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 Francisco chefs
Shea c.
Great chef!
Kraving MelodiesKraving Melodies
Thumbtack Customer
The best chef EVER!
Graham Gathright Private ChefingGraham Gathright Private Chefing
Daniel N.
Chef Grace was an amazing chef. She cares a lot about her food and the people that she is cooking for. It was for an anniversary meal and our schedule went awry but Chef Grace was incredibly flexible with our new plans. She cooked an incredibly delicious, healthy, and authentic Asian dinner for us. We'll absolutely be working with Chef Grace again!
Graceful KitchenGraceful Kitchen
Michelle C.
Chef Chet did an excellent job.
Chef Pete ColemanChef Pete Coleman
Michelle C.
Chef Chet did an excellent job!
Celebrations by Chet ChaseCelebrations by Chet Chase
Phillip T.
Chef AJH did an INCREDIBLE job! The food and the experience was simply amazing. I’d highly recommend Chef AJH and will be using him again for a private dining experience.
Albert J. Hernandez The Untamed ChefAlbert J. Hernandez The Untamed Chef
Jon D.
Amazing chef, great communicator, wonderful presentation.
Porras Solutions, LLC.Porras Solutions, LLC.
Thumbtack Customer
Chef Sean did an outstanding job for my dinner party of 22 people. Throughout the planning process, he customized a menu for the type of party and my budget. He was very accommodating with last minute changes. Chef Sean arrived on time and was very professional. He made an outstanding last minute ceviche with the halibut we caught earlier that morning. I would hire Chef Sean for any future events. Great job, Chef!
Personal Chef SeanPersonal Chef Sean
Katie H.
Chef Nick is amazing! When a different chef I had hired cancelled the night before, Chef Nick responded to my panicked message right away and was able to cook a fantastic dinner for our 12 guests. He went above and beyond, making brick chicken, a whole salmon, AND a rack of lamb, plus lots of delicious veggie sides, and homemade chocolate mousse for dessert. And with less than 24 hours notice! Thanks so much for saving the day, Chef Nick!!
Personal Chef Nick RonanPersonal Chef Nick Ronan
Robert D.
Sean was perfect for the small dinner party I hosted with friends and family. He was extremely professional and cooked an absolutely delicious dinner. I strongly recommend Chef Sean for anyone's catering/chef needs
Personal Chef SeanPersonal Chef Sean
Thumbtack Customer
I couldn't be happier with my experience with Alisa! If you are looking for a personal chef / group caterer.. look NO further! She was professional, exceptional and an extraordinary chef. Oh.. and extremely flexible..Love you Alisa!
Passionate PlatesPassionate Plates
Gladys M.
Ana amazing chef with attention to detail and an eye for fine cuisine.
Chef Pete ColemanChef Pete Coleman
Alice Z.
Chef Sat was extremely responsive, reasonably priced and flexible. We even added a guest at the VERY last minute, and he accommodated us with no problem. The food and presentation were incredible. HIGHLY recommend Chef Sat!!
Sat Khalsa, winner of best personal chef of Thu...Sat Khalsa, winner of best personal chef of Thu...
Minna M.
Chef Sacha, was amazing! From start to finish, this is the first time I hired a personal chef for a dinner party at home for my husbands birthday. Quality and good price. Everyone enjoyed and will hire him for future events.
Chef Sacha KupelianChef Sacha Kupelian
Dan R.
Cool chef , delicious food. Easy to work with and adaptable to our needs
Sat Khalsa, winner of best personal chef of Thu...Sat Khalsa, winner of best personal chef of Thu...
Thumbtack Customer
On time, great food and service. Will definitely hire Chef Rocco again!
Chef Rocco CartiaChef Rocco Cartia
Thumbtack Customer
Great Chef, listened to what we wanted and delivered something memorable!
Chef Rocco CartiaChef Rocco Cartia
Thumbtack Customer
Benjamin catered a fantastic selection of delicious healthy items at our holiday party. He timed the food perfectly and made sure the party flowed. He is delightful and a gifted chef. He will be our go to chef for all events!
Benjamin Sawicki Natural FoodsBenjamin Sawicki Natural Foods
Stella V.
I invited chef Sean for my son’s birthday as a surprise birthday gift. He exeded my expectations. Delicious dinner, great presentation. Thank you Chef Sean! My kids already want you back
Personal Chef SeanPersonal Chef Sean
Lakshmi V.
Wanted to surprise my fiance with a private chef for our anniversary. Chef Deniz did a wonderful job working with me to create a menu, brought all the ingredients and tools, cooked and cleaned as well. Great experience and highly recommend to others!!
Chef DenizChef Deniz
Matilda C.
The dinner was absolutely amazing! Very authentic and Chef Deniz was super professional and knowledgable.
Chef DenizChef Deniz
Georgia J.
Where do I start! We hired Chef Albert for a private dining experience, new year's eve, for a group of 4 couples, and boy did we get an experience. Every course felt like it was being served in a 3 star michelin restaurant. From the flavors, textures, smells, and presentation, each course felt unique and personal to Chef Albert. About half way through, Chef Albert called us into the kitchen for a live teaching session on how to make hand-made, house-pulled pappardelle pasta. We are still talking about how amazing the dish ended up tasting! Chef Albert and his Sous Chef were professional, personable, and downright fun. I highly recommend finding a reason (even if you have to make one up) to hire Chef Albert for you and your friends or family. This review is only a microcosm of what's in store for you, we don't want to spoil the surprises.
Albert J. Hernandez The Untamed ChefAlbert J. Hernandez The Untamed Chef
Alicia L.
Chef Dan cooked a wonderful meal for my husband's birthday party. Would recommend highly.
mise en place - Personal Chefs & Cateringmise en place - Personal Chefs & Catering
Matt B.
Chef Graham is amazing to work with - he's an outstanding chef and an equally awesome human being. Such a joy to work with - and the food that he creates is inspired and delicious. Would absolutely hire him again, and am already looking forward to the next chance I have to work with him!
Graham Gathright Private ChefingGraham Gathright Private Chefing
Sharon R.
Chef Pete was key to a wonderful evening shared with friends. His professionalism and culinary skills are to be commended!
Chef Pete ColemanChef Pete Coleman
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