This is the first of a three-part series exploring common catering misconceptions written in conjunction with Auriana Albree, Vibrant Table event coordinator extraordinaire. Part two highlights Food & Beverage Myths and part three looks at Staffing Myths.
Are you planning your wedding? Or your first holiday party for your new company? Even if you are an old hat at event planning, we should all beware for the following common misconceptions. Arming yourself with knowledge will help turn what can be a stressful and daunting task into the fun and creative challenge it should be!
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“My catering should cost the same or even less than a restaurant.”
Albeit restaurants and caterers are both serving food, their business models are completely different. Restaurants are location-based retail operations. Their ambiance, equipment needs, menu and staffing are preset and limited by the seating capacity of their establishment. Plus, because the same menu is served over several days, restaurants can also lower food costs by ordering for extended periods of time.
Caterers, on the other hand, plan menus uniquely for each event. Products for one event may not be the same for an event happening the next day. Orders often need to be made weeks in advance to ensure they have all the necessary products and quantities (which is why your caterer asks for a final guest count 1 to 2 weeks before your event.)
Caterers are also mobile, creating that restaurant feel wherever they go. They can provide tables, chairs, decor, even complete mobile kitchens (!) – often working within stringent time limits and difficult space arrangements. And whether the event is for 25 or 2500, the food has to be fresh and amazing. Add in load-in, breakdown, and travel time, not to mention, the one-on-one planning that goes into an event! Planning usually begins a year out from the event date, with countless meetings, phone calls, emails, walk throughs, and consultations. As you can imagine, it requires an army of trained, knowledgeable, flexible, and professional staff to manage and create a successful event!
Like a restaurant, caterers also have fixed costs: their office space, warehouse, fleet of vehicles, office computers, and a team of non-event staff to ensure things run smoothly behind the scenes.
Watch to see how a venue might be transformed for an event. This classic Grecian ballroom becomes almost post-apocalyptic via lighting, drapery, and custom decor.
“My caterer has an event planner. I don’t need a wedding planner too.”
Yes, your caterer’s planner may assist with some of the details a wedding planner would help you with (i.e. choosing linens, creating a floor plan, etc.), but they are primarily focused on your event reception. Wedding planners provide services that extend well beyond your caterer’s realm. Their insight, professional knowledge, and creativity are invaluable. Plus, wedding planners have developed relationships with vendors, and can often save you money in the long run.
In the end, hiring a wedding planner is a personal choice, but Vibrant Table cannot say enough to support the amazing planners available throughout the Northwest region.
“Caterers nickel and dime you for every little thing.”
Every caterer presents their pricing differently, but one thing is certain, whether you see one per-person price or the related charge for each individual service, you pay for what you get. There are advantages to both proposal methods. At Vibrant Table, we prefer to provide a clear understanding of the services provided during the event. This establishes common expectations and makes it easier to negotiate services to meet your budget.
“It’s less expensive to have an event at a hotel than an event venue.”
Hotels frequently “waive” rental of their on-site ballroom with minimum food and beverage purchases, but they often require rentals of a set number of hotel rooms, making up for income lost from the waived ballroom rental. Auriana Albree, who has experience as a hotel event planner, says that once the costs for the hotel rooms are factored in, the end cost can be the same, if not more, as an off-site venue with third-party caterer.
“Caterers often lie about the price to get your business.”
Service charges and venue fees (the common and oft-not-discussed practice of charging caterers to do business at their venue) can sometimes add upward of 30% onto your total bill. Service charges, gratuity, and outside fees are handled differently by each caterer. Some caterers prefer to leave these variables off their initial proposals and then add them to the invoice later. Other caterers will line item the charges separately and yet others have folded any fees and charges into their standard pricing. If the numbers for one caterer grossly undercuts their competition, these extra charges may not have been included in the initial proposal. To compare apples to apples when vetting your caterer, confirm with any prospective caterers that your proposal specifically includes all known service charges, gratuity, and outside fees.
“Catering is a Racket.”
Like every business, your caterer expects to make a profit. Believe it or not, though, the average pre-tax net profit for a catering company is 10% (Carl Sacks, Catersource Consulting).
“Cake cutting and serving costs extra.”
Every catering company is different, and this is an important question to ask when interviewing your caterer. At Vibrant Table, there is no additional charge for cake cutting when purchasing one of our event packages. There may, however, be some charges for any extra china and flatware required.
At Vibrant Table, we believe that surprises should be pleasant and reserved for your guests. We include all expected charges on our proposals and contracts so you can make informed, intelligent decisions about your event.
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In Your Words
Have you purchased catering? What services did your caterer provide? Do you feel they were worth it? Are you a caterer? Did we miss any misconceptions about catering and costs? Add your thoughts in the comments section below!
We are grateful to the talented photographers that share their work with us. They make us look pretty, don’t they? These photographers have images featured in this blog:
Evrim Icoz (header image), Julie Randall (mobile kitchen), Dodge + Burn (server in tent), David Barss (festive fare)
You might also like
- Be a smart shopper: What to ask your caterer
- Watch videos of more Vibrant Table venue transformations
- Learn about some of the wonderful vendors we’ve worked with