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Rude to Negotiate with Caterer?

m
MSVALERY Dec 8, 2009 09:45 AM

I just spent some time working with a caterer in the NY Metro area, for a dinner party for 30 I am planning. I gave her my price per head for food up front ($90 pp) and told her this budget of course did not include her costs for staff, as she let me know she was still unsure what my job would entail. After visiting the party site she came back to me with a total cost which was a bit more than I had hoped to spend ($142 vs $135 per person), and I asked her if it would be possible to shave things down to my cost, at a difference of $12 pp. I let her know I understood if it was not possible, but wanted to take a shot. I just hadn't been expecting a %57 increase in cost due to staffing issues. More like %50.

SHE FREAKED. Told me she was really upset, that she couldn't talk to me now because she needed to get her bearings...I was stunned, isn't she in a service business and used to people negotiating? Keep in mind I had been very low maintenance before and hadn't asked her about money at all prior to this. I apologized and told her I really didn't mean to upset her, just wanted to see if we could tweak things a bit to fit our budget.

Caterers out there or those with catering experiences--was I wrong to ask? I feel awful now. She made me feel like a real slime ball....

  1. Missy2U Dec 8, 2009 09:49 AM

    How odd. In my experience, caterers have always been open to negotiotion. I've done a number of large events for work and in almost every instance, negotiations were the norm!

    I wouldn't feel bad - she sounds a bit off. :)

    1. coastie Dec 8, 2009 10:13 AM

      your expectations are within the norm. The caterer sounds like a loon and I would get another bid. It is rare as a caterer to not have to meet a budget including labor. Not knowing menu and setup etc - it would be foolish for me to comment too much on whether your specific budget restrictions are reasonable based on your catering needs......but I'm guessing they are. I could do an awful lot with that per person. If she gets this worked up over basic busness negotiations what happens if something goes less than perfect at the event itself - can she keep it together and pull off the dinner......

      1. DallasDude Dec 8, 2009 10:32 AM

        The caterer sounds unstable and you are blessed to know this so early in the stages. Run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. Negotiation is simply a fact of life. Had I been the caterer and wished to stand my ground, a more professional approach might have been to ask to re-examine the menu to see where we might be able to save on the budget. Then it would have been your choice to deal with a lesser menu or pay the difference.

        Freaking out and losing composure never won a negotiation, on either side of the table.

        1. d
          Dcfoodblog Dec 8, 2009 10:38 AM

          I think it depends what you're trying to negotiate. It sounds like you are totally reasonable and what you would be negotiating is scaling back on what you get to get it in the price range you want. That means scaling back the menu (chicken as opposed to filet mignon) or scaling back the service (statios vs. passed hors d'ourves). If the caterer is freaking out about this without giving options on how to scale back, she's in the wrong.

          1. f
            fourunder Dec 8, 2009 10:40 AM

            If you haven't given a deposit, I would seek another option and start over. Never disclose your top price per person ever. Let them explain their packages to you and if you feel you want to upgrade from there, you are on your terms, not theirs.

            Labor charges should be no more than 20% of the bill....Gratuities should suggest no more than 10% on the contract, but you are free to leave whatever you wish. Remember, State Sales Taxes, Labor charges and Gratuities are approximately 35% on top of your bill depending on the variables where you reside and the place you have selected.

            1. c
              chefbeth Dec 8, 2009 10:42 AM

              Negotiating is not rude. Few caterers or clients are mind-readers, so without clear communication there is a need for some back-and-forth so that you understand one another.

              Refusing to negotiate, on the other hand, IS rude. And it sounds like that's just what this caterer did -- although I freely admit that it's hard to be definitive based on the OP. $90 a head sounds like a pretty reasonable amount -- but did that include all rentals, bar and transportation charges? Did the staffing include valets, chef-attended stations, dishwasher, bartenders and massage therapists? (joking!) Without a breakdown on the bill, it's hard to say if the bill was out of line, but the caterers behavior certainly was..

              I had clients come to me recently who give me an exact menu (beef tenderloin, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail among other higher-end items) and profess to have no concept of what the bill was going to be. When I came back with my estimate of , say $750, they "counter-offered" at $500. Okay, I understand budgetary limitations. I revamped the menu with lower-priced alternatives (sliced London Broil, crab dip and peel and eat shrimp). The guy said to me "No, I want the original menu, but for $500." THAT isn't negotiating -- that's attempted robbery! (overstatement for comedic effect.) I kept my cool, butI told him that I would be unable to help him out because at that price I would lose money -- and that I'd rather take that night off than spend money to get his (one-time) business. He took the $750 deal, by the way - but it made me wonder. Did he really think a 33% reduction was going to fly? I totally get the "if you don't ask, you don't get" mentality, but I had to try really, really hard not to feel insulted.

