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 Charleston chefs
Melissa M.
Chef Laurie was incredible. She took the time to get to know me and my groups needs and designed a menu that impressed everyone. From the cooking to the seamless service, Chef Laurie was flawless. I would highly recommend this incredibly talented chef.
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Lee T.
My dad and I hired Chef Jay to cook brunch for our wives on Mother’s Day. Chef Jay was fantastic to work with. She was professional, friendly, tidy, and best of all a stellar cook! I would definitely work with her again. Hanks Chef Jay!
Chef Jay AmberChef Jay Amber
David K.
Chef Laurie made a celebratory night for 10 even more special. Collaborating on the menu was easy and the meal was spectacular. We loved that Chef used local ingredients where possible and some came from her own garden. Couldn’t have asked for a better experience with a chef whose background and professionalism produced an outstanding night.
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Craig L.
Chef Jay was awesome. We had a house full of people and everyone enjoyed the meal. She was a great chef, on time, stayed even longer than expected and delivered on quality. I would highly recommend.
Chef Jay AmberChef Jay Amber
Lauren F.
GREAT EXPERIENCE. DELICIOUS FOOD. Chef Cesar prepared a picnic lunch and dinner for a bachelorette weekend in Charleston. He is extremely professional, responsive and punctual. Overall he is absolutely wonderful to work with and our meals were delicious. Thank you Chef!
Your Personal ChefYour Personal Chef
Emilie J.
Chef Jacque was the easiest to work with. You can tell she takes great pride in providing truly, one-of-a-kind cooking experience for every occasion. Eight of us girls flew into Charleston for a bachelorette weekend. The majority of the group weren’t able to land until later in the evening so what better way to settle into the weekend than with a private chef to cook in the comfort of your own home (or Airbnb or VRBO). Chef Jacque curated the menu to the bachelorette’s most favorite foods. The food was fresh, rich in flavor with great presentation. Do yourself a favor and hire Chef Jacque! Let her culinary expertise help you make a great time into the perfect time. Thank you, Chef Jacque! Can’t wait to get you to Texas soon!
Private Chef Jacqueline DavisPrivate Chef Jacqueline Davis
Sally b.
Chef Laurie and Rob were great. From the get go she was very responsive and professional. Highly, highly recommended!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Melanie N.
Renee and her assistant were extremely fun to have as our personal chef for the night. They prepared the food on time and it was great!
Dinner2Go Personal Chef Service, LLCDinner2Go Personal Chef Service, LLC
Keryn K.
Chef Laurie made my trip to Charleston! She was incredibly professional, fun, creative and she cooked an absolutely delicious meal! She was thoughtful in creating the menu and her presentation on the night of our event was world-class! I would highly recommend using Chef Laurie for your next event - it will surely be one to remember! 5 stars!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Colleen A.
Chef Jacqueline made the start to my sister’s bachelorette party a huge success! She was such a pleasure to work with and her food was excellent! She was super responsive and was able to meet all of our needs and dietary restrictions. She was very accommodating and flexible with her schedule, which we truly appreciated with some of our flight delays! I would definitely recommend and work with Chef Jacqueline again!
Private Chef Jacqueline DavisPrivate Chef Jacqueline Davis
Alyson S.
We loved having Jacqueline as a private chef for our 15 person bachelorette party! The food was great, she was so friendly, and was extremely responsive and communicative! Definitely recommend.
Private Chef Jacqueline DavisPrivate Chef Jacqueline Davis
Angela S.
Hiring Chef Frisco was easy to work with. He was very knowledgeable about the different food groups and combinations and guided us in our decision making about our dinner.
Lowcountry Creole Culinaire  Veteran ownedLowcountry Creole Culinaire Veteran owned
Thumbtack Customer
Chef Laurie provided dinner for my sister, her husband, and two friends as my Christmas present. My sister said the food was outstanding, Laurie was very personable, and overall it was a wonderful evening.
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Joely B.
Chef Frisco helped us to create a custom family style menu for our bachelorette "night in" at the house! We loved the food, presentation and the team. We felt taken care of at every turn!
Lowcountry Creole Culinaire  Veteran ownedLowcountry Creole Culinaire Veteran owned
Andrea S.
Chef Jacque was amazing. Very responsive during the planning process and I loved the menu collaboration. Her food was amazing and she left the kitchen spotless. She even brought flowers for our bachelorette! Highly r
Private Chef Jacqueline DavisPrivate Chef Jacqueline Davis
Anne Q.
