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Caterers Offering/Not Offering Free Tasting

[Split from http://www.chowhound.com/topics/378556 on L.A. board

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Ever so slightly miffed at them right now. I'm going to view a wedding later this month (the manager of the location invited me to see what they can do with the space), and they happen to be catering it so I called to see if, maybe just maybe, it would be possible for me to try ONE piece of ONE hors d'oeuvres while I was there.

The answer was no no and no. I mean, I understand that my request is unorthodox. I understand that what I taste will NOT reflect what's on my own personal menu. I understand that I will get my own tasting dinner later on in the process. I even understand that I might have to pay a few bucks for that one single hors d'oeuvres.

I, more than anything, understand that on that evening I will be at someone else's wedding and that the staff needs to be focused on her needs and wants.

But c'mon, ONE hors d'oeuvres? Am I being unreasonable or is it really impossible to slip me one before the guests arrive? It's not like I'm asking for a full meal. I just want a taste of something to let me if their catered food wows me, because I'll happen to be there anyway. And she really made it sound like I was trying to get free food--c'mon, going 20 miles out of my way for one hors d'oeuvres? They're not THAT special!

Am I totally off base, or are all caterers so reluctant to let you taste any of their cooking before the actual scheduled tasting for your event? Those tastings are $50 a head, and I really can't afford to reject three or four caterers before I find THE ONE.

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  1. I guess if they did a little taste for everyone who requested it, it could turn into a bigger problem. They probably get this kind of request all the time. Free food is free food, no matter how ya play it.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Clare K

      I would give them a pass, if they're otherwise polite and professional.

      How would you feel if there were interlopers in the kitchen at your wedding, eating the catered food you paid for? I know it's just one hors d'oeuvres, but that situation could snowball, and anyway, weddings are tightly managed, control freaky affairs.

      The photos look good, I'd love to try this place when I'm in the neighborhood.

      1. re: mehfactor

        Of course, you guys are right. It's smarter for them to just not promise me anything, since the paying customer that day is the bride, NOT me.

        The positive side of this is that The Kitchen seems to get nothing but great word of mouth, and their refusal of my request does seem to reflect that if hired they will be focused on my event, not on getting business from some other bride down the line. So even though I was refused, I learned something good about them. Even if it annoys the heck out of me to be commiting thousands of dollars to a place where I'll have eaten all of once.

        Calm breaths...

        1. re: Pei

          Glad you're feeling more calm. I actually respect them for setting certain boundaries w/ you as long as they were diplomatic about it. If they accommodate you, then it can be a slippery slope (w/ you or others) and they just don't want to open that up.

          Further, catering a wedding takes alot of coordination and can be very stressful behind the scenes, so giving you a taste of food is just another detail they have to worry about even though you're not the client.

          I also think that they may be worried that you'll make assumptions based on that one taste but that it won't be a dialogue w/ them in the moment and then they could lose your business. Sounds like they want to give you the proper attention and customize a menu and sampling that fits w/ your needs. Sounds like a professional operation to me...

          BTW, is it common that caterers charge for tastings these days? $50 a head sounds excessive if the goal is to court you (and then rob you blind :-)).

      2. re: Clare K

        If you are paying thousands and thousand of dollars for food for your wedding they should bend over backwards to get your business. They should pack a couple of extra things up in the kitchen before they leave the restaurant and let you taste them at the event. I would not give them my money.

        1. re: sambrown3

          Sadly (or not) we live in a culture where you don't have to give away anything for free - if the quality is there, people will pay & the Kitchen is all about quality.

      3. I'm pretty surprised to read the responses to your request. A year ago, in similar situation, in NYC, all considered venues and caterers invited us for free tasting..not at someone else's event.

        6 Replies
        1. re: serious

          Um ... [quote] I understand that I will get my own tasting dinner later on in the process. [/quote] An OP wanted to taste at someone else's event.

          1. re: mclaugh

            Yes, but none of the places I checked give FREE tastings. I'm not saying I want a lot of free stuff, I was just surprised because people on this board and people I know all said "Yeah, get a free taste of something, demand a free taste, don't go with anyone who won't give you a sample of something" and suddenly I was faced with five vendors all telling me exactly the opposite:

            "We'll send you a proposal, then you'll pay us $50/pp for a tasting, and if you go with us the $50/pp will go toward your balance."

            Meaning the four I don't go with earn $50, and I'm out $200. I'm not saying that's fair or unfair. I don't know the business, and I don't know if they're covering costs or robbing me blind. I'm just saying $200 is a lot for me, and that I wish that more (or any) caterers would hold monthly tasting events where lots of couples can go and try a few hors d'oeuvres for $20 or something just to get a sense of the caterer's style.

            But in the end, I have to just assume that these caterers have such good word of mouth that they don't need the business. It seems all the reputable caterers in LA have a steady flow of celebrity clientele that's their bread and butter, and the rest of us should feel lucky to even get our foot (and thousands of dollars) in the door.

            1. re: Pei

              [quote]Meaning the four I don't go with earn $50, and I'm out $200.[/quote]

              So let me get this straight: you're going to eat a dinner prepared by each of the caterers—only one of whom will end up with your business—and you think you shouldn't have to pay for them?

              INCREDIBLE!

              1. re: mclaugh

                No, that is NOT what I said. Please don't put words in my mouth without reading my whole post. I said I understood that caterers have a cost of business, but that I wish there were an option other than a $50 dinner or nothing.

                Bottom line is, I don't WANT to eat a full dinner from each caterer, I just wish there were a way for me to get a better sense of their style and their skill. Whether that's free, $10, or $20 is irrelevant to me. But $50 (sometimes $100 because they require both bride and groom to show up) is a lot.

                This is doubly true for caterers who have no website and keep no photos of their creations.

                Whatever people's opinions may be, this thread has been incredibly helpful. Thanks all for your contributions.

                Again, if no one had ever told me "Caterers give free tastings! Demand a free tasting or you'll get a bad caterer!" I would never dream of asking for free food. It's all about expectations. Just as most of us would be pretty ticked off if we went to a car dealership tomorrow and were told they stopped allowing test drives, I was taken a surprised by the caterers' attitudes about tastings, especially since my friend just did a round of free/cheap tastings in Manhattan. Now that I've had feedback that tastings are no longer the norm, I can readjust my expectations and budget money for the caterers that really interest me.

                1. re: Pei

                  It may be that after looking at their business they had to find a way to separate the tire kickers from the serious customers. It forces you to do a little more research and narrow your field before you decide to plunk your money down.

                  It's interesting that they all charge the same $50 even though they may be catering at different levels.

              2. re: Pei

                The catering business is interesting...everyone's system is a little different. Having been both a wedding client and catering coordinator, it can be maddening from both sides of the coin! Hopefully you'll find someone that fits for you and can "dance" with your rhythm and meet your needs.

                While $50pp does sound pricey for a tasting, I'm sure they need it to cover food, labor, and administrative costs. For well-established companies that get more than enough business, I'm sure it's also a way of weeding out people who either aren't that serious about using them or who are on shoestring budgets to begin with. If a prospective client feels the pinch from the tasting, then maybe they really can't afford the full package when you add up food, service, surcharges, etc. I'm not saying that this is your case, Pei, but the proposals do take time and energy so caterers want to have a naturally good fit.

                It's funny because for our wedding, I planned it all long-distance while I was in grad school (and on a shoestring budget). I called a few catering companies and told them what I was looking for. It was at my in-laws house and we wanted to provide some of our own food, and only a couple of places said they would be ok w/ that so that helped to narrow things down. We decided on the menu and then I sent my in-laws out to taste (it was free). They gave them some feedback about the food, and I signed the contract and sent out the deposit. Done.

                It's very strange for me to think that I never tasted one morsel of their food before going with them, but I guess I liked the menu and flexibility, trusted the references and my in-laws' palates enough, and I liked their customer service (just as important as the food, IMO). In the end, the food was pretty good (what I actually tasted) and the service was stellar but not the most memorable part of the day.

                Well, good luck w/ your search and tastings! Look forward to hearing the outcome...

          2. Admittedly, this was a long time ago (20+ years), but when we were preparing for our wedding in the Long Beach/South Bay (CA) area, we received free tastings from a few caterers...they told us when/where they were going to be, and asked us to be discreet about it. Maybe times have changed and good caterers don't have to market themselves so much any more.

            1. Pei, since all you're asking for is a small taste and not the complete menu it might be possible to visit a caterer just before they're packing up for an event. You won't be at the event but could have a bite or two without being intrusive to the paying party. Check with one or two of your choices.

              Having suggested this, it will not be a good time to question the caterer about your party, possible changes to the food you are eating, menu suggestions, etc. The caterer will be very busy and occupied with their job.

              As a former caterer, I can tell you that it is a pain to do those $20 "bridal" tastings. Many a B&G think of this as a cheap date, expecting the caterer to fall all over themselves. We only did a couple of them and discontinued because our word of mouth business was so successful that we didn't need the hassle of the freebie-seekers. (Sorry, but that's how you are labeled.)