              7 Replies
              1. re: chefbeth
                Midlife Dec 8, 2009 11:57 AM

                I don't know much about your business but the idea of asking for a lower price for the same menu doesn't sound outrageous to me............ at least not as a first attempt at negotiating. That seems to be saying that the client is supposed to assume that you offer the best possible pricing on any given menu and the only way to lower the price is to change the food? I'd agree that a 33% discount is pretty deep, but I'd have to think the client was starting at a low, assuming you were starting at a high. I'm curious as to why you would be insulted at that, unless you thought the client had some way of knowing that you don't negotiate the price of a specific menu, but only make menu changes. Is that standard in your market?

                I don't mean to be at all insulting, but was it the size of the discount that got to you or the idea of it?

                1. re: Midlife
                  c
                  chefbeth Dec 8, 2009 01:08 PM

                  Good question. I think it was the unspoken insinuation that I was trying to rip him off. This particular menu was for pick-up items only -- no staff, rentals or beverages, just the food.

                  This guy came to me because of my reputation in the business of using the finest quality ingredients (and although many claim this, in my case it is true). When I do an estimate, I break out the price of each line: $x for tenderloin, $y for shrimp, etc. Where there are budgetary restriction, I can often meet the clients price by changing the presentation. I can use a less expensive cut of meat, a smaller shrimp with less labor cost associated with it, or a dip that uses a lower grade of fresh crab meat. I lower my expenses so that I can lower his.

                  I felt this gentleman was yanking my chain to see how desperate I was for the business. And when I politely explained that I was not interested in working without making an honest profit, he agreed to the original price. So yes, in the end everything worked out -- but I was a little bit miffed that I had to bluntly explain my not-for-profit status. I assume he doesn't work for free, but he was assuming I'd be so glad for the work that I'd do it for nothing.

                  1. re: Midlife
                    d
                    Dcfoodblog Dec 9, 2009 11:17 AM

                    As a non food professional but someone who is friends with food professionals, asking for a lower price for the same menu DOES sound outrageous to me. The client should assume that the price they are offering is the best possible price for that menu. This isn't a Middle Eastern bazaar, it's a trained professional and business person who had to factor in a zillion things (food, staff, rentals etc). It is standard in catering to be flexible about scaling back or changing things to make an event in a clients budget, but the numbers caterers give out AREN'T arbitrary.

                    1. re: Dcfoodblog
                      m
                      MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 11:49 AM

                      If you re-read above you'll see I wasn't asking for a lower price for the same menu; rather I was asking what we could tweak/change on the existing menu to fit my budget.

                      1. re: MSVALERY
                        d
                        Dcfoodblog Dec 11, 2009 03:19 PM

                        Definitely did not think you were asking for the lower price for the same menu. Responding to midlife.

                      2. re: Dcfoodblog
                        jfood Dec 9, 2009 11:54 AM

                        "The client should assume that the price they are offering is the best possible price for that menu"

                        Here's another one

                        "A fool and his money are soon parted"

                        Jfood would very much wish this were ture, but the idea that nothing in the food professional's contract is negotiable is just silly. You may want to chek on the in-network vs out-of-network prices doctors charge. And jfood thinks thay are very much professionals. Seems that they have negotiated some pretty sweet deals

                        1. re: jfood
                          Midlife Dec 10, 2009 11:49 AM

                          I agree jfood. I'm not sure where this view comes from. Possibly it's an offshoot of the restaurant industry. I wouldn't think of negotiating with a server over the price on the menu............. ergo a caterer has the same position with a client?

                          Maybe. If it's so, I owe an apology to a few caterers. But I think of a private event as a closed circle contract, not like a menu that is posted for all to see in a venue where the owner may be empty or full on any given night. A catered event is for a fixed number of guests with, I would think, more predictable costs for the caterer. I wouldn't push a caterer very hard on the price but I certainly wouldn't think it impolite to see if there's some wiggle room on a specific menu before changing it.

