Catering is one of the biggest ticket items in your wedding budget. And, most of the time, I find that couples just aren’t allocating enough to the category. There are many misconceptions about catering published on wedding sites around the internet. Most of the time, it’s because the person doesn’t understand the ins and outs of the catering industry. You can’t expect them to though if they’ve never worked for a catering company.

As some of you may know, I got my start in the wonderful world of weddings as an event manager for a full service catering company. Before working there, I had no idea everything that went into providing food for special events. But, after spending four years managing every aspect of the catering from initial consultation to cake cutting, I want to share the five things every caterer wished you knew.

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There is no bulk discount. A common misconception with catering is that because you’re feeding so many people, the caterer has a lower food cost because they’re ordering so much. This simply isn’t true. The cost of single chicken breast is the same regardless of if you order one case or ten cases. In addition to that many caterers order items specifically for every event and don’t keep an inventory due to food freshness. Because of the inconsistency in ordering, food vendors do not give special pricing to caterers.

Your meal is bigger and therefore more expensive. One of the phrases I used to hear all the time was “I can get an steak, two sides and unlimited bread at Outback for $10. Why are you so much more expensive?” Well, there’s a couple reasons but let’s focus on one. The main reason you can go to Outback and get a steak for $10 is that’s all you’re getting. With a wedding, you’re also including a selection of hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour, a salad in addition to the two sides and, with most weddings, an additional protein selection. You’re receiving so much more food than if you went to your local steakhouse and ordered the $10 steak special.

Labor has to be factored in as well. To pull off catering for a wedding of any size, it’s fairly labor intensive. There’s more than just the staff members you see on the floor. There’s a chef in the kitchen and team of back of house staff prepping and preparing your food prior to the event. There’s the event manager that’s spending hours communicating with you and customizing every aspect of your day, going on site visits with you and ensuring that each detail is just as you imagined. These labor costs add up and have to accounted for when pricing every menu.

The best way to lower the cost is to invite less people. Someone somewhere at sometime once wrote an article that you should negotiate with wedding vendor. First, that’s a terrible idea and you can find out why in this post. But, most of the time, there is nothing a caterer can do about the price. Food costs can fluctuate over time depending on season, environmental conditions and more and there’s no way to predict or change that. While you may $8,000 for your catering, the majority of that is going to cover food and staff costs with the caterer only profiting a very small percentage. If caterers couldn’t make a profit, they would close and no one would be available to provide top notch food and service for your big day. If you really need to lower costs and don’t want to sacrifice quality or high end items, your best bet is to reduce your guest count.

If you need to be at $10-$15 per person, a restaurant is your best option. One of the things I hate most is wasting people’s time and energy. I believe in being honest and upfront which saves everyone time in the long run. Staff and labor costs is huge with full service catering companies and there for next to impossible to provide couples with quality food and service at a price point like this. If you’re working on a limited budget, your best bet is to opt for a restaurant to drop off catering providing no or little staff. You won’t have the same experience as a full service catering company but it will be within budget which is more important.

Have you booked your caterer yet? What are some of the things you learned in the process or wished you knew before searching for one?

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