              3 Replies
              1. re: Sherri

                Thank you. The more I think about it, the more I think that down the line, when the caterer can see that I'm a serious customer and just happen to be super anal about food compared to everyone else, she'll find ways to assuage my fears and maybe be more willing to work with me. She can't possibly have such good word of mouth for no reason, right?

                1. re: Pei

                  Find out why the word of mouth is so good. Is the caterer getting great press just for showing up and not poisoning everyone or is the food, service and planning really exemplary? In other words, know who is giving the critique. How do you value their opinion? If knowledgable people are speaking and they are still great recommendations, go with them.

                  If you are polite while being patiently persistant I cannot imagine the caterer not taking you seriously. This likely will translate into you getting what you want.

                  In defense of caterers everywhere, much too much time and energy is wasted on those seeking information, menus etc but are not serious about hiring you. Their sister-in-law, friend, neighbor etc will "do" their affair and they want suggestions and a wierd kind of thrill knowing how much money they think they'll save by doing this. We tend to develop a thick skin about freebie-seekers, lumping some unfairly into this category. Get past the stereotyping and you'll be able to have a good working relationship with your caterer.

                  1. re: Pei

                    Just another thing to consider: You admit to being "super anal about food." Perhaps caterers look at your event as a one-shot PITA, working with a micro-manager, who is questioning how they run their businesses, charge a certain way, and that your needs are somehow different than any other clients', etc. They don't think you'll be a long term client worth cultivating past this one event. They could be simply weighing the amount of up-front time your requests are costing. Even phone conversations cost time/money. There's a lot of low hanging fruit out there for popular, successful caterers who are in demand.
                    I'm sure you are knowledgeable and sincere but they're running businesses.

                2. The expectation for free tastes of things has always sort of baffled me. When choosing a dry cleaner, I don't go ask if they'll clean a shirt for me for free, just to see, with the promise that I'll be brining in 3 suits a week for the next 2 years if they do a good job.

                  I have a small catering business of my own (I don't do weddings...well, actually, I did one as a favor, but I do almost exclusively small private dinners because its really just me unless I can convince a friend to give up an evening to come help out). Free food isn't usually kicking around to be handed out. Further, you want to give high quality items to everyone so you have work pretty hard to make everything that comes out of the kitchen. Feeding a whole bunch of people for free in the hopes of getting a few of them to book an event...the math for the caterers is the same as it is for you. If you go to 4 caterers and spend $50 per to try the food, you're out the money for all of the ones you don't use. If the caterer feeds 20 couples and 4 of them book an event, they're out the cost to feed 16 couples.

                  I'd focus on whether the caterer is responsive to your desires for particular food, willing to adapt what they do to the kinds of food you're interested in having.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Well, a dry cleaning costs a few dollars, and even if a shirt's ruined it's not a whole lot. A botched catering event costs the host thousands of dollars and a lot of unhappy friends. I guess most people liken a free tasting to a free slice of apple at the farmers' market. Then again, the biggest purchase of our lives is a house and we certainly don't ask for a week's free rent. I guess it's all relative. I fully appreciate the time, money, and effort that goes into a catering business. I wish it were different, but understand why it's not. It's just tricky because testing food isn't like testing a car, or flowers, or a dress, or invitations. You can't look at it, try it, and then give it back to the vendor.

                    1. re: Pei

                      I understand and agree with the sentiment you have. And you're right, it really is all relative. I think we (in an American cultural sense) have a different attitude toward food service than we do any other sort of service. From expecting a free dessert on a birthday to expecting a chef to alter dishes to each diner's personal tastes, etc. We ask things of people who work in food that we wouldn't ever think of asking of people in any other industry. I think it goes to the fundamental nature of food...it is, regardless of how fancy, how expensive, a basic and elemental necessity for life. Cars, flowers, invitations, etc simply aren't essential to life.

                      And you're totally right that dry cleaning is relatively inexpensive when compared to wedding catering...but the idea still holds as an example of what I just noted....we approach food very differently than most anything else. We're probably right to, but it does create some unique situations.

                  2. I agree with what ccbweb just said. As the owner of a large South Bay Catering operation, and several wedding/special event locations, it is absolutely out of the question to have a potential bride on the premises on the day of another bride's special day. Our 100% focus is on the event at hand. As a caterer who does not have a retail outlet or restaurant connected with out business, $50.00 does not even come close to covering the expenses to do a tasting. We do take them very seriously, and devote a chef for the whole morning to produce a bride's tasting from scratch. All bride's want to taste "their food" at a tasting they are paying for...hence a nominal charge. We do offer a monthly tasting for all of the brides who have a deposit with us, and there have been one or two(out of many, many)who did not like the food at these monthly staged events. In those cases, a free private tasting is offered.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: nyfoodjoe

                      I agree with the bride to be at another bride's wedding ...I cant imagine going to a wedding I wasnt invited either.

                    2. Sure, for the good caterers there is business to be had. But, in our business we are only as good as our last event, and it is not just the bride and her family we are out to impress. Every guest at the function is going to tell someone about the experience they had. Part of being in business is dealing with folks who need more "hand-holding" and phone time. It goes with the territory. I have learned much more from brides and grooms who have challenged us, and made us stretch out from the comfort zone we can all be in at times

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: nyfoodjoe

                        It took me a long time to learn to turn down the jobs that could break my reputation. If you are "only as good as your last event," that bad one with your name on it could be talked about for the bad, cold food that looked awful. The stuff people didn't want to eat. No one will ever hear that a crazed Bridezilla rejected all of your advice and insisted that you do it her way because it was Her Special Day.
                        I've worked in the business as a consultant for decades. I did one wedding for a friend who was also in the business who was a paragon of common sense. It was a pleasure. I opted out of all but an advisory role in my own daughter's wedding. No fights, fabulous success.
                        But I can tell you horror stories of clients who didn't listen. The corporate client who insisted on serving rare tenderloin to an ethnic/cultural group that simply didn't eat rare beef. A Board Dinner we did for a major corporation whose CEO insisted on a veal entrée when we knew that half the guests would barely want to be in the same room with non-humane meat, not to mention a large group of vegetarians. Crisp, steamed veggies to Southerners who loved long-cooked smothered greens.
                        At many of those events, the guests thought the caterer was awful. No, the caterers were terrific. The tops in town. They and I were doing what we were told to do by the people signing our checks.
                        I finally learned to say "No, I can't fit that into my schedule," or price my services at a rate high enough to compensate for the aggravation.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          I wish I could find more caterers like you. I'm fine with being said "no" to. It's the caterers who say "Yes, we can do ANYTHING you want" or "Well, our specialty just depends on what you want" that freak me out. I'd much rather have one caterer say "Well, our pride and joy is our California cuisine" and another say "We love French plating" and then let me decide who's best for me. This "We can do whatever you want" just makes my deciding harder, and turns me into this indecisive monster who's going around asking for free tastings.

                          And I know the advice on this board is "If they say they can do everything, reject them," but I've gotten the "We can do everything" from some of the most often Chowhound recommended caterers in my area so it really is a Catch 22.

                          But when you can't change others, change yourself. I'm going to pick 2 on looks alone, and then pick my final based on personality of the caterers. If I click with one, it's my opinion that everything will be fine.

                          1. re: Pei

                            Good luck!! I think this decision is especially excruciating for Chowish brides because you feel like the pressure is ON to make sure the Chow is extra special too. Like it's expected... But remember, the day is a celebration of you both not your hobbies and most certainly not the food. Your guests are going to be happy and have a wonderful time because they are sharing not only a meal, but a true milestone in your life. :D

                            --Dommy!

                      2. MakingSense...said it as well or better than I could have. That is what makes the catering business the challenge(a good one!!) that it is. That is why it takes more than Mom's recipes to be a success in catering

                        1. It's also interesting to me that when people ask for caterer recommendations, the replies usually suggest a place and say "remember to ask for tastings!" Never have I seen someo reply to such a post and say "Actually, I'm a caterer, and that's really hard to do" or "Actually, caterers don't do that any more."

                          And yet, my post has generated pretty vehement responses from people wondering how on earth I could possibly have thought to impose upon a caterer in such a fashion. It's not like I came up with this "Gee, I'm going ask for free food" idea on my own. I was made to believe it was the industry standard, and posed a question to this board when it became clear that it was not. That's all.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Pei

                            I think there's a lot of confusion about what a tasting is. It's not a chance to see if a caterer can cook. Not date night.
                            You've narrowed it down to 5 or 6 based on reputation and price-points. They'll usually send you sample menus and some detail sheets from recent events with the per person costs. You can pretty well tell from those if the caterer can work within your style. If they're heavy Asian-fusion and you know you prefer Southern comfort, keep on looking. If a caterer is small but the menus are all over the place, beware. Nobody does everything well or has the serving pieces, style or feeling for it either. Sushi AND barbeque? Don't think so.
                            I can sometimes get full-out big-time tastings, occasionally with linen selections, for large events. The purpose of these is to choose between various items, presentations, portion sizes, which of two desserts, wines, etc. By that time, we've signed a contract. Believe me, the caterers want to please my clients when those dollars are involved or the media may cover the food..
                            Once you have a contract and establish the relationship, you'll get good treatment as you and the caterer adjust the menu to suit your personality.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              >>It's not a chance to see if a caterer can cook. Not date night.

