeles: $14,000. Because of staffing costs, a true plated meal costs about twice as much as a staff-assisted buffet.
  • Buffet meal, standard menu, for 100 in Los Angeles: $5,000.
  • Per-person cost for hors d'oeuvres, dinner and nonalcoholic beverages: $24–$37, depending on menu selection, in Southern California.
  • Drop off prepared food for 50: $1,000 in North Carolina. Price does not include any service, setup or breakdown.

How do you serve food at a wedding?

Food service at your wedding will affect your catering costs and influence the atmosphere of the reception. Buffet style is more informal; plated meals are a bit fancier; family style encourages sharing. Read about the different food service styles to select your preferred wedding catering choice.

  • Buffet: Caterers can drop off prepared foods for a DIY and budget-friendly buffet option where you set everything up and food is entirely self-service. For a fuller-service buffet, the caterers set up food, oversee the buffet throughout the event, and clean up afterwards. For food only, prices per person might average $16-$18, while a service buffet may start around $20-$22 per person. Adding food stations can increase per-person costs by at least $3-$5.
  • Family style: Servers bring large platters of food to guest tables in courses. It’s less formal (and less expensive) than a plated meal, but more formal and higher-cost than a buffet. You’ll need large tables to accommodate the platters, so plan accordingly when renting furniture for the event.
  • Plated: A plated event is a formal dining experience; waitstaff serve your seated guests for each course, fill their drinks, and attend to them throughout the dinner. A plated dinner is typically the most expensive option for both food and service.
  • Food trucks: Similar to buffets, with food trucks your guests get their own food and bring it to their table. A food truck gives a relaxed and playful vibe to your reception.
  • Cocktail reception: If you don’t want a formal seated dinner, you can opt for a wide assortment of passed appetizers at an extended cocktail hour reception.

Do you tip a wedding caterer?

Tipping 15 percent to 20 percent on a $3,000 catering bill can feel daunting — especially in light of all the other costs of throwing a wedding — but tipping your wedding caterer is standard practice. Be sure to ask your caterer about their specific policies. Many catering companies include gratuity as a line item on their bill. If tipping is not automatically included in your total, a good approach is to tip all the people involved the day of the event rather than paying one lump sum to the catering company. For each server and bartender, you can tip $20-$50, depending on how long they were onsite and whether they did exceptional work. You can also tip the chef; experts suggest $50. It’s also a good idea to tip the catering manager, the point-of-contact person who keeps the catering service running smoothly the day of your wedding, ensures all the food looks beautiful and is plentiful, and resolves any mishaps. Industry pros recommend tipping the catering manager $100-$200. If gratuity is not included and you’re tipping individuals, set aside $200-$500 in cash to be safe.

How do you find a personal chef?

You can find local personal chefs by searching on Thumbtack. Once you enter in your details (how many guests the chef needs to feed, the date, your zip code, etc.), you’ll see a list of chefs who fit your needs.