                          I'm not sure how this is different from negotiating with a building contractor over the estimate for a specific project (before getting into design and equipment changes), or with a consultant for a specific project.

                  2. rockandroller1 Dec 8, 2009 11:43 AM

                    I agree with the others, she sounds like a loon. Run, don't walk.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rockandroller1
                      b
                      bu dat Dec 8, 2009 04:07 PM

                      i agree too - run. you should not have to spend your time worrying about her next episode. just find someone who is easy to work with. catering events are stressful, and if she can't handle a simple and legitimate question - what is she going to do when the scallop doesn't come out right?

                      i did an off site event in LA recently (i know prices are probably different) - but it was about $112/person for the same quality of menu and also 30 people. i negotiated the prices and we came to a place where i was happy and they were happy (i also tipped the servers afterward).

                    2. chef chicklet Dec 8, 2009 12:15 PM

                      i have a couple of qs.

                      Did you review and decide your menu? Do you mind sharing it?
                      Is there alchohol and bartender? If yes did you two discuss the fees for the bartender?
                      Had you chosen and secured the venue already, and she just went and checked it out?

                      I have owned my own event business, and my fee is on my contract set at 23% of the total due of the entire event,including the taxes, excluding the 18% tip meaning I did not figure that in my fee.
                      Since I did everything, at times all I did was plan a menu, and work it out with the restaurant or caterer just as you are doing. Then I charged what they charged, I did not bump it up. Is she making all the food herself?

                      A couple of things come to mind that might of happened.
                      The distance to get deliver the food, the area is not food serving friendly (such as long hauls from parking to food service entrance)
                      She could of misquoted you in the first place.
                      Sure she can negotiate, didn't you find the prices steep? I always am amazed at what the markup is on catered food.

                      I think you need not feel like slime ball, stop that!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: chef chicklet
                        m
                        MSVALERY Dec 8, 2009 12:35 PM

                        Here is the menu, which I was hoping to do for $130 p/person all in:

                        Bar:
                        Stocked and provided by me; bartender provided by caterer

                        Hors/Bar snacks:
                        Spiced Mixed Nuts
                        Endive w/Artichoke Dip
                        Dilly Beans
                        Sour Pickled Cherries

                        Amuse:
                        Seared Diver Scallop in cauliflower broth with Lemon Oil

                        Salad:
                        Cornmeal crusted Oyster with local bitter greens

                        Main:
                        Braised Short Ribs with Carola Mashed Potatoes and roasted winter root vegetables

                        Dessert:
                        Provided by me

                        To answer your other question, I had already found and secured the menu, she just went to check it out; I had not gotten any idea of price for any labor (including bartender) before she shared with me. Thanks!

                        1. re: MSVALERY
                          f
                          fourunder Dec 8, 2009 12:46 PM

                          It would be presumptuous to assume what this person's/company's costs are......Ask her for a breakdown of food charges and labor charges on how she arrives to her figure of $142. In my opinion, while the menu itself is nice.......it's no where near worth the price quoted on face value. I realize this is an off premise function, but if it were in a restaurant, it would be half the cost per person.....especially considering the alcohol is being provided by yourself and not the caterer.

                          1. re: fourunder
                            chef chicklet Dec 8, 2009 01:22 PM

                            And this is exactly why I never included my fee in with the food or other items that I coordinated, it looks so much like you're trying to pull something over. It's more comfortable to share with the client your fees and show it on paper. Great advice from my attorney and less headache for my accountant. Besides, I'm not that smart to try to make up some reason. And obviously, she got questioned, and felt guilty, got angry and upset. Not that she needed to, she can charge what she wants. Now it would be cool if she just showed her client how she arrived at the new numbers.

                          2. re: MSVALERY
                            chef chicklet Dec 8, 2009 01:57 PM

                            omg, I do love your menu, and if she makes it nice, then wonderful.
                            Before I would write her completely off, have her explain what happened with the price hike, and in detail. I would wonder why the number changed significantly and its normal practice for you to ask. If you're willing to pay the price which if pretty high, make her feel comfortable to be upfront with you with the amounts. If she made a mistake than let her admit it.