                              Oh, yeah. I used to do banquets at a hotel. Sometimes we'd get up to 5 people in for a wedding tasting--bride; groom, mom and dad, maybe grandma. It was totally seen as a free night out.

                              Putting out a banquet meal for a couple of people is a lot of effort. If the items aren't being served for someone else's event anyway, then it means making a tiny batch of soup, a tiny amount of sauces.

                              1. re: manraysky

                                Yeah, but Pei has offered an alternative: a sample of food they've already prepared at a place where the caterer is already set up. I understand that a caterer doesn't want someone getting in the way at a wedding, but I don't think it's outrageous to suggest they put together a "doggie bag" for her.

                                As for the expense issue -- every business has expenses involved in generating customers. It's called "marketing" and it's part of having a business. If you have so much business that you don't need to do any marketing, then good for you, but most businesses will offer some kind of incentive to get someone to try their product: coupons, free samples, etc. I don't think it's unreasonable for a business that's going to ask you to commit thousands of dollars on something that's not returnable if you don't like it to be accomodating about tastings.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  The scenario that Pei presented DID seem pretty stingy when I read it. One tiny taste probably would not be missed after all.
                                  BUT, it's possible that we don't understand all the backstage here.
                                  Perhaps the site manager is a separate business entity from an outside caterer and is not allowed anywhere near the food prep area if she shows anyone the space during events.
                                  Frankly, as someone who did major events, I'd have been pretty pissed if the sales department had been showing the space during my events, and especially if they were underfoot in the caterers area.

                                  Caterers have a system and a routine. However small this request might be, it detracts from the event for which they are getting paid which deserves their full attention. I doubt if Pei would like it if her caterer were having his staff prepare doggie bags while they were being paid to do her event.

                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                    As long as it didn't affect the service, why would I care, especially if I'd gotten the same treatment myself?

                                    I was presuming, btw, that the food would not be coming out of what the bride was paying for, that is, if you were charging the bride for 200 canapes, you'd make 201 (or whatever) and take the cost (if any) out of the marketing budget. I was also assuming that the caterer wouldn't be putting together more than a couple of sample containers. Really, how much of a distraction is it to take a couple of items off a tray, put them in a container and hand them to the site manager? If a caterer can't deal with that level of complication, I'd hate to see what would happen if something actually went wrong!

                          2. Although it may not provide much solace, I would at least ask for a list of five references from each caterer and then call those references and ask questions.

                            If a caterer says they can't provide you references, strike them from the list.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Seth Chadwick

                              Good idea. I'll add that to my arsenal.

                              1. re: Pei

                                Yeah that's just what all my previous clients want, is me handing out their names and phone numbers so potential clients can call and pester them. Ever hear of the internet? There are sooo many ways to see reviews of what caterers have done. I personally offer a free tasting as the last step before signing the contract and yes, it's cost a lot too cook for two or three people when you are doing an entire custom menu, I think I may have to start using that $50 idea myself to weed out the people just looking for freebies even though $50 doesn't cover athird of what a tasting costs.

                            2. I would have had a TOTAL fit if I had seen someone poking around at my wedding and eating!!I would have been appauled! In the NY metro area, you typically do not get a "free" tasting until after you have contracted to use a venue or caterer. In our case, we got married in a sizable hotel and I asked our coordinator to bring in extra ficus trees and trellis to try to make the ballroom and cocktail area as private as possible. Additionally, I was told that when they do have perspective clients come to see an affair the visit is kept brief, only looking in from the doorway of the ballroom and always after getting permission. In my case, my mother, father and I quickly peeked in on a set for a monster bar mitzvah to be able to see the layout of the room when it's lit up and done up. Then we left that area and went to an office to conduct the rest of our business.

                              1. Absolutely correct.....MakingSense. Otherwise, if it were known that tastings were availible for potentially everyone who walked throught the door, without developing some sort of relationship with your caterer...the caterer would do nothing but design sample menus, table settings and prepare samplings. We are happy to do them when called for

                                1. We don't do tastings anymore. In my facility we have a contracted caterer come in to do all our weddings because we do not have a full service kitchen area. Events must be catered in. While clients are told that the latter is what the arrangements are, nor are they told they will receive a complimentary tasting, they don't realize that, during wedding or any other season, the caterer has other caterings and clients which effects their availability and menu selections. Let's say my bride has roast beef on her menu but the week she's available (nevermind the caterer's availability because that never seems to matter) the caterer is cooking only chicken. The chef is not going to cook roast beef for two when he or she doesn't have it in stock that week. Labour wise tastings are just too intensive because the caterer has to pack everything up and do a service for only two people (cooking utensils, cutlery, plates, spoons, side items, condiments). I hear people say to me, "well we're paying $40 inclusive per person for this meal you owe us this". First off $40 isn't alot when you are including taxes, service, and gratuity; not to mention the pre-event labour that goes into it, and the services required and costs involved to get the food to the caterer in the first place. A facility will not offer food nor contract a caterer with whom they do not trust the quality and presentation of the food or the professionalism and serving standards of the catering staff. And, really, if you are tasting chicken when you ordered beef the whole thing is redundant.

                                  1. hi. the internet was invented.
                                    nowadays it's common for caterers get 5-30 requests via email for free tastings, PER DAY. and btw can we drive two hours out of the metro area to do it, do the tasting in their grandma's apartment kitchen and clean up afterward (you don't mind fluffy walking around on the countertops and the stove while you're trying to plate do you? she's playful, i'm sure you inderstand), and we just loved your organic and local food at such and such event, but do you think you could give us a custom menu that works out to $5/person for a five hour event in the middle of a field where you have to haul everything in. and we don't want to pay for non-food items like generators/ice/chairs/dishwashing. because times are tough, all of your staff should work for $3/hr and you should make us one wonton to taste because you obviously can write off six freaking cases of ingredients. . . or spare a staff member for 2 hours to go to 3 different stores to buy the necessary ingredients to futz around making one wonton which a customer has a 15% chance of selecting over 7 other caterers' wontons. . . so 16 person hours on 8 wontons, all the eff over town, is not a good use of human resources-- and caterers have laid everyone off that they can & are currently running skeleton crews & can no longer afford to flush labor down the toilet hoping someone will opt for a one-time, net 2-8% event.

                                    people pick a caterer because they' ve had their food before, they like it, and they are willing to pay for it/they are educated about their choices. or because they are clueless and are picking (the lowest bidder, more often than not) out of a hat for the only event they will ever outsource outside of their own family. it's simply not worth the hassle for good caterers to give out 200 free tastings/month for a 1% return rate. sorry but that is just stupid in this day and age. if someone is offering a free tasting to you and you go with them, chances are that establishment will be out of business by the time your event rolls around. if they are professionals, they will be happy to bend over backwards for you-- after they have weeded out the yahoos and you've ponied up your tasting fee/deposit.

                                    i'm not trying to be a big meanie. you have *****no idea***** how many folks seem to think they are entitled to free food, just because they are potentially paying a few thousand dollars on a one-time event, of which the caterer will see a few hundred, after costs and taxes. there are lots of ways to do your caterer research *before* you have to spend any money you don't want to. call clients of the caterers, look in on other events they are doing, get recs from your friends and trusted associates. then, approach the caterers who appeal, and if a tasting is offered, respect the fact that someone is cooking a small amount of labor intensive food for you and yours, doing a special presentation in which you are free to ask as many questions as you want, and just pay the fee. maybe even offer to pay more for special menu offerings/custom items? it's counterintuitive, but it might get a caterer excited about someone who is actually into a quality food experience, and not just trying to fleece her/him for a free meal for their whole entire family before they opt for the competitor who uses inferior ingredients and therefore is able to undercut them by 50 cents/plate.

                                    1. I have to say that after reading the responses from the caterers on this thread I'd be reluctant to hire most of you. Your attitude sucks. You feel antagonistic to your clients and you're whining that you don't make any money, so I wonder why you're in the business at all!

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Some of the responses may seem harsh, but catering is a business.
                                        From the other side, working with a caterer is a skill that one can learn, but as has been pointed out, many are doing it for the first time. Some of their expectations may be unrealistic and even sensible plans may be much more expensive than they had hoped. This is why working with a caterer is so difficult for those who have not had experience.
                                        Catered food is not the same as restaurant food nor even fine home cooking. It costs what it costs.
                                        Clients may be very food savvy but not aware of what will work in a catering environment, and can be some of the most difficult. They want what they want even against the advice of the pros. What reputable caterer wants to look bad because a client demanded some real clunker of a dish?

