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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 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 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.

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 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
Debbie H.
I had a small catering event, something most caterers wouldn't be interested in. But Artistic Touch Catering made me feel like an important customer. They were easy to work with, and best of all, the portions of the food were very generous. I can't wait to work with them again!
Artistic Touch Catering LLCArtistic Touch Catering LLC
Thumbtack Customer
He is not catering my event until April, but so far he has been wonderful to work with!
The Perfect SAIZ TacoThe Perfect SAIZ Taco
Thumbtack Customer
We used Giovanni to cater our Mother's Day meal for 14. The meal was delicious and the service outstanding. Thank you.
Scratch Catering LLCScratch Catering LLC
Thumbtack Customer
Scratch Catering was amazing for my son's communion party. The service was great and the food delicious . I will be using them again.
Scratch Catering LLCScratch Catering LLC
Regina K.
Caterer arrived on time, the food was excellent, and they were very responsive to my questions. We had a great party thanks to Artistic Touch!
Artistic Touch Catering LLCArtistic Touch Catering LLC
Terry M.
Unique Luxury Catering assisted us hosting an alumni event for 12 guests at our home Sunday afternoon. The menu items were perfect for the occasion, the food exceptional and the service provided by Chef Steve, planner Carol Ann, server Mariann and bartender Tara was fabulous. This was our first experience with Unique Luxury Catering - certainly NOT our last! Terry & Debbie M.
Unique Luxury Catering and Event PlanningUnique Luxury Catering and Event Planning
Marc M.
Unique Luxury Catering is easy to work with and handled every detail to perfection! The food was world class in flavor to presentation. Chef Steve is a master as a chef and in professionalism.
Unique Luxury Catering and Event PlanningUnique Luxury Catering and Event Planning
Thumbtack Customer
We had a lovely Christmas Party catered by Unique Luxury Catering. Chef Steve helped me pick out the perfect menu for our venue. Carol Ann coordinated everything: chairs, tables, linens, food, ice. Everything was included which made my job easier. Chef Alice prepared items which satisfied us all, including those that were vegetarians. The service was incredible. They were friendly and took care of all of our needs. Great job! Rose
Unique Luxury Catering and Event PlanningUnique Luxury Catering and Event Planning
Thumbtack Customer
This was the first time I used a catering company. It was wonderful having everything prepared and served so I could enjoy the party! Our server was excellent, the food was very good and everything was washed and cleaned up afterwards. Awesome!
Unique Luxury Catering and Event PlanningUnique Luxury Catering and Event Planning
Thumbtack Customer
We had 22 guests for a sit down dinner on the patio and Unique Luxury Catering did a phenomenal job. The appetizers were a huge hit! Not only was the food amazing but even on a chilly night the beef tenderloin, gruyère cheese potatoes and green beans were served on warmed plates ensuring our guests had a delicious meal experience. Chef Ezra and Mary Ann did such a great job and their attention to detail resulted in the perfect event. Crystal tended bar and made sure all our guests had what they needed. I highly recommend Unique Luxury Catering!
Unique Luxury Catering and Event PlanningUnique Luxury Catering and Event Planning
Thumbtack Customer
Inaie and her team catered our toddler's birthday party. They helped us coordinate everything from out of town, were excited about the theme, and were enthusiastic enough to incorporate it into the meal, and the best part: the food tasted great! Thanks for making this such an affordable and pleasant experience!
Corporate CaterersCorporate Caterers
Thumbtack Customer
Amazing! Chef Jim catered two of our company's office grand openings and served a variety of wonderful appetizers and desserts for 100 people. He is so great to work with and really pays attention to every detail. From start to finish - Everything was awesome. We will absolutely be hiring him again for our future events!
Cuisine Du ChefCuisine Du Chef
Thumbtack Customer
Amazing food and service! I hired Scratch Catering for my husband's 40th birthday and couldn't be happier with the choice I made. Chef Giovanni was a pleasure to work with - very responsive to all my questions and created a menu to match the party theme (casino). His team arrived on time, were extremely professional and friendly, and our guests RAVED about the food. I will absolutely hire SC for future events!
Scratch Catering LLCScratch Catering LLC
Thumbtack Customer
I hired Jim Lawson to cater a birthday party for 65 people....I was thrilled with what he did and so were my guests...He prepares a very creative menu, works with your budget, and certainly went beyond what I asked of him..Everyone loved him, in fact, a friend hired him for a small, intimate private party....I will hire him for every party that I do in the future including smaller holiday meals...I am thrilled that I found him on thumbtack.....
Cuisine Du ChefCuisine Du Chef
Clarissa C.
Chef Michael and his team of professionals catered a special corporate dinner for me in my home -- that required significant customization and special instructions. From the planning of the menu to the preparation of the meal to the clean up after the dinner, they provided flawless execution, and I was able to enjoy every minute of my event! This team is perfect for anyone who is a foodie when it comes to quality of the food, cares about meticulous attention to detail in the presentation, and demands the highest levels of professional execution -- all from a group of individuals that could not have been more friendly and personable. I would not hesitate to recommend them for the most formal of events to the most intimate of settings in your home. Thank you Chef Michael & April -- you rocked it!
Artistic Touch Catering LLCArtistic Touch Catering LLC
Thumbtack Customer
I reached out to Jim to cater a professional luncheon for a group of physicians last Friday. Jim provided us with great menu options, and was flexible with some changes that were requested. The food was absolutely fantastic! Everything including the desserts was individually plated for the participants, however he also offered a buffet style if we preferred it. He was prompt, professional, and gave us an incredibly affordable rate for the quality and service of the food. When we asked if he could provide coffee, he showed up early with 4 Starbucks coffee travelers and homemade cinnamon muffins and really went above and beyond. We are now using him for another company lunch tomorrow and will continue to utilize his services. Thank you again Jim!
Cuisine Du ChefCuisine Du Chef
Thumbtack Customer
Jim Lawson was hired to cater our housewarming party held on September 27, 2014. He met with me at my home about a month and half before the party and we discussed the menu, where to set up the buffet and other details. On the day of the party, Jim and his assistant arrived on time with all the party ware, equipment, food, etc. They went to work and had food ready when the guests arrived. Throughout the evening they continued to restock the buffet table with hot, freshly prepared items so that there was always a variety of items for our guests to enjoy. Everything was delicious and we received rave reviews from our guests. The entire evening was a success. Jim and his assistant cleaned everything up at the end of the party, leaving our kitchen spotless. We will definitely hire him again for future parties, dinners, etc.
Cuisine Du ChefCuisine Du Chef
Thumbtack Customer
If we had more than five stars, we would give Giovanni at least ten. For our small backyard wedding it was difficult to find a caterer who was willing to put good effort into his food. Giovanni's approach is refreshingly different. He created a menu for us that was outstanding in quality taste. He puts not only time and effort into the planning, he also assisted us in finding the right choices. In addition, he was very flexible with chances and special requests, for example vegetarian options. His service also included servers who did an absolutely phenomenal job throughout the entire event. All our guests agreed that this was the best menu that they had ever had. Our wedding was perfect and Giovanni and his team contributed a lot to this beautiful event. We can highly recommend his service and wish him all the best and lots of success. Thank you so much, Giovanni!
Scratch Catering LLCScratch Catering LLC
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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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