SO GREAT!!! Chef Laurie customized my birthday dinner menu after asking me about my favorite things. The food was beautiful and completely delicious. She is a dream to work with. Cannot recommend her highly enough.
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Marissa D.
Chef Laurie was SO awesome! She came to our rented house this past weekend to cook appetizers and a low country boil for me and my friends, and it was so delicious! Chef Laurie was also really fun and energetic, and made our experience so memorable. It was also super easy to go over the menu and scheduling with her on the phone, and I could tell she really loves what she does by her excitement. I would highly recommend, and if I lived in Charleston I would 100% hire her for all of my catering needs!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Cathy W.
Chef Laurie prepared the most amazing dinner for five of my Gal Pals during a recent retreat. As a writer by trade, I am honestly at a loss for word to adequately convey how magical she made our evening. Charleston may be a foodie town, but her dinner left every top restaurant in Charleston far behind in her dust. One great added feature is just Chef Laurie. She is warm, knowledgeable, and so approachable. I've had the best, so now I've lost interest in anyone else's food. She ruined me-
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Laima W.
Chef Win catered two meals for us in Charleston at an air bnb we were staying at. It was for a friend's wedding and there were 15 of us. He prepared the welcome meal on Saturday night and brunch on Sunday. We were all blown away. EVERYTHING was so well done, he is such a professional and a pleasure to work with and made it all so easy. I would highly recommend and endorse him. In the words of my friend "the food was so good even my picky daughter ate everything" Well done Chef Win - I was an honor getting to know you.
It's a Win-Win Catering, LLC (Black Owned)It's a Win-Win Catering, LLC (Black Owned)
Samantha C.
Chef Laurie did such a great job! She was very accommodating of our food restrictions and served us an absolutely delicious Mexican meal! I would recommend her to any friends in Charleston. Some of our favorites were the Mexican Street Corn and the CHURROS!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Susan B.
Chef Jacque prepared dinner for us this past Saturday night, and it was a fabulous experience! She traveled quite a distance to cook for the 6 of us on vacation in Charleston, and she was right on time and so prepared. The appetizers of crab cakes and sausage stuffed mushrooms were a delicious representation of low country starters, and paved the way for the fall salad followed by a fantastic entree of stuffed chicken, leek gratin potatoes and haricot verts. And everyone loved the dessert - Jacque’s chocolate bomb with homemade french vanilla ice cream - absolutely delicious! Chef Jacque is a lot of fun, very personable and accommodating to all requests. We had a great evening, and highly recommend Jacque for a unique culinary experience.
Private Chef Jacqueline DavisPrivate Chef Jacqueline Davis
Thumbtack Customer
Chef Laurie is awesome! She's so personable yet professional and takes pride in providing her clients with top notch ingredients. She accommodated my two picky eaters perfectly, which can be a challenge while planning a dinner party. Chef Laurie gave us a southern experience while ensuring our meal was healthier than the norm (without requesting). She even provided cloth napkins and placemats knowing we most likely didn't have these items at a hotel. Her shrimp and grits were outstanding and an amazing first experience for many of us. Clean up was impeccable. We didn't wash one dish or clean up anything out of the ordinary. For the quality of cooking she provides, her prices are unbeatable. She comes highly recommended. Thanks, Laurie!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Thumbtack Customer
I was not prepared to write a review when I received this request, but I know that if I don't do it now, it will probably not happen. It's important for me to acknowledge that Chef Laurie was a true professional and went beyond my expectations. From planning our menu to completion, every detail was handled perfectly. You will not be disappointed, I promise you!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Thumbtack Customer
Chef Laurie! Is simply amazing! I created a menu & she created it better than I could ever imagine! She made the surprise dinner so memorable! I would highly recommend her x10! She's very professional & amazing at what she does ! BOOK HER WITHOUT HESITATION!!! Thank you again Mrs. Laurie!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
Thumbtack Customer
Chef Laurie prepared a brunch for a bachelorette party that I planned in Charleston this past weekend. We were fairly cost conscious so she offered to bring pre-made items to the VRBO and heat everything up and set it up so we could do a buffet. She also set up a bloody mary bar, which was fantastic. The food was delicious and the perfect amount. It was such a fun part of the weekend, and all of the girls were raving about it. Highly recommend!
Chef Laurie LLCChef Laurie LLC
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