Throwing a party? Planning a wedding? Catering will likely claim the largest portion of your overall event budget. Choosing the caterer can be a stressful process. How can you be sure you’re making the right decision for you?
Compare Apples to Apples
Every catering company presents their quotes differently. Some will include all expected charges, like gratuity, set-up and breakdown labor; others will leave out these common charges and add them after your event – an unwelcome surprise! Similarly, some caterers package their services and show you one per-person price. Their proposals often leave out the details (how many staff members, how many chairs will be ordered, etc.) but are generally brief and simple to read. Other caterers will line-item all their services.While it may feel a little overwhelming to receive a seven-page proposal, you see exactly what you get.
Not all caterers are created equal – and neither are their quotes. Knowing what services are represented, and then filling in the blanks, will help you choose wisely.
Ask the Right Questions
What are your staffing ratios? How many servers & how many bartenders will be at my event?
A well-staffed event means food comes out of the kitchen quickly, water glasses remain full, and trips to the bar are brief. If these are important to you, find out how many servers and bartenders will be staffed at your event and consider ratios when evaluating the right caterer for you.
VT Policy: Our staffing is flexible based on the individual event needs. As a general rule, we recommend a server for every 20 guests at plated dinners and for every 30-35 guests for buffets.
Will there be an Event Manager on staff?
A clear person in charge will help ensure things run smoothly. Both you and the service staff know where to turn if something unexpectedly arises. Plus, he or she is familiar with the details of your agreement while individual servers may not.
VT Policy: A Vibrant Table Event Manager is there from beginning to end. Your Event Manager works closely with your Coordinator to ensure that all the ‘t’s are crossed and ‘i’s dotted.
Is the food prepared on site?
Where the food is cooked influences food quality. Prepared on site, chicken is more likely to be juicy, vegetables to be crisp. If no on-site kitchen facilities are available, a professional caterer is skilled at creating kitchens in unexpected places, but it will affect your catering costs. Be sure that any fees for the make-shift kitchen is included in the proposal as well.
VT Policy: We prepare as much of our food on site as possible and include any and all kitchen costs in our proposals.
How many hors d’oeuvres are included?
For hors d’oeuvres receptions or cocktail hours, know how many pieces per person will be served. Too few, and guest will be grumpy and hungry. Too many, and you’re paying too much.
VT Policy: For a cocktail hour followed by a dinner, we recommend 2-3 pieces per person. On the other end of the spectrum, expect 14-16 pieces for an hors d’oeuvre supper.
Can I do a tasting? What are the policies?
Tastings allow you to test the product, but they are expensive for the caterer. To offset costs, some caterers may invite you to an event to see their overall quality and professionalism rather than prepare your particular menu in a private-dining experience. Some caterers offer tastings with limitations: a certain day or time, how many items can be tasted, or how many guests can attend. Some may charge for a tasting – which can cost hundreds of dollars – while others may waive fees if you meet an event minimum. And there are caterers that do not offer tastings at all. Don’t be surprised if your caterer wants you to sign with them before they’ll provide a tasting, meaning you may have to rely on other resources to ensure they are all that they claim to be.
VT Policy: We recommend tastings closer to your event date to sample your selected menu and make any adjustments, though we will provide tastings before you have booked with us if requested. Tastings are generally held on Wednesdays between 11 am and 5 pm, and fees are waived if your event total is higher than $8,000. Read more about tastings.
Are all tables draped with linens to the floor?
For a well-dressed look, your linens should reach the floor. To cut costs, some caterers go with shorter linens or do not include overlays.
VT Policy: Vibrant Table uses both overlays and underlays and drapes our tables to the floor.
Is there a food and beverage minimum that must be met?
Especially at hotels and banquet rooms with in-house caterers, events must meet a food and beverage minimum. It’s expensive to create an event, and a food-and-beverage minimum ensures the business a certain profit. Larger groups usually have no problem meeting the minimum, but modest or small parties may find themselves charged entirely too much for their group.
VT Policy: Vibrant Table’s event minimums are a whopping $500! You are charged according to the services provided at your event.
Is there a cake cutting fee?
Even if your caterer doesn’t provide the wedding cake, they usually provide the plates, forks, and staff to both serve and cut the cake. Some caterers will try to recoup these expenses with a cake cutting fee.
VT Policy: There are no charges for the staff required to cut your cake. However, there may be a rental charge for any additional plates and utensils.
Do charges include all set up, break down and clean up?
Who “strikes” the tables and chairs? Who drapes and sets tables? Who hangs decorations and sets centerpieces? Who meets and instructs other vendors? Who will clean after the event? If you expect your caterer to perform these labor-intensive chores, ask that their quote includes the man-hours to do so.
VT Policy: Much of this depends on your venue. During your consultation, we will confirm what services are required by VT staff and include them in your proposal.
Are there any charges that will be added to my invoice post event that are not included on the proposal?
Avoid being sidelined by hidden fees. Common event charges left off proposals are equipment, gratuity, transportation and travel fees. Also, inquire about what happens if your guests stay longer than expected or break a few glasses in their excitement. Unexpected things happen, but at least you’ll be prepared.
VT Policy: Our proposals are thorough and include all expected charges – and they are flexible! Talk to your event coordinator. We want your business and will modify our services as best we can to meet your budget. Though we recommend all changes be finalized 14 days before your event to ensure proper time to order equipment and prepare, we will make revisions up to the day of if logistically possible. (Keep in mind that making last-minute changes may incur late fees and extra labor charges, so we highly encourage your event plan be finalized 14 days out.)