As a full-service caterer, I am often one of the first few vendors that an engaged couple might meet with. I can also sometimes be the Wedding Grinch. What is a Wedding Grinch? It’s me, when I start talking about the wedding budget. My Wedding Grinch speech covers how much weddings really cost, backed up by real, hard numbers. As a caterer, I am a logical choice to talk budgets, since my line item is going to eat up almost half of that budget.
According to The Knot 2017 Real Wedding Study, catering averaged $70 per person. That’s a big number, and it adds up really fast when you start multiplying it by 100, 150, 200, or even 300 guests. And while you might be sitting there thinking I’m not got to spend $70 per person, I guarantee that most of you are going to spend more than you think. In reality, the total cost of catering will be based on many factors, only one of which is the menu you have chosen.
What most people don’t understand when they sit down to figure out the cost to feed 150 people, is that in addition to the cost of the food, you will have labor and service staff, rentals, equipment, and the ever popular miscellaneous. Most couples that are dealing with a caterer separate from their venue are hiring an off-premise caterer. Off-premise simply means that your caterer works at another location, and will be bringing everything from their kitchen to your venue. I tell my couples to assume that this will add somewhere between 25% and 50% above what a similar meal would cost at their favorite restaurant.
Service Staff & Labor
After the food and drink, labor and service staff will be a significant cost, how significant will be determined by a variety of factor, the primary being which style of service you choose. There is a reason that the buffet is the most popular choice for weddings. In fact, in its 2017 survey, WeddingWire found that 56% of couples had a buffet. Quite simply, buffets requires the least amount of staff. Alternatively, plated meals along with family-style service are going to require both more service staff and on-site kitchen staff.
When you think about your wedding, are you looking for a fast food or white table cloth experience for you and your guests? The level of service you desire will ultimately be reflected in the service fees you will be charged. Full-service is exactly what it implies. The caterer will staff your event, set tables, fill water glasses, clear plates, and ultimately cleanup everything associated with the food and beverage service including taking care of trash. Alternatively, you can hire someone who will drop off food, but understand that if you haven’t hired staff to clear tables and cleanup, you may find yourself doing so at the end of the night in your wedding dress.
In additional to the service staff you and your guest will see throughout your event, the servers, bartenders, and bussers, the other piece is the labor you may not see. That labor includes the people responsible for loading and unloading the catering vans, washing the rented dishes, and even take all the garbage to the venues dumpsters.
Erin Trimble Photography
Rentals represent another piece of the total catering cost. What rentals you need will be determined by your venue. You may need to bring in everything: tent, tables and chairs, linens, china, flatware, and glassware. A basic china rental – salad plate, dinner plate, cake plate, 5 pieces of silverware, and a water glass will cost between $4 and $6 per person. If you want specialty china, silver flatware, all glass at the bar, your rental cost will be significantly more.
As a caterer, we work at various venues, and what each venue defines as the caterer’s “kitchen” varies greatly. Some venues have fully equipped kitchens with sinks, ovens, fryers, even dish machines. Others, have a room that is designated the caterer’s workspace, and may or may not include a sink. If you are looking to save some money on catering, this is a place to have a conversation with your caterer. By simply making better menu choices, you could potentially save yourself hundreds of dollars in equipment rental.
The miscellaneous cost is another cost that will vary based on the unique details of your event. Probably the most common is ice. Many venues do not have ice machines, and in the summer, an event for 200 guests with a full bar service will require in excess of 500 pounds of ice. The solution is either an ice delivery or an ice trailer rental. Another miscellaneous cost, a cook’s tent; often tent weddings require a separate 20×20 tent to give the caterer a workspace out of the direct view of your guests. And then there is power. How many circuits does your venue have, are there enough to accommodate the tent, band, and caterer, or will you need to rent a generator.
Making Everything Pretty
When you take the first step into your reception, you want to be blown away by both the welcome you receive from friends and family as well as the culmination of the hard work done to achieve the perfect vision. Another thing that your caterer does is ensure the food and table presentations are on point. We know how the dishes and glassware should be placed and we know how to make a tablecloth straight. Aside from the flowers & cake, much of the presentation in your reception is due to your caterer. Finding everything in its proper place with a touch of style is a worthy spend.
There are many things to keep in mind when deciding on your food & beverage options for your wedding. We know you that feeding 150 people isn’t your daily routine and we’re here to help you find the best fit for your budget. When you begin your catering meetings and start hearing numbers that might be slightly higher than you expected, keep in mind there are many contributing components, including the beautiful WOW Factor when you step into your reception for the first time.
Headshot & featured photo: Kevin & Anna Photography