                            BIG BUT, I would want her to provide a contract that shows the increments and prices of the items, and I mean a break-down, staff, bartender, extras.
                            Then the meal.
                            The bar area you are stocking and setting up, he is pouring drinks.
                            Really she'snot obligated to share with you that she's paying her staff $15 per hr or whatever, & staff splits the tip amongst themselves (that's the right thing for the owner to do) but she could list the total for providing your event with servers. (make sure if she lists for example, 3 servers, that there are 3 severs) that figureon that line item would include 3 bodies.
                            Then the food, broke down appropriately:
                            ex: Small Snacks or Nuts for 30 - $25
                            Endive with Artichoke 30 guests - $??
                            cont.
                            Then the amuse:
                            The Main for 30: $$
                            Sales Tax
                            Tip

                            I don't know what she did to come back to you with a number of $142 pp which is $1260 for 30, but it could be as innocent as forgetting to add the tax, and gratuity.

                            I'm also wondering if you are able to call her and downgrade by a certain date so that if people cancel on you or don't rsvp back to you, that you are able to change the headcount and adjust your amount due for the dinners, or servers.
                            She should tell you if you have to eat the difference, and pay anyway?

                            Most caterers that I've worked with will give a deadline that I can call them and adjust the quantity. After that date then I get it all, and pay for the total.

                            Sure hope she gives you this itemization, she owes that to you.
                            Please though, do not let her scream or get upset at you, otherwise, find someone else. She should be grateful for the business, or perhaps they're doing so well they don't need it?

                            Good Luck!

                            1. re: MSVALERY
                              jfood Dec 9, 2009 06:06 AM

                              Although this menu is lovely it is NOT a $140/pp menu. jfood would have thought under your number for this. They are providing some cold apps, a scallop dish, a salad with an oyster and one main. No dessert, no booze. She was probably crying because she was upset that she got caught.

                          3. pikawicca Dec 8, 2009 01:05 PM

                            Sounds like a rip-off artist AND a lunatic.

                            1. Cherylptw Dec 8, 2009 02:24 PM

                              I have no problem negotiating with a client but ultimately, if they insist on having certain items, they are going to have to pay or find another caterer...but for this one to go off the deep end is not a professional attitude and I would take my business elsewhere as it sounds like you may be in for more surprises along the way...

                              Also, I know it's NY but for what she would be providing, the price seems high...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Cherylptw
                                l
                                lil magill Dec 11, 2009 06:07 PM

                                I've always believed that people will tell you a lot about themselves if you listen, and that a client will tell you when you need to fire them, and that works in reverse here. Catering is not a business for someone given to emotional outbursts, who just can't deal with something that should have been expected given the difference from your stated amount p/p and the bid. Your caterer should already have had a Plan B to propose or known some strategy right off the top. Just not professional at all. Don't feel at all bad. Feel relieved that you learned in time and likely saved yourself her drama when you would be playing hostess!

                                1. re: lil magill
                                  f
                                  fourunder Dec 12, 2009 04:24 AM

                                  lm,

                                  Your Plan B. observation is very true. My ex boss used to handle the catering for a very well known store in Manhattan and it's annual kick-off promotion theme for the holiday season. Every table, chair, linen, glass, plate and silverware would be rented for the one day party with a guarantee of 10,000 covers. The menu called for Maine Lobster, Roast Rack of Veal and Filet Mignon....and the per person charge was $135 (this was in the late 80's). The CEO of the company felt things were starting to get out of hand and called my boss in for a meeting to discuss a menu change to omit the Lobster. My boss takes about a minute after listening, pulls out his pocket calculator and punches in the numbers..... then tells the CEO it will now cost $150 per head..... the CEO looks at him dumbfounded and says he was trying to reduce costs, not add to them. My boss explained to him that by omitting the Lobster, he had to prepare more Frenched Veal Racks which would require additional time and labor costs. Rather than look cheap (if that was even possible), the CEO approves the menu for the higher $150 per head.....and in an instant minute the bill increased by $150,000...

                              2. jfood Dec 8, 2009 04:17 PM

                                point 1, never receive only one bid, there is no way of knowing if the price is realistic if no apple to apple comparison.

                                But this caterer sounds, like others have stated, like a loon.

                                If she handles this part of the event how will she handle real day-of issues.

                                1. alanbarnes Dec 8, 2009 05:57 PM

                                  Maybe I'm misunderstanding the issue, but 57% for staffing alone is excessive. Per my caterer friends, unless service includes liveried footmen or B-list celebrities passing the hors d'oeuvres, staffing should generally be around 20% of the cost of the food.

                                  Your menu sounds lovely, but you're not serving caviar or truffles. So a $90pp food cost sounds like it already has significant profit built in. That should cover servers' base pay. Add another $18pp for a 20% tip, and you're at $118.