                                        Good caterers are in demand because they are good at what they do, and they can choose for whom they will work. Unskilled clients who demand the difficult or impossible are bad for business. They require an inordinate amount of time and attention, won't be satisfied whatever you do, will not be repeat business, and often give negative reviews for work that you had advised against. Sometimes they are "slow pay" or even refuse to pay at all, requiring legal action.

                                        One of the hardest skills to learn in the events business is knowing what business to refuse.
                                        I've often passed up contracts for the sake of my sanity and reputation. There is always another day, another job.

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          Our daughter is getting married next spring and as one would expect, our friends and family are expecting great food. We have secured the venue, but have not sat down with the caterer as of yet. All of the feedback we've had from people who've attended functions there rave about the food and have given specific recommendations. When the time comes to determine the menu, four of us will go (Dh, me, bride and groom) and we will ask the caterer what she loves to make as well as working with what we would like to have.

                                          I am in a service business (not food related) and I agree knowing what business to refuse is as much a key to success as knowing which customers you can please and who are a good fit.

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            I see. So if I've never hired a caterer before I should settle for a crappy one, because I'm not good enough for a good caterer to deign to deal with? I'm just presumed to be difficult, cheap and irresponsible? As I said, if you don't want to put up with what the business entails -- which includes CUSTOMERS -- maybe you should find another line of work.

                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              many inexperienced folks who are looking at catering services are under the mistaken impression that they are buying food, not the *service* (of custom menu, obtaining food, set-up, prep, cooking, garnishing, plating, clean-up, etc). so they treat the experience like grocery shopping. they don't know what they want or what will work, but they sure as heck know what they would like to pay :) many times they don't understand that the seasonal ingredients the caterer plans to use for their august wedding just aren't available at all in january, during the planning process-- or that other special food items are impossible to obtain in small quantities-- they must be ordered by the case, flat, or pallet. any tasting will likely be just an approximation of what the final menu will be-- unless the caterer cooks in giant batches and freezes, & then yeah i guess the client could get one previously frozen canape as a sample-- so if potential clients see the kind of caterer who would actually serve that type of thing as being more professional than one who wouldn't, i guess that's the way it is.

                                              if a person comes into our establishment, eats a meal, and then asks about specific catering, it's a whole different conversation than one with someone off of the internet who's shopping around for a cheap caterer and is hoping to get (many) free meals out of the process. spending time and money on everyone who sends an e-query only takes resources away from the customers we already have, and would make the bills of current, happy customers more expensive. 95% of the e-queries amount to no-response after we send them a sample menu anyway, so why make the other catering clients suffer, not to mention the retail and wholesale customers?

                                              what do folks do when hiring other services? when hiring a maid, do you ask her to come in and scrub your toilet for free so you can decide whether or not to hire her? do you call up a roofing company and ask them to remove four trees from your yard and dictate the price you'd like to pay based on a quote from a company that specializes in tree removal? an awful lot of strange requests are frequently made to caterers. it's a good warning bell for the caterer to decline getting further invested in a bad situation.

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                If I hire a maid and she does a bad job, then I can hire another one. Presumably if the roofing company doesn't feel competent to cut down trees, it won't take the job. No one is saying that a caterer should take a job they aren't comfortable doing or shouldn't set a reasonable price. The issue of people not knowing what things cost or what ingredients are in season is separate from whether the caterer offers a reasonable opportunity for the customer to sample the food before signing a contract.

                                                If the caterer screws up my wedding, there's not much I can do. If the caterer was really negligent I could take him/her to court, but that wouldn't change the fact that my wedding was ruined.

                                                Having a wedding catered is a one-shot deal costing thousands of dollars. How is it unreasonable not to do everything possible to determine whether you're going to get what you're want and what you're paying for? Let's put it this way -- if you were buying produce for a catering job from a supplier you'd never worked with before, would you just use it and serve it without tasting it? Would you use any product from any vendor without testing it first? Why is it any different for your customers? They're just supposed to trust that your food is delicious?

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  Good caterers build up relationships with trusted suppliers. They don't just run out and buy from whomever. You are paying for their dependability and experience, as well as their sourcing ability.
                                                  A one-time user of catering services has to depend on reputation and references, unlike a frequent user of catering services who can establish a "partnership" over time with one caterer who comes to know their tastes and desires and can customize more easily.
                                                  Although many people think they know about "food," they may not know about what works in a catering situation.
                                                  Even if a caterer can produce what you demand for a "tasting" for 4 people, it still doesn't mean that it can be successful for 200.

                                                  People would never hire an electrician or plumber and then tell them how to do the job, but they want to engage a caterer's services, tell them how to do it - against advice, and then have a fit if it doesn't live up to their fantasy.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    The claim that clients try to tell caterers how to do their job is irrelevant to whether caterers should provide prospective customers with samples of their product. As you say, you don't just go out and buy from whomever, and even if someone you knew and trusted recommended a vendor you'd never rely solely on that vendor for an important event if you didn't have some first-hand experience with them.

                                                    It's interesting that you expect the customer to trust you implicitly, while you're treating them with mistrust and suspicion. Who has more to lose? A caterer who is risking one bad gig out of many, or the customer who has only one wedding?

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      I think of it more like going to the doctor. You have to rely on reputation/referrals and while you can get a consult before pursuing treatment, you're not going to get to test out the treatment to see if it works and then abandon ship without paying if it doesn't work. In this case, the patient clearly has more to lose.

                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                        No one said anything about not paying for services rendered.

                                                        If it were possible to get a sample surgery from a doctor, I certainly would. The only time I did have surgery the anesthesiologist offered to show me the operating room (I was anxious about the anesthesia because I have a family history of bad reactions to anesthesia).

                                                        When a caterer has to go through the rigorous training and certification that a surgeon does, I'll give them the same kind of trust. Until then, I'm going to continue to find the attitudes expressed here to be incredibly arrogant, not to mention that all the whining about how difficult it is and how terrible the clients are is unprofessional.

                                                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        Any businessperson who treats clients with "mistrust and suspicion" doesn't stay in business long. And yes, it's unreasonable to ask someone "to trust you implicitly," unless you spend some time with them and establish a rapport. That's part of being a professional.
                                                        That does not mean that you have to accept every fruitcake that comes in the door as a client.

                                                        Sometimes a business has more to lose than you might think. Doing a good job for a difficult client and still not getting paid or, even worse, getting sued, can sink a small business. A disgruntled client can severely damage an established reputation with nasty public remarks, especially now that the internet can spread them far and wide, and you are powerless to defend yourself.
                                                        Risk assessment is an important function, and sometimes it's worth checking out clients before you sign contracts.

                                                        There are some difficult people in this world. After you're in business for awhile, it gets easier to see the problems coming at you and you know when to bow out gracefully.

                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                          I'll certainly agree there are difficult people in the world! However, as I've said repeatedly, the risks of dealing with "difficult" clients has nothing to do with whether a caterer offers samples or tastings.

                                            2. There are many components that make up a caterers reputation. Using current gigs as a platform for a "free tasting" is not one of them. Very, very tacky.

                                              If the caterer wants you to taste their wares, they arrange a private time with you and provide these. As others have said, if I saw my caterer doing anything but working the event I paid for, I'd be super pissed, and lining up potential clients falls under that umbrella.

                                              Sorry, Pei, you have no right to come to my event and eat my food, not at any price (to you).

                                              23 Replies
                                              1. re: cheesemonger

                                                "you have no right to come to my event and eat my food, not at any price (to you)."

                                                I think this is another common misconception about catering. The food belongs to the caterer, not the client. Unless you've specifically paid for a certain amount (100 pieces of this, 100 pieces of that, etc.), then the caterer is there to provide a service, not food. That service just happens to involve feeding your guests. The caterer can make as much or as little food as he or she would like, as long as the caterer fulfills the contract.

                                                -Kevin

                                                1. re: UptownKevin

                                                  Is it unusual for the contract to provide for amounts of food?

                                                  In any case, regardless of who the food belongs to, the event indisputably belongs to the client. Part of the service that I would expect from a caterer at my event would be that the caterer would be focused on *my event*, not on conducting tastings for other prospective clients on the side, or inviting strangers to any part of my event. What if such prospective client were to slip and fall while in the kitchen? Is that person covered by the caterer's liability rider for his or her employees? Is that person's injury supposed to be covered by the insurance of whatever space I have hired, although that person was uninvited? If the event is in my home, should my homeowner's insurance have to cover the injury?

                                                  I note that I would have no problem paying for a tasting in advance if I did not have an absolutely trusted reference and would never expect to be accomodated on another client's time or dime.

