Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wedding Wednesday: The fooooooood!

Okay so if you know anything at all about me, you probably know that I love to eat. Food is one of my favorite things. And Matt is right there with me on the whole "great food is the best thing ever" thing. So when it came to selecting a caterer, we were torn between getting the absolute best-tasting food we could find and...well, being able to feed 250ish people. Much like with the venue search, our food budget knocked a lot of caterer options out of the running for us. I would have loved to hire one of the city's top-name wedding caterers to serve our guests (Cameron Mitchell, I'm looking at you), but we simply can't afford $75 or even $50 a head, plus all the linen fees and transportation fees and gratuities and venue fees and whatnot. So I started researching.

I started to see why people hire wedding coordinators. Researching vendors, especially caterers, is incredibly time consuming. And if you're really budget-conscious like us, you have to make sure that you're doing apples-to-apples comparisons of the caterers. So one caterer might seem like a great deal at, for example, $20 a head. They have great reviews! The food is awesome! You think you've found the one! But then you realize that the $20 cost doesn't include the tablecloths, or your venue's 18% caterer fee, or the taxes, or whatever. And suddenly you realize the all-inclusive $30 a head cost might be a better deal.

There was also the question of buffet vs. plated meals. Logic would say that the buffet is cheaper, and a lot of wedding magazines will tell you the same. But a few vendors I found actually charged more for their buffet meals, on the pretense that portion control was harder to manage. Which makes sense, I suppose. So I had to consider that in all my comparisons as well.

I'm not gonna lie, it was overwhelming. To help me sort through all this, I did what we Type-A folks always do: I made a spreadsheet. Here's a sample image, with sample costs filled in. I'd like to stress again, this is not our actual budget or what we're actually paying. I have family and friends who sometimes glance over the blog, and I don't want to be so tacky as to reveal our cost details :)

sample caterer spreadsheet

(If you can't read that, just click the picture and it'll take you to the full-size version on Flickr in a new tab.)

So in the above example, you can see that Caterer 2 actually offers a better price for a plated dinner...but Caterer 1's all-inclusive price beats everything. That's a hugely oversimplified version of what happened for us. Fortunately, the all-inclusive caterer had great food and really positive online reviews, so the decision was pretty much made for us. (For any Columbus-ites who are wondering, it's Boardwalk Catering. Try the brie-and-apple-stuffed chicken because it is PHENOM.)

Now, I want to talk about fees a little bit. In the above example, you'll see I had lines for tax, gratuity, a service fee, a facility fee and a delivery fee. Most caterers I researched broke these down separately, though a few charge one slightly higher gratuity/service fee of 20 o 25% instead of the lower-percentage split examples you see above. So. Here's what each of those means. (Disclaimer: All of this information is based on my personal experience in planning our wedding, and to a lesser extent, info I've picked up while working for the bridal magazine and my experience as a catering waitstaff person in college. Please don't be mad if you learn something that differs from the following information, but feel free to send corrections as needed to verbal.melange {at} gmail {dot} com. Thanks!)

Tax. This one's pretty obvious, but one thing to keep in mind when making your budget and comparisons is that tax is sometimes only rendered on the food portion of the cost. This varies from state to state and possibly even from one company to another, depending on how they charge their other fees, so make sure you ask if you're not sure. In my examples, I only calculated tax on the food subtotal.

Gratuity and service fees. This is where things can get hairy. Generally speaking, if a caterer splits these two categories, you can probably assume that the gratuity (or at least some of it) goes directly to your waitstaff. But always ask to be sure! Service fees typically cover the cost of staff's hourly pay, among other things. Gratuity and service fees both typically fall in the 15 to 18% range. When they're lumped together, they're typically in the 18 to 25% range. The percentage might be calculated only on the food subtotal, or it could be calculated on the full subtotal (which includes linens, cake cutting, waitstaff cost, etc.)

Now, here's the tricky part: When these two fees are grouped together, you can usually assume that the waitstaff will not see any of the so-called "gratuity." The house tends to keep it all. That being said, most catering waitstaff are paid at least standard minimum wage or more, as opposed to the stupidly low "servers" minimum wage. So if they don't get a cut of the gratuity fee, they're at least making the minimum wage in your state. For Matt and I, we want to make sure our waitstaff get a tip, either through a cut of the caterer's fees or from us directly. We both worked weddings in college, and let me tell you that with large groups like ours, even $10 an hour doesn't really cut it for the amount of running around you have to do. In our opinions, at least. Since our inclusive price doesn't include waitstaff gratuity, we will be tipping our staff the night of the wedding. Again, that's just us.

Facility fee. This is a sneaky one. This is a fee that your venue charges your caterer to bring food into the facility. (This makes no sense to me, since we're already paying a rental fee to the venue, but that's just how the industry works.) Very often, the caterer will pass this fee directly on to you, the customer. I used to think that venues only charged a facility fee if the venue offers catering but you go with an outside caterer. I've since learned that it's a bit of an industry standard for non-food-serving venues to still charge a facility fee to the caterer. These fees can range from 10 to 20%. Here's one area where we found some caterers were willing to negotiate. We talked to a some who were willing to include this fee in their per-person cost, in exchange for increasing that cost by a certain dollar amount per person. If you try to negotiate this with your caterer, make sure you do a cost comparison first to verify that it really will save you money!

Delivery fee. This is pretty self-explanatory. A lot of the caterers we looked at didn't charge a separate delivery fee, or they only charged one if they would have to do a second delivery run. Typically, these fees are a flat rate and are pretty low.

Phew! So there it is: Our catering breakdown and lessons learned. Did I miss anything? Do you have any questions? Did I get something wrong, in your experience? Sound off in the comments! (Again, I'd like to stress that nearly ALL of this info is based on personal experience. Please don't be mad if you rely only on what I've said, without any research of your own, and then my information doesn't apply to your situation. I hope this doesn't happen, but I have to cover my butt, haha!)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello, awesome commenter! I love feedback and try to respond to all comments (especially ones with questions) if I can find an email or blog address.

Thaaaaaanks for reading!