                                  That's not to say that other charges aren't reasonable. If $142 includes chairs, tables, linen tablecloths and napkins, sterling flatware, bone china plates, and the tent the Obamas used for the last state dinner, then you're probably getting a bargain. But even then, the caterer's job is to explain **why** you're paying what you are, not flip out when you question it.

                                  1. s
                                    soupkitten Dec 8, 2009 07:46 PM

                                    1) caterer sounds like a wingnut

                                    2) off-site catering is tricky. that's why a lot of caterers don't mess with offsite, period. higher charges at an off-site job probably has a lot more to do with rentals and logistics than staffing. she probably realized that due to the site's limitations she'd need to rent a few more hot/cold boxes, portable ice machine, and butane burners, or that the site would require her to haul in 1/2 her kitchen due to lack of a dish station, or there was inadequate refrigeration or power supply. . . ime people just don't understand that hauling out, setting up, and breaking down a restaurant kitchen 40 miles away and outdoors will actually *increase* the cost of putting on the event in the middle of an idyllic meadow rather than in the caterer's own restaurant. gotta explain it to them. never gets old.

                                    3) sure, it's fine to say that a caterer's bid is outside of budget and ask them to adjust a course or two of the meal downward to accommodate the checkbook. be prepared to omit items or downgrade shellfish to fin fish, exchange cuts of meat, etc. it *is* rude to tell the caterer *how* to cut costs-- examples: to leave the sauce off of the plate (sorry, there are some dishes that are not right without their accompanying sauces), omit all the garnishes (if the food doesn't look beautiful, why should the caterer want to put her/his company's name on it?), or go with a lower grade of product/different supplier (don't tell the certified organic caterer to work with sysco or sam's club ingredients, please-- or think it's reasonable to ask the caterer to pluck and prepare 30 frozen wild ducks that your brother in-law shot last autumn).

                                    ETA: i think your menu above leaves enough room for a trim to be completely feasable. no reason your budget should not have been accommodated.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: soupkitten
                                      f
                                      fourunder Dec 9, 2009 04:26 AM

                                      sk,

                                      all the examples you listed are very true for larger parties, but none apply here for the menu provided......this is for 30 and the OP is providing many items herself. If a caterer is not equipped to handle 30 people without padding supposed rental and logistic incidentals....this alone is enough to disqualify her efforts and those of the caterer.

                                    2. n
                                      Normandie Dec 9, 2009 12:14 AM

                                      You ought to be stunned.

                                      I was a meeting planner for ten years. I worked with caterers and in-house food and beverage professionals at hotels, major convention centers, restaurants and all kinds of special event sites throughout the United States and in Europe. There is never a time when we did not negotiate with either institutional F&B directors or the independent caterers with whom we contracted when we used a site that did not have its own foodservice.

                                      This is crazy. Based on the circumstances you described, you did nothing wrong. Nothing. When you say you just wanted to see if you could tweak things a bit to fit your budget, I'm assuming you meant that you were willing to adjust your menu a bit to get the per person cost down to your budget allotment. Is that right?

                                      A good working relationship between caterer and client depends on some back-and-forth conversation between the two parties and, where possible, compromise to accommodate both parties' needs and objective. Migod, you weren't even asking for that big a reduction in the cost per head. I find it impossible to believe that, with a professional, you wouldn't be able to workout ways to save $7 on a $142 proposal.

                                      You have two seafood items and those are expensive. Other than that, these are *not* particularly expensive selections--at all. My word, MSVALERY, she's only giving you *four* appetizer items...IMO, she's got a lot of nerve not giving you any hot hors d'oeuvres for your PP price!...and YOU'RE providing the dessert AND liquor, if I understand the bar arrangments correctly?!

                                      Is she providing any of the furniture, chair covers, dinnerware, crystal, linens, silverware, or floral? If so, that could explain some of the price. If not...sorry, but it sounds to me like a total rip-off. Does this include gratuities? Is this taking place in your home?

                                      How long has she been in business? It honestly sounds to me as though, in addition to whatever shortcomings she has in professional demeanor, that she doesn't know what she's doing.

                                      I live in the metro NY area, too, and we recently had a party with an extensive menu, approximately ten hot hors d'oeuvres selections (including some seafood items), salmon appetizer, prime rib entree, dessert selection, premium brand liquors (which *we* did not have to supply) on a Saturday evening, and we didn't pay this much. The food was outstanding. It was a bit larger than your event, so I understand the cost pp might have been slightly higher for a smaller group, but still...

