You set the date for your wedding, determined the approximate number of guests, reserved a banquet hall, and started shopping for a catering company. As exciting as it might seem, it can also get quite overwhelming and stressful. It is not easy to navigate through numerous menu options, compare prices and levels of service. Different caterers use different price structures. Some companies prefer packaged prices, others operate on a la carte basis. While looking for a caterer for your wedding reception and reviewing different options, it is important to compare apples to apples. You need to be aware of what is included in the price and what is not. Keep in mind that food cost is just a portion of your bill. Service charges, rental fees, taxes – all these extra charges can significantly increase your bottom line. Do not just look at the listed dinner price in the catering menu, call the catering company, inquire about extra fees, ask for a full quote. Be aware of the following items:
- China and cutlery – are they included in the price of the dinner?
- Glassware (water and wine glasses) – it's not unusual that plates, cutlery, and serving dishes come with the dinner (as they're required to serve the food), but glasses are not included in the price.
- Table clothes and napkins – unless you are looking at the packaged price, linens and napkins will be extra. Keep in mind that tables come in different sizes – traditional rounds of 8 and Jumbo rounds that accommodate 10 people. Table clothes also come in various sizes – standard and floor length. The bigger the table cloth, the more expensive it is. Ask if your catering company can provide linens and how much it will cost. It might be cheaper to do it yourself, but sometimes it's not worth the hassle as you'll have to deal with a rental company directly.
- Labor charges (servers, bartenders) can be a big expense. For a buffet dinner you will need approximately 1 server per 25-30 guests.Sit down dinners require more staff and therefore are usually more expensive. Catering company will calculate the total time (including travel, set-up, serving, clean-up, etc).
- Corkage fee – if you bring your own alcohol, ask you catering company if there's a corkage fee.
- Set-up and clean-up fees – most likely, if you're getting charged hourly for wait staff, it will include set-up and clean-up. But double check it anyways to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
- Gratuity can be anywhere from 10% to 20% of your invoice. Most caterers will charge gratuity on food subtotal only.
- Taxes – there's no way around it, and it can be a big chunk of money. Keep in mind that you pay taxes on total amount (including gratuity)
Let's look at the example. You're planning a wedding reception for 150 people. You've chosen dinner buffet ($30 per person) which includes food, plates and cutlery. You're planning a standard 4 hour reception. Banquet hall is providing tables and chairs. 150 dinner buffet will require about 5-6 servers for a minimum of 6 hours. You also need table clothes. Let's assume that you'll use standard (90″) round table clothes ($10 each) and matching napkins ($1 each). You probably want to serve wine at the dinner table, so you would have to rent glasses (150 wine glasses and 150 water glasses). Is that it? Not quite – you need to add gratuity (15%) and sales tax (10%) Let's add it all up: Food: $30 per person X 150 people = $4,500.00 Servers: $25 per hour X 36 hours =$900.00 Table clothes: $10 per item X 19 items = $190.00 Napkins: $1 per item X 150 items = $150.00 Glasses: $0.5 per item X 300 items = $150.00 Gratuity: 15% X $4,500.00 (food subtotal) = $675.00 Subtotal 1 = $6,565.00 Tax: 10% X Subtotal 1 = $656.50 Total: Subtotal 1 + Tax = $7,221.15