                                                  1. re: UptownKevin

                                                    "The food belongs to the caterer, not the client. "
                                                    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                                    The food most definitely belongs to the client, as well as the service provided. Who is paying the bill, after all?

                                                    I work for a catering company that does only business related functions (no weddings or bar mitzvahs, thanks) and every single function (and our clients have many, many functions over several days) specify exactly how much of each item will be served. I would not contract with a caterer (for personal reasons) without this in writing. I would recommend the OP to inquire about this as well. Our master legal contract mandates the full payment based on exactly what has been ordered and received.

                                                    1. re: rednails

                                                      *every single function (and our clients have many, many functions over several days) specify exactly how much of each item will be served.

                                                      This only works for buffets, If you have a a plated menu of choices for x amount of guests, it is not practical or reality to expect x amount for each choice for entree. There is a big difference between what is available and what is served (or selected)
                                                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                                      *Our master legal contract mandates the full payment based on exactly what has been ordered and received.

                                                      This really is ridiculous and just semantics. How does the host really know what is served or not, It's one thing if you specify *terms*, but really, if fifty pounds of shrimp are ordered for the cocktail hour......and only forty are served.....do you really think the host will know.....and if the host makes such a claim, do you really think he has a leg to stand on if he decides not to pay..

                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        When we've had to set up functions (for the company) it has worked pretty much the way rednails has described it; we find out how many people will be in attendance, what they want to eat (each attendee, when RSVP'ing, chooses one of between three or four offered selections for each course), we then forward the information to whichever service is handling the function (usually adding a few extra meals to the total ordered in case of an extra officer or two unexpectedly flying in). If we order for one hundred heads, and only fifty people show, we pay for one hundred apps/entrees/desserts (and fill up the cafeteria refrigerators with the extras - which only happened once darn it!).

                                                        When we set up a buffet it is the opposite. We've ordered the buffet because we don't know (in detail) how many folks will be showing up, so the caterers do charge us in a different manner/breakdown than for non-buffet functions (not per meal ordered) - but we often get some leftovers for the office the next day.

                                                        1. re: blackoak

                                                          blackoak and rednails,

                                                          I realize both your comments are for catering, but not for elegant catering of formal events. There is whole different standard for food and preparation

                                                          No doubt there are different levels of food and service available for many different type of functions......but let's not confuse off-premise catering with on-premise catering, or more appropriately, corporate catering with elegant catering.

                                                          Final counts are always given before any event takes place, that is a given, but for general catering it can be given as little as a day in advance. For more formal events, a minimum of one week is necessary, but usually required at least to weeks in advance.

                                                          I'm no Ms. Manners, but I do not believe it is proper to request a selection for dinner to be given with an RSVP for a formal event.....especially for something months in the future. Let's remember, the original topic is for a wedding, not for general catering.

                                                          1. re: fourunder

                                                            Most wedding invitations for sit-down plated meals include a card where you indicate which entree you prefer. This is the only way the caterer can know how much to prepare. A caterer is certainly not going to walk around table to table and take orders at the time of the event. If they were to do that, they would have to bring 3x the amount of food served, plus the timing of all entrees would be way off.

                                                            Only by knowing in advance what each guest has ordered can the timing be done properly.

                                                            1. re: mojoeater

                                                              mojoeater,

                                                              I can tell you for the company I worked for, not once in 20 years did we ever request the party host to get a head count on menu entree selection prior to the party date, and at our facility we did go around the table and take the order once the tables were seated upon entering the ballroom. Rarely was a weekend event less than 250 guests. The usual number of guests for our parties normally numbered between 350-450, usually closer to the latter number....and our room could easily fit 600 comfortably.

                                                              We were in the business of running parties and I can tell you confidently we had no issues with service and timing.

                                                              The only number required of the party host is the final head count....which is guaranteed. The number could still go up right to the start of the event, but it could not go below the guarantee number given one week prior.

                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                When I worked for a caterer, all our events were off site. We did not have our own banquet hall. Many events were held at historic homes and gardens with very little on-site equipment let alone a kitchen, so we absolutely had to know what food to bring well beforehand. Heck, we were lucky to have running water!

                                                                1. re: mojoeater

                                                                  Except when I arranged events at hotels or similar venues, all the events I've done were "off-site" jobs.
                                                                  Experienced caterers can predict with amazing accuracy how much of which foods they will need, even when they provide choices of entrees, and always allow additional food. They add a certain percentage of extra meals to cover last minute guests who failed to respond properly or if the hosts underestimate. The hosts are charged per person according to the contract. There is usually a clause that covers the additional people.

                                                              2. re: mojoeater

                                                                It has only been fairly recently that those little food ordering cards have been showing up in formal wedding invitations, along with printed R.s.v.p. cards with pre-stamps envelopes, and invitations for invited guests to bring "guests" of their own choosing who might be completely unknown to the families of the couple being married.
                                                                Caterers dealt with this in the Dark Ages, with perfect timing, and seated dinners were done beautifully.
                                                                I've done major formal dinners with hundreds of guests on a regular basis without benefit of those cards. They actually seem to make it more problematic, as people seem to feel free to call the hosts to change their minds, burdening them with unnecessary details.
                                                                Heck, these days, we should count ourselves lucky if people bother to R.s.v.p, never mind if they want the fish.

                                                                1. re: mojoeater

                                                                  i have never seen a wedding invite where i had to specify my meal in advance, as opposed to having a waiter at the even ask me my choice.

                                                                  never

                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                    I've filled out two of those meal card choices prior to an event...so they're out there.

                                                                    1. re: iluvtennis

                                                                      oh, i dont doubt it exists. i'm just saying it isnt as common as mojo makes out.

                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                        Yeah, you're right. I definitely wouldn't consider it a very common practice.

                                                                        1. re: iluvtennis

                                                                          In the last 8 years, we have been to about 40 weddings. Some were more casual than others, including pig roasts and buffet or family style. None of these asked for meal selection before hand, as the options were great once you arrived.

                                                                          Every single formal sit-down dinner has required meal selection ahead of time. Sometimes there was a card in the invitation, other times the selection card came closer to the event date. Once the bride called every guest (she was involved in every step of her own planning). This includes a very formal country club wedding in Southern California, a formal wedding at a private club in Mexico, numerous vineyard weddings on both coasts, catered weddings in historic Southern locations, and a formal dinner at the Homestead Resort.

                                                            2. re: fourunder

                                                              <<
                                                              if fifty pounds of shrimp are ordered for the cocktail hour......and only forty are served.....do you really think the host will know
                                                              >>

                                                              this kind of fraudulent behavior is/used to be all too common with caterers. hopefully we're getting away from it nowadays, but 10# of shrimp= *lots* of free samples for potential clients! LMAO ;-P

                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                sk,

                                                                That comment reflected my observation from the comments from rednails and blackoak...and their mention that they as a caterer and as a client, they order a predetermined amount of food that belongs to the client.

                                                                At our country club, any shrimp offered as part of the menu determined by the client got shrimp for the entire cocktail reception.....the shrimp would be limitless and not confined to a set predetermined weight. The shrimp and other items were always replenished as necessary to always make the display look excellent and inviting, so no one would miss out on any single item offered....especially , or even if they came very late to the cocktail reception. the only exception (food item) I can think of contrary to this policy was when a Suckling Pig was ordered for reception. In that case, unless otherwise specified, only two pigs were prepared and available....

                                                              2. re: fourunder

                                                                "This only works for buffets"

                                                                This works for every single meal. Period. If we are contracted to serve 3000 at a plated meal, and that is the client's guarantee, we overset by 3% to a maximum of 100 pp. We charge the client the guarantee or actual served, whichever is higher. I know how many the room is set for, and I walk the entire room and count empty seats. I also know if the kitchen has prepped extra than the overset. We also do not serve more than 2 choices of entree (original menu and vegetarian). So, no choice of meat, chicken fish etc etc.

                                                                "How does the host really know what is served or not"

                                                                I'll ignore the obivous insult and say that our reputation is on the line. We have many, many repeat clients, and believe me, shorting our clients would completely ruin our reputation. It wouldn't be worth the risk. Many of our clients know each other (all professionally) and our name would be mud in the industry.

                                                              3. re: rednails

                                                                Ok, well as already mentioned here, there are many levels of catering available, but I have never seen a wedding caterer who specified the amount of food that would show up. For the most part, this type of catering is charged "per person," in which the catering company agrees to feed x number of people for x amount of time. In that case, it is necessary for the catering company to bring back-up food as insurance. In this case, all of the food belongs to the caterer.

                                                                The type of catering you do is a bit different, since you charge by the piece. In that case, the food belongs to the client who pays the bill.

                                                                I was merely speaking about catering in the terms of the wedding catering being discussed in this thread.

                                                                -Kevin

                                                                1. re: UptownKevin

                                                                  For daughter's wedding we are being charges $X/person for food and another $9/person/per hour for the bar. They will provide however much it takes....our bill will be based on persons, not on consumption. We also are to give a final head count and pay the balance 10 days before the event.