                                      You did nothing wrong. There is nothing over which *you* should feel awful. Don't let her make you feel that way. You are not the slime ball in this equation. She ought to apologize to you, and you ought to look for someone else with whom to work, if you're not locked into a contract already. If you are locked in, see if you can call around and get some competitive prices for your menu. Then you'll have some ammunition to show her. Good luck. I'm sorry to hear that you were treated in this manner.

                                      1. RetiredChef Dec 9, 2009 05:56 AM

                                        It is never rude to negotiate and in this case negotiation is a must, I think you are getting ripped off. Those prices are astronomical, maybe it's a NYC thing, but I when costed this menu out and had a friend who is a high-end caterer in Los Angeles do it to we came up with numbers quite lower. Although not precise, he is aware of current costs better than I am our numbers were within $4 of each other on a PP basis.

                                        Food cost, labor to serve, cook and clean plus a generous profit is about 51-55 PP.

                                        Things not added in

                                        Tax
                                        Tip
                                        China Costs
                                        Linen Costs
                                        Room Fees
                                        Uniform Fees
                                        Etc.

                                        Are they securing the facilities? Howe expensive are these?
                                        Does NYC have a catering tax? Is that included?
                                        How elaborate is the china, glassware, flatware and service you are doing?
                                        Are you asking for unusual uniforms?
                                        What type of linen?

                                        In other words if you went with an extremely elaborate and formal room with the most ostentatious plates, glassware and flatware, custom made uniforms and this price was inclusive of tax and tip then maybe it would be reasonable. Other than that I would have a hard time justifying spending that much.

                                        21 Replies
                                        1. re: RetiredChef
                                          m
                                          MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 06:25 AM

                                          Thank you so much everyone for the informed and thoughtful responses. To answer your questions,

                                          - I have secured the facilites myself, paying for them myself. The room is far from fancy; in fact it is an old lodge which is charmingly kitschy and that my friends and I will likely be dolling up ourselves
                                          -NYC has an 8% sales tax
                                          -I am not renting any china, glassware, flatware from her
                                          --service is seated for dinner, with two passed apps and two stationary during cocktail hour
                                          --I have not requested any unusual uniforms, in fact this was not even discussed, I just assumed they would be presentable
                                          --I am providing the linen

                                          I am beginning to think I am getting royally ripped off! So glad I came here first....

                                          also, is it the norm to charge for the work done on the proposal? She mentioned something to this affect.

                                          1. re: MSVALERY
                                            f
                                            fourunder Dec 9, 2009 06:35 AM

                                            lso, is it the norm to charge for the work done on the proposal? She mentioned something to this affect.
                                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                            NO.....

                                            1. re: MSVALERY
                                              RetiredChef Dec 9, 2009 06:35 AM

                                              Whoops, didn’t check my emails until now, my friend sent me one last night.

                                              “Assumptions:

                                              Menu as stated
                                              Facilities are provided by host.
                                              There is no extraordinary measures for food transport and delivery needed
                                              There is no floral, band, dance floor, multi-media provided.
                                              Caterer will provide Black tie service for a 3 hour event.
                                              Bartender will stay for 4 hours.
                                              Price includes standard china, flatware, service utensils.
                                              Price includes set up and break down with no floor cleaning involved

                                              Cost includes

                                              15% event planning fee
                                              18% gratuity
                                              10% sales tax (this number was made up not knowing what NYC is)

                                              TOTAL for 30 guests

                                              $ 2925.64.…………….$ 97.52 PP”

                                              This the price from a Los Angeles caterer.

                                              One question he had was are you dealing with a caterer or an event planner. He has many event planners that come to him secure deals and then add on 25-50% for their trouble and sell it to the unsuspecting person. That would be your cost of 120.90 - 146.28 PP. and that could explain the outrageously high price.

                                              1. re: RetiredChef
                                                m
                                                MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 06:43 AM

                                                She is a caterer, not an event planner. Wow, I can't believe the cost she is charging me. It is almost as if she is being completely dishonest with me.

