This is the final post in a series exploring common catering misconceptions written in conjunction with Auriana Albree, Vibrant Table event coordinator extraordinaire. Read more of this discussion on our posts about budget-related misconceptions and food and beverage misconceptions.
To close our series on catering myths, VIbrant Table explores why you should ask about staffing when shopping for a caterer, the role of your caterer’s event coordinator, and the different types of day-of lead staff. We hope you’ve enjoyed our Catering Misconceptions series and invite you to add your own experiences, questions. and advice in the comments below.
* * *
“Staffing isn’t a factor I should consider when shopping for a caterer.”
Service is a central element of any event experience. The number and quality of event staff are instrumental in keeping guests happy and your event running smoothly. Glasses are filled, food is delivered quickly, and transitions are seamless – allowing your guests to focus on enjoying the moment. This is particularly important for non-profit events; happy guests are more generous contributors and they’re more likely to attend your next event.
However, labor also composes a significant portion of your catering bill, usually somewhere between 30% to 50%. And for caterers trying to meet their clients’ budget needs, staffing may become the sacrificial lamb (and in rare instances it may not even be added into the initial proposal). Labor is often not a stated factor in the bidding process and, when it is, even seasoned event pros may not translate abstract staffing ratios into real time service levels – and it’s too late to change once the event is in process.
So, YES, staffing is certainly something that should be considered when shopping for a caterer. Ask about standard staffing ratios and what level of service can be expected. If the level of service does not meet your expectations, ask them to add more. If trying to meet a budget, clarify what service areas may be flexible and what is not. Confirm that event staff and all other labor are included in your proposal.
“My caterer has an event coordinator. I don’t need a wedding or event planner, too.”
Your caterer’s coordinator will help you with many of the details that a wedding/event coordinator will oversee. However, the caterer is primarily focused on areas surrounding the reception and food service. Vibrant Table offers extensive planning services, but we do not help manage RSVPs, put together your seating chart, scour markets for cute thank-you gifts, keep track of who walks down the aisle when, look for your next speaker, or tell the band they’re on in five. These sorts of details are essential to a smooth event. If you prefer to be part of the audience rather than conductor, we highly encourage contracting a professional planner.
“All caterers have an on-site manager.”
Vibrant Table provides an on-site event manager that is there from beginning to end. Essentially accountable for the day-of action, your Event Manager starts working with your coordinator weeks before your event to assure a smooth transition between planning and implementation. Event managers help manage equipment ordering, pack-out, your vendors’ arrival and departure, set-up, clean-up, and a whole lot more. However, some caterers lead staff is a service captain or head server. Lead servers are far less involved than an on-site manager. They don’t attend walk-throughs, keep track of time lines, or coordinate with the venue and vendors. They focus entirely on food service. Ask your caterer who will be in charge of running your event and exactly what their responsibilities are.
“My caterer’s owner/coordinator will be there during my event.”
Maybe, but not necessarily. If your caterer is associated with a popular restaurant, the owner may not be available to be at your wedding on a busy Saturday night. Smaller off-site caterers (and florists) do not have the resources to handle multiple same-day events, so they take one event per day and that’s it. Other caterers, like Vibrant Table, serve multiple events per day, especially during peak season. Our coordinators do their best to check in at all their events, but it may not be possible. They may have one wedding in Salem and another in Hood River at the same time – not to mention meeting with new clients, attending tastings and walkthroughs, and maintaining a healthy family and personal life. (Hence, our on-site event managers.)
No matter who’s overseeing your event, it is extremely important to carefully review your contract. Are all agreements and expectations clearly reflected?
“Our event has a room flip (changing a room’s arrangement). Our volunteers or guests can help reset the room to save on service costs.”
Imagine a busy ant colony with one focus. Now imagine teaching your new puppy in the middle of a dog park. Your catering staff are professionals. They have the training and experience to convert a space in a short amount of time without forgetting the details. Your guests and volunteers, albeit eager to help, do not. Trust us.
My caterer promised me something, but I don’t see it in my contract. I really trust my catering representative, so I don’t need to ask them again.
Your contract should explicitly reflect all services and expectations, so don’t be afraid to ask your representative to include any verbal agreements in writing. Your contract is the go-to for you, catering management, and event staff. It helps ensure everyone is on the same page and no details are overlooked.
* * *
Tell Us What You Think
Has staffing ever made or broken an event that you attended? Have a question missed by our Catering Misconceptions series? Tell us all about it in the comments below!
As always, we extend a grand thank you to the photographers who generously allow us to use their photos.
- Evrim Icoz Photography (smiling server, Samantha Swaim and Meg, Chris Barrie)
- Dodge & Burn Studios (header image, bartender, guests with chicken skewers)