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Dec 8, 2009 09:45 AM

Rude to Negotiate with Caterer?

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....

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  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.