                                                1. re: RetiredChef
                                                  f
                                                  fourunder Dec 9, 2009 06:44 AM

                                                  It's all semantics, i.e., how you list or disguise your charges, but I would consider a brick and mortar caterer/facility a thief if they choose to charge 15% to the client for a event planning fee. This is what they do and the reason why it costs more to have an event at their venue. As my old boss used to say.....we don't just serve food, we are in the business of running parties.

                                                  1. re: fourunder
                                                    m
                                                    MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 06:47 AM

                                                    To be clear I am not using one of her venues, she is coming to a country house that I have rented....

                                                    1. re: MSVALERY
                                                      f
                                                      fourunder Dec 9, 2009 07:04 AM

                                                      M,

                                                      Does this country house have a fully functional kitchen you have access to? Assuming this event is in the near future, with the cold weather and refrigerated trucks for transport(if necessary), refrigeration or cooking equipment should not issues for rental as (soupkitten) ,mentioned earlier....and a factor in the proposal

                                                      1. re: fourunder
                                                        m
                                                        MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 07:08 AM

                                                        The house has a fully functional kitchen, and a rather large one at that, with multiple burners and stoves and plenty of room for prep. The event is for New Years Eve dinner.

                                                        1. re: MSVALERY
                                                          jfood Dec 9, 2009 07:13 AM

                                                          New Years Eve dinner may change many responses. And how far away is the country house from the caterer. Is this a major distance from her home location? or did you look for someone who is local to the venue?

                                                          Just some food for thought.

                                                          1. re: jfood
                                                            RetiredChef Dec 9, 2009 07:18 AM

                                                            Jfood is right

                                                            New Year’s Eve is a high demand date but to be honest, it’s pretty late for a good caterer not to be booked already. Have you been working with her a long time, she may know that you are now screwed and have no other choice. The ball may be in her court.

                                                            Distance traveled will add some to the bill, the farther (longer) the trip is the more you will have to pay.

                                                            1. re: jfood
                                                              m
                                                              MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 07:39 AM

                                                              I am aware that I have to pay more for staff on New Years Eve, but this shouldn't change the cost of the food. As to the distance, the caterer is traveling about 35 minutes for the job. Additionally, the dinner is quite early, with a 5pm cocktail and 6pm dinner, so the staff will be off the job well before the clock strikes midnight. Barring this, how much markup does one do for a holiday?

                                                              1. re: MSVALERY
                                                                f
                                                                fourunder Dec 9, 2009 07:49 AM

                                                                Others may disagree, but the fees charged for a server or bartender should not exceed $150 for each as charged on the contract......but please note that this fee, nor the gratuity attached to the final bill is automatically given to the workers. At the Country Clubs I was associated with, the catering servers and bartenders were paid for a fixed/set six hour shift pay and anything over was overtime. They generally did not receive the contract gratuities, which were to be only 8% suggested in print with a blank line next to it. As I mentioned above, it's semantics on how fees and charges are listed. On our contracts, the labor charge of 18% went to the owner for expenses and the 8% (or given) gratuity went to the booking manager as a commission.

                                                                1. re: MSVALERY
                                                                  jfood Dec 9, 2009 09:31 AM

                                                                  it changes the cost of everything, includining food, and it my be convenient in your POV but this may be a nasty inconvenience for the caterer and she added that as a surcharge. Likewise she is not making any money on the booze of the dessert, normally some high margin things, so she needs to make it up elsewhere.

                                                                  All of that should be discussed not cried about by the caterer. very unprofessional and jfood still keeps the loon comment alive.

                                                                  1. re: jfood
                                                                    m
                                                                    MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 09:40 AM

                                                                    Fair enough! You explained it rationally and in a way that makes sense--I wish my caterer had done the same! Thanks again.

                                                                    1. re: MSVALERY
                                                                      jfood Dec 9, 2009 10:09 AM

                                                                      Hope it works out for you and happy new year

                                                                      1. re: MSVALERY
                                                                        s
                                                                        soupkitten Dec 9, 2009 11:06 AM

                                                                        i would just ask her why the upcharge. she should be able to tell you in plain language what the additional charges are for. if i am reading your posts correctly, she is doing your actual *menu* for $90/pp, or thereabouts, which imo is probably perfectly reasonable--the additional charges were for staffing and possibly other related fees, and were added after the venue was seen. makes me think there is possibly some sort of issue with the onsite facility, equipment rentals, or logistics. as everyone has stated, the caterer's reaction doesn't make much sense otherwise. she is either a complete loon, or she's reacting to some detail about this job that's not in your posts. maybe she pays her staff during transit time, etc, and they get holiday pay with a minimum hourly payment (typically time and a half for 4 hrs minimum, regardless of actual time worked). for the customer, it makes more sense to see these costs as a flat staffing fee for doing a party of any size, rather than breaking it down to per person-- because with a group of 30 people, this will inflate the cost per plate to these high prices that are easy for some people to call "exorbitant" or "cheating" without seeing the whole story. if i had been drawing up your contract or invoice, that is how i would have presented these charges, but that's just me. you should also certainly expect to pay more on a holiday, regardless of the time of day-- if she commits to your party, it means she may not have the staff or resources to do others.

