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Catering Myths Busted

There are many catering myths out there. For example “food is 99% of your catering bill” or “caterers always serve rubber chicken.” Let’s take a closer look at these myths.

Catering Myth #1: Food is 99% of your catering bill.

While food is certainly an important part of your catering budget, a caterer’s bill may include many other components, depending on what goods and services you select. For example, labor can be a significant expense and is often listed separately. The amount will depend largely on number of guests, style of service (seated vs. buffet), menu selection, and duration of event. In addition, the caterer may be providing your complete alcoholic beverage service or perhaps just bartending with glassware, ice, and napkins for beverages which you provide.

The caterer is typically responsible for your tabletop (china, stainless, and glassware) as well as many other rentals you require – everything from tables and chairs (if not already provided by your venue) to dance floors and tents.

If you are not working with an independent event planner, your caterer may also be handling event planning services for you and items such as floral centerpieces, room décor and props, as well as entertainment which can also account for a significant portion of your bill.

Most professional caterers add a production or operations fee to every served event. The percentage varies between catering companies but usually ranges between 15% and 22%. 

Catering Myth #2: Caterers always serve rubber chicken.

Let’s face it. Chicken has gotten a bad rap, largely from the days when catering was almost synonymous with hotels that purchased frozen chicken entrees like Chicken Kiev and Chicken Cordon Bleu to serve to their banquet guests. Unfortunately, there still exist far too many “caterers” and hotels who currently do this. Fortunately, at Miraglia Catering, we purchase top quality raw products and your meal is prepared from scratch by our chefs – specifically for your event. You can definitely taste the difference between a chicken entrée made by professional chefs and one “prepared” by people simply opening boxes of frozen product. (Is the kitchen team preparing your food from recipes or ordering from a price list?) 

We hear a lot about “Free Range Chicken” which is a wonderful option, too.  However, you don’t have to order free range chicken to get a moist and delicious chicken entrée…you just need to order from a professional caterer whose kitchen is a “Rubber Free Chicken Zone”. 🙂

Catering Myth #3: Hors d’oeuvre service is less expensive than buffet service.

Hors d’oeuvres have come a long way from Cheeseballs and Weiners in Barbecue Sauce. The 21st century sees consumers with experienced palates that desire more mature cuisine. Each hors d’oeuvre at Miraglia Catering is individually made with care which requires more preparation time than say, rice pilaf on a buffet. Though there are more economical items such as crudité (cut raw vegetables, pronounced “crew-di-tay”), fruit with dip or brie and crackers, unique and customized hors d’oeuvres are more labor intensive and therefore higher priced.

In addition, if hors d’oeuvres are the only items being served you will need a considerable amount and an interesting variety. Typically, for a two to three hour event in between meal periods, you should provide a minimum of 10-15 hors d’oeuvres per person plus “filler” items such as fruit, cheese, and crudité. Hors d’oeuvre receptions should usually not take place during a meal period. When necessary (perhaps due to a lack of ample seating for all the guests), an increased amount of hors d’oeuvres would be appropriate. You may also wish to add a carved item or mini desserts as well.

Catering Myth #4: Preparation and set-up for an event takes an hour or less.

This is rarely true for a full service event. Two hours (in most cases) is a more appropriate time frame. Upon arrival, the catering team needs to either verify that the tables and chairs have been set up correctly or, in some cases, set up the tables and chairs themselves! The trucks then have to be unloaded of all the equipment including china, stainless flatware, glassware, linen, and kitchen equipment and distributed to its proper locations.  Service personnel then cover the tables with linen and set them. Simultaneously, the chef and kitchen team arrange their work area and prepare menu items. Finally the catering staff will make a final sweep of the room to ensure it exceeds the clients’ expectations.  After all, in catering, we are not happy until you are happy!

Catering Myth #5: Catering pricing is comparable to a restaurant meal.

When dining in our favorite restaurants, we rarely appreciate the little things such as the stemware, table linen or place setting. However, imagine toting all of this and more to a blank canvas of a banquet hall or unique indoor or outdoor venue, some of which have considerable logistical challenges. 

Experienced caterers virtually bring the restaurant to you, arranging and setting up all of the tabletop items – sometimes the tables as well. Often, caterers need to bring in portable stoves, ovens, and kitchen equipment to prepare or finish off your food on site. However, while catering is not always as inexpensive as going to some restaurants, it does allow you and your guests the opportunity to enjoy the occasion while experiencing the ambiance of a unique venue, showing off your own office or facility,  or relaxing in the warmth and comfort of your own home. Also, every element is selected by you – the china, linen color, centerpieces, etc.  It’s a truly customized event.

Catering Myth #6: I need to pad my guest count in case someone unexpected shows up.

If you have hired a professional caterer and give the caterer an accurate count, you will not need to “pad” the number given. Most caterers prepare a certain overage for unexpected guests, typically 2-5%. Ask your caterer what additional amount will be prepared based on your guest count. Without a crystal ball it is difficult to know who won’t show up and who may bring an uninvited guest – it often “evens out. Therefore, do not try to second guess your count either by subtracting people you think may not show up. The most prudent road is to go with your actual RSVP’s.

An exception to the rule is when you are hosting a ticketed event where you think you will experience (and accept)last minute rsvps and you don’t want to turn them away. In this case, you will need to determine a set number that you want to “take a chance on” (since you will be paying for those meals but may not sell them) and add that to the count you give the caterer.

Catering Myth #7: Every reception must have a champagne toast.

While it is still a tradition to have a toast at an American wedding, the new spin on that tradition is to allow guests to toast with the beverage of their choice. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Not every guest likes champagne – Why pour a glass if they are only going to take a sip and leave the rest?
  2. Most guests do not like to be forced to change or mix their alcoholic beverages and prefer to stay with one type throughout the event.
  3. “Champagne” (aka sparkling wine in America) is no longer more expensive than most wines. Before the boom of the California wine industry,  “champagne” was a real treat and was considerably more expensive. Hosts preferred to serve this special treat for just the toast. Now, there are many fine “champagnes” available which are reasonably priced and hosts are choosing to have all the beverages (champagne, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic) available for their guests throughout the event.