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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.

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 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.

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 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 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.
Reviews for Ashburn caterers
Thumbtack Customer
Eton, Inc hired Marcus and his crew for a 3 day catered event. His food was incredible and he clearly spent time preparing a specialized menu for us. He catered to our exact specialized needs. The price was the same price as if we catered it at the hotel, but Marcus's quality and taste of food was so much better.
Catering by MarcusCatering by Marcus
Christy D.
Delicious Food Elegant presentation wonderful team of servers - I entertain frequently and will add this group to the top of my catering list.
Sankofa Catering and Special EventsSankofa Catering and Special Events
David H.
This was my first experience using caterer and I was amazed. Chef Nefi was so responsive and added great ideas to the food items. Everyone raved about the mac and cheese bites! The presentation was great-everything looked fresh and appetizing. People wanted to know who did the catering. I could have used even more cards. Thank you for making my birthday so easy and tasty.
Tasty VibezTasty Vibez
Emily B.
We all loved your food Nikki! One suggestion was to have your business card available at events. Being from out of state and able to find an affordable and delicious cater y'all made my life easy!
Nikki Can CookNikki Can Cook
Kitty B.
Nikki responded quickly to my request for quotes. Nikki was easy to work with from initial request to set up. She arrived right on time and my guests were extremely satisfied with their meals. I highly recommend Nikki for your catering needs.
Nikki Can CookNikki Can Cook
Linda B.
So happy I found Bites by Eydt. Food was definitely a “wow” factor for all guests. Everything was fresh - prepared at the party. All of the staff worked well together and took very good care of our guests. This caterer may be a little more expensive than some but worth every penny.
Bites By Eydt CateringBites By Eydt Catering
Lauren S.
Mike and his team were an absolute pleasure to work with. They made the entire process seamless from start to finish, were very responsive to our questions and requests, and very professional. Their food is outstanding and everyone at our event raved about it! We will definitely be using The Bountiful Basket Catering for our next event!
The Bountiful Basket Catering LLCThe Bountiful Basket Catering LLC
Carrie J.
I had contacted Chef Bree about catering my wedding in October when we thought we were relocating the destination from FL to GA. She was so easy to communicate with and provided sample menus that were exactly what we were looking for. She even tried to assist us with finding a location to host our wedding with contacting the owners of a venue that was just opening to host wedding. We ended up choosing to do our wedding out of state but I was so impressed with Chef Bree/ Good Fork Catering that I felt that I needed to share my sincerest thanks for all she did in a short time and will definitely use her company for any local event we may host in the future. True gem!
Good Fork CateringGood Fork Catering
Mario T.
Ali and her team were exceptional in every aspect of the catering experience for my son's graduation party! The food was delicious! The presentation was beautiful! Our guests were happy and complimented on how delicious the food was and how professional Ali and here team were. This was true 5 star experience for us!! Thank you Ali! Sincerely, Mario
Ali's Personal Chef ServiceAli's Personal Chef Service
Thumbtack Customer
Oyin catered my fiancé and my engagement party of about 80 people. She did a great job and was extremely professional. She had certain dishes that were her "specialties" but then she also incorporated food that we said we wanted to represent our specific backgrounds. She is so sweet and you will absolutely love working with her!
Rayo EventsRayo Events
Don w.
Mike just an outstanding job providing catering services for a 50th birthday event hosted at our home for 50 + guests. He was very detailed, followed up regularly leading up to our event, and arrived promptly at our home the evening of the party. All of the food was delicious and guests commented throughout the evening on the quality of the food. Highly recommended. Don W.
The Bountiful Basket Catering LLCThe Bountiful Basket Catering LLC
Thumbtack Customer
I was hosting a Corporate Holiday Party in-office: Timeliness: The Catered FUNction team showed up between the window they said they would, however they took a very long time to set up (2 hours) which made them thirty minutes late to start the party. They did make up for this by extending their stay at the tail end, but timeliness is important. Food: We had asked for food to cover 160 people and there was not even close to that amount. They clearly stopped at Costco or some other bulk food supply store before hand and didn't cook anything themselves. If I had known that I would've gone out and bought it all myself and saved some money. I would hope that a "catering" company could make their own food. We did have an omelet bar though which was very tasty it just took a really long time to get through the line because there were only two staff members serving. Service: Two of the staff members, the ones making the omelettes, were very nice and helpful. However, there were four other staff members who were sitting down eating the food we paid for and drinking our coffee and soda!! Although our omelet bar was extremely long, they didn't get up and help serve or anything. They were also rude when asked if they had anymore food to replenish what was gone (because we were out) and said "Go ask one of those two" (the two people actually working and already busy). Decor: The decor was simple, but appropriate. Overall, I was not impressed and would not recommend A Catered Function to a friend.