                                                                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                                    Janet et al,

                                                                    Regarding timing and service......pay attention to terms of service and specifically, a party running overtime. Typically, a party is contracted for some period, usually 4-6 hours duration. At our club, the duration was for 5 hours before overtime billing kicked in. This is an important issue when it comes to open bars and the extension of charges for the number of guests guaranteed. There is the rare occasion where the party like to continue past the contracted terms. In such a case, it is not unusual for the bar tab to be increased....as well as the labor charge for any additional time to continue service.

                                                                    Please note to the caterer. you wish to add an addendum to reflect any of these issues. You can even negotiate the price for any additional time after the contracted price, e.g., instead of $9 per head, reduced to $4-5 instead.

                                                                    Another good idea is to get an expected timeline of the cocktail reception, dinner service and dessert. If the caterer runs into a unexpected problem and the schedule is affected.....the problem lies squarely due to the caterer's performance and not that of the host. You should not have to be penalized with additional charges of overtime resulting from a mistake beyond your control.

                                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                                      We are having open bar as late as it is permitted through their ABC license, so that's not an issue. We're having an hour cocktail reception, followed by dinner. The only dessert will be the wedding cake. For the bar we are being charged $9/hour for the first hour and $7 each additional hour.

                                                          2. I was going to jump into this thread a few days ago when I first noticed it.....but decided otherwise after noticing it was originally posted over two years ago. .....I am amazed at the level of passion on both sides in such a short time.

                                                            Here's my two cents. I worked for the premiere Kosher Caterer in the New York/New Jersey area back in the 80's - 90's. When $100 per person plate charges were still considered expensive....our Country Club averaged $275-300 per plate. In New York City, my boss started his services at both The Plaza Hotel and The Pierre Hotel @$600 per plate, but it was not unusual for the plates to be near or over $1000 per plate charge in the end. fpr food and liquor. Mind you, this was in the late 80's, which was huge. At our facility in New Jersey, which is where I worked primarily, there was a four year waiting list for weekends and you had to guarantee $20,000 if you wanted the Grand Ballroom.

                                                            What does this have to do with this thread ....and all the opinions of caterers or party hosts? Regardless of which event was going on during the week or on weekends....potential customers came in for appointments DURING parties to see the facility. They were shown the room decorated and in full swing. They were offered tours to the kitchen if requested ........and they always got to TASTE the food during their stay and were also offered beverages....both soft and alcoholic. It costs the house and party hosts absolutely nothing to do so. Food is always paid for in advance and in excess of what is needed for the number of guests at the party. Not once in 20 years did I see a guest, host or Bride ever complain.

                                                            btw.....if I'm not mistaken, the OP was INVITED to see the operation to see what to expect. The OP should receive everything she asks for and have any questions answered. If the facility cannot handle these SIMPLE requests.......then I would suggest the Caterer is not qualified to be a someone to trust for your special event.

                                                            23 Replies
                                                            1. re: fourunder

                                                              Wow, I'm shocked this thread is generating so much heat two years after the fact. Like I said, I only conceived of the idea of asking for some kind of cooking sample because others had told me it was customary (as fourunder confirms). I don't go around thinking I have a right to barge in on people's weddings eating their food.

                                                              It's obviously not going to change minds on either side, but here's what I ended up doing:

                                                              -I skipped the caterers that offered no options to taste food whatsoever. I know they do good business, I'm happy for them, but I just don't have enough friends who've used catering that I could get a trusted referral. I absolutely understand this is the best way to get a good caterer in the long run, I just didn't have the right connections to make it work for me.

                                                              -I went to the cafe of one caterer and bought myself lunch. It was fine, not great. I might have gone with them.

                                                              -I paid $90 for my sister and myself to do a lunch tasting at one caterer's office. It was downright awful. This terrible experience is actually what made me decide not to trust any caterer who didn't offer a tasting option.

                                                              -I ended up having my wedding at a hotel which offered my husband and myself a full tasting at no charge. We each chose a different dish for each course and were allowed to make small requests (more/less sauce, this bread with that soup, etc). Our guests were wowed by the menu we managed to put together with the very gracious, 100% professional staff at Casa Del Mar. And had they snuck a bride into the kitchen for a tasting, I would have been none the wiser.

                                                              Everyone needs to find what works for him/her. All I learned is that catering is a very inconsistent field.

                                                                1. re: Pei

                                                                  btw......the samplings offered at the appointment sessions were always free of charge and there were no restrictions as to how much the potential clients wanted to indulge. Never did I see anyone cause notice to jeopardize the outcome of any party. Everyone behaves discreetly

                                                                  Tasting dinners were only done for signed contracts......a part of the signed contract, No additional charges. Charging for these would have been TACKY.

                                                                  btw II.....

                                                                  For all the *I would be upset* campers who feel showing potential customers is rude and offensive to you and your party......get over yourselves. The Caterer is there to do business and showing parties in motion is part of that. Yes, your party is about you, but the facility is part of a business. All parties are fully aware there a chance exists for showing potential customers their party sometime during the course of action. If you want to control who shows up at your party, have it in your backyard. Believing this (showing your party) would affect your happiness in any way puts you in the Bridezilla category.

                                                                  1. re: Pei

                                                                    Thank you for posting the follow up!

                                                                    I have found this thread to be very interesting and informative. I am currently planning a wedding, and just happen to be in the middle of choosing a caterer. Like you, I do not have a lot of friends who have used caterers so it is hard to get a referral.

                                                                    I do see both sides of the coin. However, I am still having a hard time wrapping my head around picking a caterer without tasting their food. I find it to be a strange concept.

                                                                    1. re: lizzy

                                                                      Also, consider the "freebies" that come standard in the wedding industry these days. I have my own problems with the "bigger is better" wedding attitude, but these are standard 99% of the time now:

                                                                      -sample table arrangement from a florist
                                                                      -sample cake tasting from a baker
                                                                      -sample gowns. Would you ever buy a gown you didn't try on first? Stocking a boutique full of sample gowns costs a small business owner tens of thousands of dollars. Why not ask the brides to trust them implicitly to design and execute the perfect wedding day vision?
                                                                      -1 hour photo session. Most photographers include what they call an engagement photo session. I thought it was a little silly, but it gave me a chance to get to know my photographer and get used to being followed around, and my husband and I got to see which smiles and poses worked for us.

                                                                      In most cases, the samples are a cheaper version of the final product. The cake is deconstructed, roses are substituted with carnations, there aren't that many photos, etc. But the vendors understand the stress their clients are going through and graciously offer a way to show off their work. It would be helpful for caterers to take their cues from these businesses and develop a way to ease clients' fears. Yes, it costs them a lot of time and money, but they work it into the final bill so the client doesn't feel nickel and dimed.

                                                                      Out of all the vendors I hired , I found it most difficult to decide on a caterer and a band. One simple reason: I'd never hired either in my life. I'd ordered large cakes at bakeries dozens of times. Same for buying a flower arrangement. It would have helped a lot of there were more caterers willing to shed a little light on a business with which most people have little or no experience. The level of hostility and eye-rolling I got was really off-putting. None of the other vendors I talked to ever implied I was acting like an entitled brat.

                                                                      Contrast that with my band leader, who knew I had no music industry experience whatsoever but did not lecture me on it. He played tracks of different sized bands for me to compare, let me compare the various sound systems, and said if I needed to hear them live I could come to a rehearsal. Does a caterer never practice making dishes? It's tough being in any business, and there are certainly tough clients out there. But other types of vendors seem to make it work.

                                                                      1. re: lizzy

                                                                        I'm currently planning my wedding, too. I wouldn't pick a caterer if I hadn't tried their food, either. In my case, I've gone with a caterer who has catered about four events I have been to (including my sister and future brother-in-law's 21st birthdays), which has given me a lot of peace of mind - I have a sense of their 'style', I've experienced the food as a guest (which I think is different from how a host experiences it), and I know from speaking to the hosts of those various functions that the caterer is very professional and great to work with.

                                                                        I really recommend going with caterers from functions you've attended and enjoyed. Because as others have said, you can go to a tasting and enjoy the food there, but a tasting for two is different from a meal for sixty. Catering as a skill is just as much about planning and project management as it is about cooking!

                                                                          1. re: Gooseberry

                                                                            The place where we are having daughter's wedding next May does a bridal/event tasting several times a year, so brides and others considering the venue can see the food, service, etc. Our venue does not allow outside caterers but having heard reports from people whose opinion I respect and seeing the wine/beer/liquor menus, I am not concerned about the quality of the food.

                                                                        1. re: Pei

                                                                          Pei, you have been the most reasonable, patient, and tolerant poster - ever. You asked a simple question, put up with a lot of guff, and responded nicely and thoughtfully to each curve ball thrown at you. Now you've come back to let people know what happened. Great! I hope you are a lawyer (uggh!), doctor, diplomat, or even politician - that is, hope you're in a field where your skills are sorely needed. You could even be a good caterer!!

