We've all been there. We've called and spoken with someone about a good or a service we need, felt comfortable - thought we knew exactly what we were getting - and then been surprised. In a bad way. Typically, by something that you thought was included, but now suddenly find out you have to pay extra for it.
Catering for your big day should never have to be one of those frustrations. Our top five questions to ensure you ask will help you avoid the most common pitfalls and mistakes that could wind up adding more dollars to your budget than you had planned. Asking these will help to ensure a smooth, easy service; and that you get exactly what you want, at a price you can afford! The Hometown Chef Catering Co. operates on the principle that we treat others as we would want to be treated - always clarifying and communicating. It's so much easier to do business when everyone is on the same page and expectations are clear! With that in mind; here are the top 5 questions you should ask any caterer you are considering for your big day:
1. Can you break down the charges for all of your services in the quote or estimate?
Some caterers will initially give you pricing on just what the food costs, for buffet style or drop-off service in a quote; and some will group things in without clarifying what is or is not included. Nobody likes the "Gotcha!" surprise of additional costs after the initial quote. Here's what you should be looking for: the cost of food, delivery charges, set-up fees, the cost of service staff, (commonly called service fee), taxes, and whether they add on an additional gratuity or tip. At The Hometown Chef Catering Co. we are of the mindset that tipping is optional; and something to be earned. If you feel you have received extraordinary service, you can tip on top of your catering costs to show your appreciation to the service staff. Many caterers will automatically add it in; and won't disclose that on the initial phone call when you ask for an estimate. At The Hometown Chef Catering Co. we like to provide "all-inclusive" pricing for the brides that get married at our home venue, The Overlook. We also ensure we clearly give all pricing up front for catering we provide at other locations; including a detailed breakdown of all costs.
2. How many waitstaff / servers are included in the prices you quoted us for catering?
This question is especially important for brides that are having their reception at a venue that allows the client to bring in outside catering. Many times, a caterer is just that--a food provider, and unless you specifically request or pay extra for service staff, they are not automatically included. The standard for most catering companies is staff to set up and attend (refresh) the buffet line, then clear and clean the buffet line; and that is all! You want to make sure to ask, "Will you be providing staff to clear dirty dishes from my tables as well as clean up after food service?" That is often an additional cost and you don't want to find out at the last minute that your bridal party needs to clear their own dirty plates! We have seen caterers bring only two staff for 150 guests at a wedding - and the client had no clue that they had to clear their own dirty dishes, and that the caterer's staff was only to be concerned with the buffet line itself. Typically, if you have a buffet, and want the caterer to clear your tables after meal service, we recommend 1 server per 30 guests. If you have a plated meal; we recommend 1 for every 20 guests. Some caterers will cover this additional expense with a "plating fee" and some will simply charge you for extra service staff.
3. Do you have flexibility in your menu selections?
Some caterers will not allow any variation from their menu's meal choices. Sometimes this is due to the fact that they are purchasing pre-made items from a food supplier, and sometimes it is just because those are the only things they confidently make well. Variation scares them! Other companies, like The Hometown Chef Catering Co., embrace changes in the listed options - not only do we make everything fresh; we also tell our clients that the menu is just a guide - it is by no means all our Chef can do, but if we listed everything it would be an encyclopedia! We feel menu changes allow a Chef the chance to "show off" and your wedding guests to experience a meal that may be more reflective of your taste or personal style; and one not soon-to-be forgotten!
4. Does your catering service include plates, flatware, glassware, etc?
Another key question to ask so you are not surprised at the last minute is what kind of service ware the quote from your caterer includes. Most caterers include at no charge (or nominal) plastic/styrofoam service items and paper napkins; some may offer an upgrade to nicer service items (clear / china-look / stainless silver-look plastic) for a fee. Most caterers will only include real china/silver and glassware for an additional fee - it is almost never included in the quote for food, so be clear with your caterer on this issue. For example, your caterer may include white styrfoam; and the little plastic silverware packs; but the last wedding you went to had clear plastic plates and silverware that looked like stainless but was plastic; so you assumed that was what you would get when the caterer said, "Oh, yes; we include plates and silverware!" Be clear, never assume! A benefit to having plastic is that cleanup is easier, quicker and can save you cost on service staff; and with the newer designs that are available, it can still look upscale. Renting dishware and glassware can definitely provide a beautiful elegance to your event, as long as you are aware that the cost can be upwards of 50 cents per item (per fork, plate, cup) plus the additional service staff required to set it up and clean it up afterwards.
5. What about alcohol?
If you plan on providing alcohol to your guests this is again another very important question! Some caterers do hold a TABC license that allows them to provide alcohol while others do not. You will want to check with your venue to determine what their guidelines are for alcohol service at their facility. Some require their in-house service provides it; while others will allow you to bring in your own and hire your own bartenders. No matter what the case, you will want to ensure that all bartenders are TABC certified for alcoholic beverage service. This ensures your guests stay safe, and are served responsibly. At The Hometown Chef Catering company all of our bartenders as well as our servers are required to be TABC certified.
Don't forget to ask about cake cutting/service. Some caterers will charge you upwards of $1.50 per person to serve cake to your guests; or charge you a flat fee; or will not ever discuss cake cutting/service. Cutting your cake and feeding each other that first bite; only to find out there are no plates or forks to serve it to your guests is not a surprise anyone wants at their wedding reception! At The Hometown Chef Catering Co., we are already there for you and your guests on that special day. Traditionally, unless you request otherwise, our staff will remain to cut and serve the cake to your guests at no charge - it's just the right thing to do!
About the Author
The Hometown Chef Catering Co. is a full service catering company located near Lake Houston. Their kitchen is located adjacent to a wedding venue, The Overlook, for whom they are the exclusive caterers. They also service the entire Greater Houston area for weddings, receptions, banquets, company picnics, corporate lunch and dinner events as well as holiday parties. Owner, Chef Julio Avila is a Culinary Institute of America graduate, and has been a professional chef for 18 years. For more information, please call 832-304-1433 or visit www.TheHometownChef.com.