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 Woodley Park food service professionals
Natasha B.
This is RIGHT place when you need any type of food truck services. I reached out to Goodfynd for a Mexican Food Truck for a special event and within 24 hours, I was all set. The staff was great and the food was terrific. Everyone enjoyed it. I will continue to reach out too Goodfynd for all my food truck services events.
Thumbtack Customer
Excellent food and service!!!! I would call on Paul again!
Chef Paul KennedyChef Paul Kennedy
Mashea A.
Food was excellent. Service was very professional. We will definitely use them again.
MJE CateringMJE Catering
Syritha R.
Great service and setup for a birthday brunch! The food was great! Compliments to an amazing chef.
The Exotic Chef (Personal Chef &Catering Services)The Exotic Chef (Personal Chef &Catering Services)
Victoria M.
Up to now, the service has been wonderful. I am looking forward to tasting the food
Potomac Hospitality Group & CateringPotomac Hospitality Group & Catering
Thumbtack Customer
Professional. Great food. Aforadable prices. Awesome service. Cleaned kitchen when finished. Would recommend.
Pure Kitchen Culinary ConceptPure Kitchen Culinary Concept
Thumbtack Customer
Top of the City Catering did an amazing job catering my July wedding. They were punctual, friendly and had amazing food. As I walked around to greet guests, everyone continuously talked about how much they loved the food and how amazing the service was. I would recommended them to anyone who was looking for amazing service, great food and affordability. Thanks again to the team of Top of the Town, you guys made my wedding a huge success. P.S. the table decorations and décor were just as elegant and beautiful as the service!
Top of the City CateringTop of the City Catering
Thumbtack Customer
The service was outstanding. She was very nice, polite and professional. She even bought is a little treat. The only thing that i would change would be that my food was warm and I am a stickler for my food being hot.Other than that the experience was nice.
Whip It UP Vicki LLCWhip It UP Vicki LLC
Caitlin K.
Brendon and his team were amazing! The food was excellent, service impeccable, and everything went off without a hitch. Thanks for everything!!
Liliahna Luxury CateringLiliahna Luxury Catering
Katelyn D.
Esther was extremely professional, her food was amazing, and she and her daughter were lovely! My guests enjoyed her plated service and we will 100% use her services again in the future!
Epicurean Nutrition CateringEpicurean Nutrition Catering
Dirah C.
He was awesome ! Great food . I would highly recommend! Thank you so much chef , me and my friends appreciate you and the quality of the service
A Family Affair Catering LLPA Family Affair Catering LLP
Michelle T.
Top of the City Catering offers incredible food paired with first class service. Maribel, the owner and her most professional staff did an amazing job at a military retirement party where the guests are still raving about the food and service. She is our go to caterer for all our events going forward. St. Jane de Chantal in Bethesda would give her six stars if we could.
Top of the City CateringTop of the City Catering
Carol A.
Chef Serge's service and professionalism was exceptional. The food was outstanding and freshly cooked. If looking for a chef to handle your event, I would highly recommend him. I am planning an event in June and will definitely be using his service.
Pure Kitchen Culinary ConceptPure Kitchen Culinary Concept
Thumbtack Customer
We had a wonderful experience from the friendly, professional service to the delicious food. I would recommend them to cater any event and definitely plan to use them in the future!
Potomac Hospitality Group & CateringPotomac Hospitality Group & Catering
Cyeida S.
Omg!!!! The food and Service was Awesome. Jennifer is the Bomb 💣. She arrived early and got straight to work. The food was delicious. She was the highlight of my Sister surprised birthday dinner. She made us baked chicken stuffed salmon with crabmeat rice and collard greens....Mmmmm Delish. I would recommend and definitely Use her whenever your in the DC area.
My Special Touch Catering LLC.My Special Touch Catering LLC.
Thumbtack Customer
Chef Myles provided outstanding service and tasty food for s family event. Chef was easy to work with and responded quickly to our questions and suggestions. He provided a tasty, eclectic menu that was interesting and filling.
Chefs 2 Go Catering and EventsChefs 2 Go Catering and Events
Melanie M.
Chef Niki catered my promotion dinner at my firehouse. I appreciated how I was able to view and sign the contract online and pay through a cash app. However, I was surprised to pay in full prior to delivery of service but I admit to being naive about the process of catering an event. Nikki was fair in price. The amount of food was very generous. The food was delish and the guys are still talking about how tasty it was. I only gave four and not five stars due to the late arrival of food. (40mins after agreed time.) Overall, I would recommend Chef Nikki to cater future events.
Chef Nikki S.Chef Nikki S.
Francisco P.
I used them for lunch and dinner on Memorial Day for our employees working, the food taste great and service was amazing. I truly appreciate their response and understanding exactly what we needed. Thank you Maribel and team.
Top of the City CateringTop of the City Catering
Francina G.
We booked Charisma the same day and she we able to provide exceptional service, exceptional food. She was like a member of the family. She cooked gracefully, and cleaned up as if she never cooked. It was perfect!! Will book Charisma again and recommend to my family and friends.
Have Some Charisma LLCHave Some Charisma LLC
Igor Z.
Excellent! Serge did an excellent work and made our night very special. My wife and I enjoyed the great quality of Serge’s food and service, and also his conversation. I really recommend him to people who want to have a professional chef at home.
Pure Kitchen Culinary ConceptPure Kitchen Culinary Concept
Carrie A.
Chef Nikki's quality and food selections are outstanding. The shrimp and grits were the absolute best! People were raving about the Caribbean cabbage dish. She and her team arrived on time, well before the beginning of my event and their service was professional. We really enjoyed ourselves!
Chef Nikki S.Chef Nikki S.
Traivr A.
Chef G did an amazing job I’m forever grateful she even went as far as setting up decorations for our special night I will forever be grateful for her services. The food was delicious and of high quality. Thank you so much for making our anniversary special.
Chef G's TableChef G's Table
Diane B.
Daryl and his partner did a small birthday party for our family. The food was exceptional and the service was impeccable. Daryl provided appetizers, salad, two dinner choices and the most amazing individual apple pies. He prepared everything on site and left the kitchen very clean when he was done. This a great service in the time of COVID. We were able to celebrate at home and avoid restaurants.
A Family Affair Catering LLPA Family Affair Catering LLP
Jasmine J.
My experience with Word of Mouth Grilling x Catering, LLC was phenomenal. The food was absolutely amazing! Mr. Chavis had outstanding customer service. Every time I had a question, he responded immediately. Overall, he did a great job. And, I will recommend him over and over again!
Word Of Mouth Grilling X Catering LLCWord Of Mouth Grilling X Catering LLC
Shawnetta’s R.
BTW Georgetown was very responsive to my questions and errors that was made. The Food was okay but not for the price, maybe because it was Valentine’s weekend. I did not like that her driver left it at front desk and not in our hand due to the amount we paid for a 4 course meal. We We will use her service again, though. Thank you!
BTW GeorgetownBTW Georgetown
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