                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            Thanks, Sam! That means a lot coming from you. Raised by a diplomat and a teacher, married to a lawyer, and rethinking those passing dreams every Chowhound entertains of becoming some kind of cook/chef/caterer (wink wink).

                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                              I would like to compliment you, as well. It is refreshing to see someone handle an advice thread the way that you have. It seems a lot of people post asking for advice when it reality it seems they were just looking for validation/someone to agree with them. I have really enjoyed reading this thread and am glad things turned out well for you!

                                                                          2. re: fourunder

                                                                            id certainly agree that at $1000 a plate a caterer can give you a free tasting! :)

                                                                            but be honest. at those prices in the '80's, mrs. madoff may have had you on speed dial, but you weren't getting a lot of average joes off of the street calling you up from your ad in the yellow pages. extremely high-end caterers (who work with established clients and off of referrals of same) who have their own venues, work totally differently. in fact, many times, if you aren't on a vetted list, you simply don't get past the foyer. caterers who specialize in weddings, again work differently and often have group tastings a few times a month-- and you will still either pay for this service separately or have it rolled into your deposit, and you may or may not taste the items you are interested in, you'll taste "the chicken" and "the fish." caterers in small restaurants/retail locations, who cater to regular people's needs, have a very different situation than your $20k grand ballroom--more like the "okay not great" cafe described by the op. and if the op cared about having to pay $40-$50 for a tasting, it's obviously the latter type of situation, so let's get real here!

                                                                            i will reiterate that the internet has changed this industry. last week, for example, we got an email that was short and sweet: "need price quote and menu for 100p wedding at home." now what would your planning liason make of this message? how would your company have responded? would you be instantly ready with a quote, a plan, and an invitation to come to your next ballroom event? doubt it.

                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                              sk,

                                                                              How about something like this......

                                                                              Dear Mr. /Mrs Bride to Be,

                                                                              Thank you for your interest in soupkitten Catering for your special event. We have received your query for information regarding an off premise catered wedding at your home. Please contact Mr. or Mrs Liason to make a necessary appointment to discuss your needs in more detail and see if the date you need is available for us to serve you. We have a wide range of wedding packages and party plans available to suit any budget. We look forward to your next communication and the opportunity to be part of your special event.

                                                                              Best regards,

                                                                              soupkitten.....

                                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                                very similar to our actual reply. except of course, with small caterers, the proposed meeting would not be with a liason or coordinator, it would be with one of the owners, which would take that person away from other business matters and the preparation of food, naturally.

                                                                                my point is that this is a very typical e-query: a very non-savvy "potential cutomer"-- someone with unspecified needs/wants, unspecified price range, unspecified date/time of event, unspecified requirements, restrictions and limitations at an unspecified off-site location. a lot of variables there. the person doesn't even give you enough information to know if you can conceivably do *anything* for her/him, yet s/he probably sent the same e-query to 30+ companies asking for a price quote. as a business person, are you seriously telling all of us that all 30 companies should offer this person a complementary meal for several people? customer gets 30 free meals, 1 caterer gets a client (perhaps), 29 companies are out the food and the manpower. meanwhile, chances are very good that a client like this will choose the costco/takeout/DIY route, or a low priced chain/hotel/event center like the op did. small caterers often can't compete with operations like these who offer package deals, & that's just common sense--and yet potential customers seem to be under the impression that the smaller the catering company, the cheaper the food. so. . . if we don't offer free meals to every person who sends us an e-query in one day (& we don't have enough tables for the paying customers as it is), for whom do we make an exception? do you see the slippery slope? many don't until they are at the bottom of the hill in a tangled mess. have we waived tasting fees for folks who came to us on referral, or who tasted our food at another event and realized it was perfect for them? of course we have. these people are *actually* excited about what we do and they want what we specialize in. 90% of the others will say something like: "that's the best thing i've ever tasted, but i only have $10/head. what can you do for me?" the op's sense of entitlement about "standard wedding industry freebies" illustrates why many small caterers flatly don't get involved in wedding catering at all. the weddings we've taken on have all been smashing successes, but we've chosen them very carefully to avoid the bridezilla factor.

                                                                                nobody's saying not to try the caterer's food prior to whatever event you're holding. that is totally ridiculous. i'm just saying that if you haven't already tasted a particular caterer's food prior to hiring them, it's eminently *fair* for the caterer to ask you to pay for your meal: a fee to cover the cost of food and the labor to carefully prepare teeny weeny sample portions just for you--no economies of scale here. you wouldn't think that the ol' "no free lunch" concept would be such a hard sell on chowhound.

                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                  Let's rewind to my original situation:

                                                                                  A caterer invites me to come to a wedding before the wedding to view setup and see the venue. I ask if a tasting is possible. I'm told no. I ask if they set up events during which potential clients come to taste food. I'm told no. The caterer does not own a cafe, work at a hotel, and I know no one who has tasted her food. I have never even seen photos of her work.

                                                                                  Do I have any incentive to hire this caterer?

                                                                                  And fwiw, the hotel I did end up going with was anything but low priced. We absolutely were willing to splurge for our guests to dine on carpaccio, lobster bisque, New Zealand rack of lamb, and roast sea bass--we just needed a guarantee that we'd get what we paid for.

                                                                                  1. re: Pei

                                                                                    i am going back to your original situation. your title of your original post:

                                                                                    caterers offering/not offering free tasting

                                                                                    strong emphasis on the word FREE. nobody said anything about not trying the caterer's food before your event. it's the fact that you felt entitled to free food/free labor from the potential caterers that is the issue here. you simply did not feel that you needed to pay the caterers to taste their food. as you said in your op:

                                                                                    <<
                                                                                    Those tastings are $50 a head, and I really can't afford to reject three or four caterers before I find THE ONE.
                                                                                    >>

                                                                                    translation: you think it's fair to ask three or four caterers to work for you and feed you FOR FREE before rejecting all but one of them--- OR, you have no problem wasting everyone's time before going with a hotel, which is what you in fact, ended up doing! you complain that caterers are reluctant to give you free food when and where you want it, even in the middle of another person's big event!!!!!!

                                                                                    seriously wtf is up with the overblown sense of entitlement? your menu included "carpaccio, lobster bisque, rack of lamb & roast sea bass"-- and yet you expected businesspeople to feed you a meal of all of this *for free* and got miffed when they asked you to pay $50 for it!?! read your own posts, please!

                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                      A bit scared to weigh in in the middle of this, but--I do find it a bit strange that the OP was willing to splurge on such high-end food for the guests, but could not afford to spend $200 on tastings.

                                                                                      I think a fair compromise would be for the $50 (or whatever) cost of the tasting to be applicable against the contract price for the event if the caterer is hired--the caterer that is hired has not, therefore, charged the client for the tasting that brought in the business, and the caterers who are not hired don't have to "eat" (and pass on to their other paying customers) the cost of the tasting.

                                                                                      1. re: planetjess

                                                                                        PlanetJess, what you state as a "fair compromise" is *exactly* the sop for caterers these days. the cost of a tasting goes into the client's deposit. the caterers who are rejected for any reason get paid a fee for their time and materials. and *no* client's bill is artificially inflated because the caterer gives out so-called "free" tastings, so their bill reflects what they and their guests *actually* consumed, & not free meals for so-called "prospective clients." when there is free food to be had, everybody's a prospective client, after all.

                                                                                      2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                        I did read her posts. Nowhere did she ask the caterers to feed her a whole meal of lobster, etc. for free. She asked if "it would be possible for me to try ONE piece of ONE hors d'oeuvres while I was there [an event they were catering]" and was told no.

                                                                                        I think there's a wide range of options between saying absolutely no samples and feeding everyone who sends an email inquiry a free meal. As a person who runs a business, you have a responsiblity to figure out how to provide some kind of meaningful way for your potential clients to judge your services before they sign a contract. As was pointed out above, these tastings aren't "free" -- they're part of your overhead and as such the cost of all of them, even for people who don't end up going with you -- is built into your contracts.

                                                                                        And geez, what's so hard about putting together a sheet of sample menus (cocktails for 30, wedding dinner for 100, brunch for 50, etc.) with prices and sending them to people who make inquiries, with, of course, a very large disclaimer that these menus are only examples and that the cost will vary depending on the items chosen, venue, etc. When people send out inquiries like that they're just trying to get an idea of which caterers are going to be in their price range so they can narrow down their choices. Honestly, if you can't figure out how to handle this aspect of your business, I'd have serious concerns about your overall competence.

                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                          I have rewritten this post many times because I didn't want to come off sounding angry, but dammit I am! What is all comes back to for me is....why is everything only hard on the caterers end? Because believe me it's hard on my end too. Until my wedding I haven't had any occasion to hire a caterer so I have no idea what to expect and what is expected of me. Caterers are telling me that they work with any budget and can do any type of food I want, well how helpful is that? Especially when behind the scenes you are deriding me because I didn't ask the right questions or God forbid have a budget.