Reviews for San Diego chefs
Randi Z.
Wow, I would highly recommend Chef Eric! We had chef Eric cook for my husbands 50th birthday party and the meal was exceptional! Definitely a birthday to remember. Thank you for creating such a wonder experience! We will definitely use Chef Eric for future event.
Chris K.
Chef Jason is plain amazing: His ability to take my ramblings and turn them in to a professional menu astonished my team. Be sure to include The chefs desserts, apparently he likes making them... 1000% recommend Chef Jason, In this day it is refreshing to see a family, professional, and down to earth Man succeeding.
Flavor AffinityFlavor Affinity
Pamela D.
Chef ray provided a great experience for my mother in law 70th birthday. He was on time and professional. The food was delicious and he catered to our needs and our mother’s request to a Cajun style dinner. The portions were also large!!! If you are looking for a delicious and chef interpersonal experience please give chef ray a call!!!
BiTE by Chef RayBiTE by Chef Ray
Amanda T.
My experience with Chef Adam was a great one. He made a 4 course meal for me and my boyfriend as a Christmas date. We both loved the meals and Adam so much we have made a deal that we will hire a chef to cook for us more often! Highly suggest Chef Adam! He was quick and well worth the price!!
Heline M.
Chef Stacy was great and the food was very delicious. Definitely recommend her services. She is very easy to work with and with her sous chef, they prepared a wonderful 4 course menu for my 10 guests.
Epicures Private Chef ServiceEpicures Private Chef Service
Lori F.
Our large family was vacationing at Mission Beach, and we wanted to hire a Personal Chef for all of us to have a family meal. I have never inquired about a Personal Chef before, however Chef Eric was very professional and helpful in my request for specific cuisine. Our dinner was for 9 adults, and it was fabulous! Every one of us thoroughly enjoyed the meal, the experience and of course Chef Eric. Most of all my in-laws were very happy as it so happens that they were Celebrating their 57th Wedding Anniversary that week. My only wish is that Chef Eric could live in Las Vegas, were we could use him on a regular basis.
Monica H.
Chef Danyale was the best!!! My friends and I ventured to San Diego California for a bachelorette weekend, we ended the weekend with a chef Danyale brunch and dinner. All the ingredients were fresh, food was delicious, and her presentation was beautiful! Out of ten women everyone was happy and enjoyed their food!!! Planning was pretty easy with chef Danyale, we traveled from Virginia to California so we mostly planned through the Thumbtack app and email. We had a few dietary restrictions which were met with ease and although chef Danyale had to work with a VRBO kitchen, we had no idea what the kitchen would have to work with, everything turned out so nice. We also had the chance to try some of chef Danyale’s CBD/THC goodies, we opted for the spinach dip and an omelette!!! Let me just say we were on “cloud nine’ after brunch!!! Chef Danyale was the icing on our cake for our San Diego bachelorette trip!!! Thanks chef for providing such great service and high quality food!!!
Bill H.
This was a large party with 45+ guests. I had many compliments from our guests about the quality of the food--everyone said it was delicious. The chef's team made sure everyone got plenty to eat, and circulated with champagne flutes to see that everyone could celebrate. A number of guests took the chef's card for possible future events. I would hire Chef Taylor again if the occasion arises.
Occasions San Diego by Chef Taylor DennisOccasions San Diego by Chef Taylor Dennis
Caroline W.
The good was great! Thank you chef for making the family get together special!
Enjoy Dining InEnjoy Dining In
Jamiyla B.
Chef Adam was amazing! Not only did he help me create an ExtraordinaryItalian menu
Pat C.
Chef Adam provided an evening of food for our daughter’s wedding dinner. He was wonderful to work with. The food was excellent and beautifully presented. Chef was responsive, reassuring to a nervous mother of the bride and came with the right number of staff to accommodate our group of 11. He and his team provided just the right amount of warm but non- intrusive interaction allowing us to fully enjoy this most special of days. We wanted an intimate, fun and relaxed evening but with a right touch of elegance. Chef Adam did not disappoint and his fees provided excellent value for the service provided. I would highly recommend Chef Adam.
Kevin R.
Chef Jenny nailed it. We needed plenty of hangover food for our post-wedding crew, and she blew us all away with her homemade breakfast sandwiches, delicious eggs (made on-site), cinnamon rolls and the best bagels I've had outside of NYC / Jersey. Chef Jenny was incredibly personable, easy (and fun) to work with and exceeded all expectations. Looking forward to working with Chef Jenny again. HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Chef Jenny CooksChef Jenny Cooks
Marina H.
This was such a last minute thing and Chef Jason was amazing. We will definitely be using him again in the future
Flavor AffinityFlavor Affinity
Thumbtack Customer
Oh my gosh! Don't know where to start. Chef Lilian was phenomenal as a chef as a organizer. Together with assistant Nunu is a team that make any celebration perfect. The 18 guests at the sitdown plated dinner raved of the food and presentation. For me as the hostess of my husband's surprise birthday party, I never felt more supported in presenting an elegant evening to friends and family. I would be happy to be contacted directly if you are considering Chef Lilian for your event.
Busy Bee Cook for MeBusy Bee Cook for Me
Shandon H.
Chef Taylor is amazing. We hired him to do a "high tea" for my bridal camp - the day of our wedding for the ladies and he absolutely delivered on every level. Creative menu, tasty food, elegant display, professional team, courteous - we wanted to adopt him into our family. The other ladies in attendance asked for his information so they could hire him for future events. Hire Chef Taylor - he will not disappoint!! Thank you Chef Taylor!
Occasions San Diego by Chef Taylor DennisOccasions San Diego by Chef Taylor Dennis
Stephanie L.
Food was phenomenal! Chef Vin was very professional and punctual. Thanks for making my event extraordinary memorable.
Faith N Love Catering and eventsFaith N Love Catering and events
Leann L.
Working with Chef Logan was a great experience. I will definitely work with him again on my next event!!
The Wandering KnifeThe Wandering Knife
Jeffrey W.
Chef Evan was wonderful. He prepared a fantastic brunch for my group that everyone loved. Definitely recommended!
Whisks & KnivesWhisks & Knives
Brad C.
Chef Valeria cooked a great picnic for me. She did everything I requested. And she was very personable.
Wonder tastingsWonder tastings
Ann B.
Short summary: Chef Eric and his crew created an amazing experience for our 60th birthday party event - I would not hesitate to recommend him unreservedly. More Details: Chef Eric created an exquisite menu based on our requests, and all our guested were totally blown away by the quality of the food and the variety. In addition, Chef Eric arranged a bartender for us as well, and the combo of the five-star food and excellent bar service took our party to epic heights. All our guests are still raving about their experience. In addition, Chef Eric and his team were extremely easy and fun to work with, and couldn’t do enough for us to ensure the success of the event. Five stars!!!
Karen M.
Chef Eric provided an absolutely amazing experience for me and my guests. He prepared a small plate dining option for 15 at a very reasonable price with many interesting and enticing dishes. Loved the menu selections, and the little extra touches that made the evening so special. I would hire Chef Eric again in a heartbeat — he is an excellent chef and so fun to have this option in my own home. I was so busy being the hostess I did not have time to take any photos but will upload some as soon as I get them from my friends. The presentations were beautiful and the quantity of food was right! Thank you Chef Eric B. Can’t wait to have you back!
Nicholas S.
Chef Jason was exactly what we were looking for. He was responsive throughout the booking process, delivered exactly as promised, and was super personable to our group. Great food, easy going, good times and just an all around nice guy providing a nice experience. Highly recommend! Best of luck Chef!
Flavor AffinityFlavor Affinity
Dara A.
Chef Eric put together a last minute holiday drop off catering for my party and it was DELISH!! Highly recommend.
Samantha T.
the food was great! all the courses were spectacular. Chef eric was funny and the food was great! Would highly recommend to friends!
Casey l.
Chef Eric was wonderful! Food was great and he was very responsive and fun to have in our home. We will be using him again!!!
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