A Catered FunctionA Catered Function
Thumbtack Customer
Daphne Woods and her team from her company called "A Catered Function" produced an exceptional wedding reception for my sister at a local suburban Atlanta church in early January 2015. From the first moment I spoke with Daphne, to our site-meeting at our church's Fellowship Hall, where the reception was held, and throughout the reception itself, Daphne excelled our every expectation. Her ideas for the heavy appetizer menu we desired offered exactly the variety we were hoping for--from savory beef meatballs, to spinach and shrimp dips, to the most delicious chicken salad and pimento cheese finger sandwiches, to juicy pork BBQ sliders. Her ideas for the room decor were amazingly creative and made the reception room so beautiful and inviting. My sister's wedding color scheme was royal blue, and Daphne used that color to light up the reception venue: from the royal blue table runners covering white tablecloths on the rectangular food and beverage tables, to the flower-filled vases tied with royal blue ribbons on each round table where guests were seated, to the blue flowers strewn across the wedding cakes table. Daphne made a wonderful sampling of her appetizers for our family to taste so that we could personally sample her terrifically delicious foods. She was extraordinarily accessible for all my numerous phone calls, texts, and emails during the weeks leading up to my sister's wedding reception. She never tired of answering all my questions--night and day--and was always patient with each challenge that came up in the weeks before the reception. Daphne has a wonderful warmth and enthusiasm she shares with her clients that makes it so pleasant to work with her! She also is one of the most professional, efficient, and caring service providers I have ever worked with. On the day of our reception. Daphne and her team worked for over seven hours, and were just as energetic and good humored during the last hour as when they first arrived. The taste of their food is simply the best catered appetizers I have ever enjoyed, and the beauty of their decor is equally impressive. The compliments to our caterers continued to flow throughout the reception from so many of our guests. I would highly recommend Daphne and her company "A Catered Function" without reservation to anyone planning any event--whether a backyard picnic for twenty to the most formal Opening Night party for hundreds!! Daphne is, simply stated, The Best at what she does--serving the greatest food and making the happiest guests (and clients)!!!
A Catered FunctionA Catered Function
Corinna E.
From the very first contact, I was impressed with Allison. She is personable, friendly, accommodating and professional. Her service was outstanding! She made suggestions for the menu and also accepted my requests. And the food was awesome! Spectacular! Perfect! She was over and above and beyond anything I could have expected. I hope to have the opportunity to use her again. I feel like I made a friend, not just hired a caterer. Thank you Allison. You made a very special event more than I could have hoped for.
Ali's Personal Chef ServiceAli's Personal Chef Service
Thumbtack Customer
The staff of Cooking with a Star was extremely friendly, easy to reach, and helpful in meeting my budget while still making the food special for the event. Cooking with a Star's Caterer's are absolutely amazing. Not only did they help make sure everything was perfect - the food was amazing. The presentation was gorgeous, and the servers were very professional making sure not to let drinks or food pile up on the tables. We've gotten multiple compliments from guests on how great the food was and the dessert pastry table was exactly what I wanted. I would recommend Cooking with a Star to anyone that asks and I will definitely use them again the future.
Cooking with a StarCooking with a Star
Thumbtack Customer
We contacted Tad regarding catering a rehearsal dinner for approximately 75 people. Tad came to our home with several different samples of food for us to taste and select. He was extremely personable and professional. In the end he not only provided the food but he took care of the glassware, plates, utensils, server and bartender. Tad basically provided turnkey services for our event including clean up. The night was a complete success and everyone raved about the food and overall experience. I would highly recommend Tad to anyone planning a large event and recommend that once you decide on the menu choices just leave everything else to Tad. For a worry free experience Tad's Tasty Treats is definitely the way to go.
Tad's Tasty Treats CateringTad's Tasty Treats Catering
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Why you should hire a caterer

When you’re celebrating a wedding or hosting an anniversary party, a great caterer can make your special day even more memorable. A catering company helps you select a menu and decide on serving options for various events, such as a bridal shower, reunion or even prom. Whether you’re catering for 20, 40 or 50 people, hire a pro to take care of your culinary needs. Read reviews, research prices and find some of the best catering services near you on Thumbtack.

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