                                                                        i am reminded of the time a liason assured me i'd have access to a commercial kitchen for an offsite job for a dinner for 150 and wanted to sign a contract right away. i wanted to see the kitchen myself prior to signing anything, and discovered a large room with not much in it except a card table and one of those mini-stoves they put in studio apartments. long story short i walked away from that job. caterers who do a lot of offsite work don't want to lose money on a job or completely screw themselves working in ridiculous conditions-- they will not sign a contract until after they have seen the venue. so i'm guessing you haven't signed anything either. if it makes you feel better, shop around with the other local caterers and see how they'd bid the job.

                                                                        1. re: soupkitten
                                                                          m
                                                                          MSVALERY Dec 9, 2009 11:52 AM

                                                                          Thanks soupkitten...I think someone should write an article demystifying the catering process--to an outsider things can look a bit daunting I must say! I have really enjoyed all the useful information given in response to my original post.

                                                                        2. re: MSVALERY
                                                                          Jen76 Dec 9, 2009 08:23 PM

                                                                          As a person who knows next to nothing about hiring a caterer, to simply ask politely if there is any way to tweak a menu to lower the cost to $135 from $142 is hardly something to get upset about. Even taking into account the holiday, you merely asked her if adjustments could be made to lower the cost -- and thus the price -- by only $7 pp. If I were you, I'd look elsewhere. Her reaction would worry me about her ability and/or desire to do the job.

                                                            2. re: fourunder
                                                              RetiredChef Dec 9, 2009 07:06 AM

                                                              Event planning fees for off-site and custom catered menus are customary in the business even if they aren’t disclosed.

                                                              If you choose to have your event in the in-house portion of the catering facility and choose a standard menu with standard arrangements there is usually no event fee.

                                                              The event planning fee covers the cost of:

                                                              Inspecting the site
                                                              Ensuring proper electrical hookups are available, if not providing generators capable for the needs.
                                                              Securing health department permits for off-site catering
                                                              Securing liquor license permits for off-site event
                                                              Securing city business license
                                                              Cover cost of transportation to and from the event.
                                                              Cover the cost of extra insurance that off-site events incur.
                                                              Cover the cost of recipe development for new custom dishes.
                                                              Etc, etc, etc.

                                                              It was customer that choose to have the party off-site so rather then penalize the on-site customers with paying extra money they don’t have to most caterers just choose to pass those costs along to the people who incur them.

                                                              As an asides that event planning fee usually barely covers those costs on small events, just from my experience in LA, off-site health, liquor and city business licenses usually cost around $250 per event, the fees in this case were $ 298.13

                                                              1. re: RetiredChef
                                                                f
                                                                fourunder Dec 9, 2009 07:24 AM

                                                                RC

                                                                Thank you taking the time to explain the insight on conducting business in California. With that knowledge on how fees are collected, I'm surprised the state is in such dire straits......but in my neck of the woods (NY/NJ), none of your examples would apply, or at least in any place I have been associated with....the examples would already be factored in the cost of doing business and annual fees already paid. To use your liquor example, the host is providing the booze, thus no sale of liquor, no permit necessary.

                                                                This is not to say things may not change in the future and there are no exceptions. One ridiculous ordinance being implemented in some NJ municipalities is to pay a fee to be a BYOB restaurant.....now that's a blatant rip-off.

                                                              2. re: fourunder
                                                                chef chicklet Dec 9, 2009 10:18 AM

                                                                They've never done that to me. I work with the sales staff, and the banquet manager coordinating these events, that doesn't happen. If it did, I'd never use them again. The event planner is your advocate, and in my case responsible for the contract signing and coordinating of the entire affair. There seems to be a caterer that is trying to come off as an event planner and she hasn't done anything. I would dismiss her services.

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