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 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.

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 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.

Reviews for Ashburn caterers
Ann P.
I knew from the first conversation that this was a caterer who understood my expectations and would be very easy to work with. His professional background was also important.
Clever CocktailsClever Cocktails
Typhani A.
Chef Rashaad was nothing short of amazing! From his professionalism with handling my call, to being accommodating to a time change; on top of that the food tasted sooo good! We finished everything! I will definitely be calling him again for future catering services.
Grind Time Eats LLCGrind Time Eats LLC
Val T.
I cannot say enough good things about The Exotic Chef and Chrissy! I hired this Gem to prepare dinner for my family reunion. We had oxtails, fried lobster and crab cakes….can I just brag for a moment?? When I tell you the food was amazing!!!! We ate EVERYTHING!!!! The caterer was professional throughout the process and I will be using them again! Thank you’
The Exotic Chef (Personal Chef &Catering Services)The Exotic Chef (Personal Chef &Catering Services)
Sree M.
A&D catering were absolutely amazing! They were really responsive right from the time we connected. They were quick to send the menu, negotiate a reasonable price and were on top of coordinating the event. They showed up on time fully prepared. They set the table with amazing decoration, were completely involved in the serving and taking care of my guests. The food was equally amazing! High quality, tasteful and made by a professional chef. Like Alejandro said, they want their customers to have a great experience not just good food. I would love to hire A&A for my future parties! Thank you A&A for an amazing event!
A&A Catering DMVA&A Catering DMV
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Everything you need to know about catering services.

Caterers can prepare and serve food for hundreds of people at an event. They can also prepare a meal for an intimate dinner party at home. While caterers have differing specialties, finding the right one is as simple as narrowing in on one company that meets your needs.

Common catering services.

Here are some common offerings from catering services:

  • Stations: Food grouped and staged in different areas around the venue.
  • Self-serve buffets: Guests line up and fill their plates.
  • Portioned buffets: Guests line up and take pre-made containers from a buffet.
  • Plated: Each guest is served an individual meal.
  • Family style: Dishes are served around the table.
  • Butler passing: Waitstaff serves hors d' oeuvres and beverages on trays. 

The different types of caterers.

When hiring a caterer it helps to consider the different types, such as:

  • Wedding caterers
  • Corporate event caterers
  • Social event caterers
  • Concession caterers
  • Food truck caterers
  • Restaurant caterers
  • Office delivery caterers
  • Buffet caterers
  • Sit-down caterers 

Some caterers may also specialize in specific types of food and cuisine, such as:

  • American (sliders, BBQ, hot dogs)
  • Desserts and pastries (cupcakes, doughnuts, cookies)
  • Italian (pizza, pasta, grilled chicken)
  • Japanese (sushi, noodles, rice bowls)
  • Mediterranean (wraps, salads, kabobs) 
  • Mexican (tacos, burritos, enchiladas)
  • Lunch favorites (sandwiches, soups, salads)
  • Seafood (lobster rolls, grilled fish, scallops)
  • Southern (fried chicken, hush puppies, mac n’ cheese)

Some catering companies may also offer vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and organic food options. As you narrow your choices, focus on the type of food that will please the majority of your guests. 

When to hire a caterer.

Even the most talented cooks occasionally hire a caterer. Whether you spend time in the kitchen for fun or want to avoid cooking altogether, a catering service can help you check shopping, cooking, serving and cleanup off your to-do list. If there will be more people at your event than you can accommodate at a small dinner party, you may benefit from hiring a caterer. 

If you find yourself sinking under the weight of planning an upcoming event (wedding, anniversary party, family reunion, fundraising event, gala, etc.), hiring a catering service can help ease your burden. Hiring a caterer near you is a smart move when you don't want to be burdened with cooking. After all, there’s a lot that goes into planning an event. 

Questions to ask catering services.

Here are a few questions to help you choose the best catering service near you:

  • Are you insured, bonded and licensed?
  • Have you catered at this venue in the past?
  • How much time will you need to set up and clean up?
  • What equipment will we provide, and what will you bring with you?
  • Do you allow custom menus?
  • Which of your dishes are the most popular?
  • Do you charge per person or by bulk item?
  • Will you prepare food on-site, or will you bring it in from your commercial kitchen?
  • Where do you source your ingredients?
  • How will you handle leftovers?
  • Do you provide food service as well as food preparation?
  • Can you accommodate food allergies?
  • Have you catered events like this in the past?
  • Can you provide references from past customers?

How to choose the best catering company near you.

Before you start vetting a catering service, make a list of must-haves for your event. Talk through your lists with catering services to make sure they can meet your needs. Read the company’s reviews and ratings, and look at photos of events they’ve catered in the past. Ultimately, pick a caterer with a great reputation, positive reviews and fair pricing.

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