                                                                                          If you don't want people sending vague emails to you asking about your services, then why don't you put up a more detailed inquiry form on your website? I have no idea what info you want or need from me. However you putting me into the "will never hire us" category because I naively didn't disclose some piece of vital information doesn't exactly set our working relationship off on the right foot.

                                                                                          You cannot tell me it is so hard to put together a group tasting 4-6x a year that costs less than $50/person. Yes I know it is added work, but I know as a potential client I would it very informative. Not only would I be judging the taste of the food, but the plating, quantity, quality and I think what you would pick to serve at the tasting would say a lot about you as a caterer. It does me no good to hire you if you have an Asian flare and I'm looking for Southern.

                                                                                          Is it really that hard to have sample menus already put together? When I worked for a small town restaurant/banquet facility, yes I was one of them, we had them put together and the customers were able to grasp the fact that they could put together a different menu and the prices were always subject to change. I never had anyone who was confused, I just don't think people are that stupid.

                                                                                          "seriously wtf is up with the overblown sense of entitlement? " Well the same could be asked of you. You expect us to hire you when we haven't tasted your food and don't know anyone who has. You expect us to hire you just because you say the biggest expense of our reception will go off without a hitch. You expect us to hire you because we are supposed to trust you on nothing but your word alone....give me a break! I DO NOT, I repeat do not, expect a free ride, but I don't think a moderately priced tasting is out of the question either.

                                                                                          1. re: lizzy

                                                                                            hi Lizzy.

                                                                                            we respond to every e-query no matter if we can help the person or not, and when we know for sure we *can't* (recent e-query regarding delivered meals for a family, for example), we try to offer a referral or suggestion. not every client and every caterer is a good fit, so an exchange of information and ideas is valuable at an early stage. for example, when a potential client does not disclose the date and time of their event, we have no idea whether we are booked or not on their day. we need this info before we can discuss any further. it is SOP for us to attach a sample menu with every reply to an e-query so that potential clients have something to look over and see if the descriptions and prices are in line with what they are thinking about. we also let them know that we have other sample menus available, and offer to send these if the client has other ideas/needs more info.

                                                                                            i am sorry caterers are telling you they can work with any budget/any type of food. i would not tell you that, though i have worked with very tight budgets :)

                                                                                            your suggestion about a detailed inquiry form on the website is good, but it's based on your perspective that i should be geared to wedding catering only. in fact, we do all kinds of catering, sometimes including weddings but also corporate catering and other event catering. please remember that the wedding industry is very big and it's designed to make a lot of money off of one time events. the caterers who specialize in weddings advertise in wedding publications and hand out samples and freebies at wedding fairs to compete for bides'/motbs' attention (yes, i excluded males on purpose, as wedding industry marketing is extremely female-centric). many of these companies will do a great job on wedding gigs. please patronize them if you want a traditional wedding dinner. i will repeat that many smaller caterers prefer *not* to do weddings, or aren't set up well to do large or overly formal weddings.

                                                                                            your suggestion to do periodic group tastings comes from the same wedding planner perspective. having a client who wants us to cater a graduation party or a summer cocktail party sit through a full-course wedding banquet tasting doesn't do her/him much good, and having you taste some hors d'oeuvres doesn't give you the info you need for a wedding either. we will do *individual* tastings, specifically planned and executed for *individual* clients, at the clients' request. for most menus it's around $50 for this service, but for some menus it can be more or less. if you think $50 is an immoderate sum, you can come into our establishment and order off of a menu. once we were engaged for a catering event because a client loved a $0.75 cookie. i don't expect anybody to hire us if they haven't tasted our food. i also don't give it away for free to whomever asks. if i gave out free tastings, as some have suggested on this thread, it would increase costs for our other customers. we have many repeat customers who have nothing to do with your wedding, why should they pay increased costs so that you can have a free tasting? our customers do comment to me that they appreciate our moderate pricing (and that is why they are repeat customers), and we are able to do this pricing because we don't do free tastings trying to get some one-time big money events. if the freebie illusion is attractive to you, again-- please patronize one of these wedding specialists, but rest assured that someone is paying for your free tasting, just as you will be paying for someone else's when you engage these caterers.

                                                                                            the best way to experience a caterer's services before hiring them is to attend one of their events, but this isn't always possible. if the caterer has a restaurant you can try their food there, or ask them to cater a small event such as a dinner party. you can spring for a $50 individual tasting, which in our case is a great deal, since the client gets to taste a lot of food at close to cost.

                                                                                            i don't get your whole last paragraph, i'm afraid. i think you are talking to someone else.

                                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                              Soupkitten,

                                                                                              I am going to have to disagree that it is hard to have a detailed form on a website and it is geared towards wedding catering. I think stating things like name, date, location, type of event and making those sections mandatory in order to submit the form would weed out people who did not know this information. On the form you could also include a part where you could pick what type of food you wanted for the event: luncheon, buffet, sit down dinner, hors d'oeuvres, breakfast, etc. I just don't see how any of this is geared towards wedding catering. I would also think it would be helpful with any type of personal catering....graduation party, funeral, family reunion, etc. Yes, it probably would be less helpful with business clients, but most people I know who use caterers as part of their business have a trusted caterer or ask for a referral from trusted peers.

                                                                                              As far as the tastings go, I have a few points. First, I think you and I are coming from two geographic perspectives. I live in the south, however I understand where you are coming from because I am originally from the north. Here wedding food is typically heavy hors d'oeuvres instead of a sit down dinner or even buffet dinner, and there is also a cocktail hour, although most weddings nowadays seem to include a cocktail hour with passed hors d'oeuvres. This is another reason why I think a group tasting would be a useful tool, here it would encompass more than just weddings.

                                                                                              Second, I think you and I have two different ideas on exactly what a group tasting should be. I understand why you would want to do a formal presentation, however I think a group tasting could easily be much more casual. At this stage in the game, I don't need to sit through a 4 course menu. I am perfectly happy to go and have a small sampling of your food. Yes, I want to make sure your food tastes good, but I also want to see what type of serve ware you use and I want to have the opportunity to see your food in action. I also want the opportunity to ask questions, and some of the questions may be a direct result from tasting and/or seeing your food. Now maybe I am some sort of anomaly because this would work for me, but I don't think so. Furthermore, I think for the clients who do need more from you, then charging $50/person for a tasting is not out of the question.

                                                                                              This leads me into the price of a tasting. It's not that I think $50 is completely out of the question, I do know that a lot of work goes into a tasting. However, I have a groom who wants to be involved in the wedding planning process so that means we are sinking $100 into every caterer we do not choose. That is a lot of money to me, right now we have narrowed it down to 5 caterers which translates into $400 out of our budget....and that is assuming the caterer we ultimately choose deducts the $100 from the deposit. I just think there has to be a happy medium between free and $50/person, something that would make both sides happy.

                                                                                              You have called weddings "one time events" more than once, and I have to say I think you are doing yourself a huge disservice. I for one, do not look at my wedding as one time event, I see my wedding as the first step in what is hopefully a long relationship. I may not know when the next event may be right now, but I know the time will come when I will want to hire a caterer. Furthermore, you never know who you will impress at these events. For example, the owner of the top PR firm in town is a bridesmaid of mine. If you are difficult to work with or the food isn't very good or something went horribly wrong on the day of my wedding and it was your fault, don't you think she would at the very least think twice about recommending you to clients or using you herself?

                                                                                              Lastly please know a couple of things....I know you have an extremely hard job, and I think your compensation should reflect your determination and expertise. I know this is a job where you must where many different hats, and none of them are easy. Also, I would like to make a clarification, because I do not want there to be any miscommunication between us. When I use the word "you" please know I am talking about caterers in general, and I do mean to dump all of this on you personally.

                                                                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                    sk,

                                                                                    btw.....actually, we did do a lot of average joe parties......only not during prime time....i.e., Saturdays in June. We often discounted to book parties on holidays and during the winter months at substantially reduced rates.....Believe it or not, for a discount, people booked their parties for New Year's Day....just to have it at our facility. Weekdays were also greatly reduced.....In fact, many high schools had long standing relationships with us where we charged $45 per plate during the month of May....and the rate was never increased once in the 20 years I was there......there's a lot of future brides to be in those high school proms.

                                                                                2. I have worked at many restaraunts and banquet facilities. You should absolutely be allowed to have a tasting! Not just for hors d'oeuvres, but for every course. Some places might charge you for this, but most of the time it is included in your wedding package, after all they are going to rip you off at the wedding.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: randyhusted

                                                                                    Did the "restaurants and banquet facilities" that you worked at cheat their customers and clients?
                                                                                    Did you see evidence that they were making ridiculous profits by "ripping off" their customers when you worked in the business offices?