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Do you have to pay for wedding caterers' tastings?

Bob Dobalina Mar 8, 2010 03:30 AM

I am getting married in Sept. so have begun the search for a caterer. One in my area of the country came very highly recommended from several people, but there is one thing that is just sticking in my craw, and I am hoping the wise hounds of the world can provide me with some feedback.

It seems that they conduct a group tasting a couple times in the winter and spring, and we are asked to pay $25/pp to attend. (The 50 is applied to your tab if you choose to go with them.) People have always remarked that the tastings are the best thing because of all the free food, etc. Not that I am looking for a handout, but it does niggle at me that before I pay them upwards of $10K for a meal, I have to pay them $50 to try them. They are trying to get my business, right?

I am also concerned that this is a sign that they may nickel and dime me later on.

This caterer is sort of a mom and pop-style place, run out of the couple's home, but it's not a small time operation in any sense. And like I said, it comes highly recommended spontaneously from several people, so we would like to use them, but this minor thing just bugs me.

Should it? I would really appreciate your feedback.

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  1. rockandroller1 RE: Bob Dobalina Mar 8, 2010 03:45 AM

    Most places charge for a tasting, whether independent shops or hotels or whatever. The worst part about tastings like the one you describe, which is the kind that we went to, is you have no control over the menu, so they might present a bunch of things that are nowhere near what you plan on serving. We were basically given leftovers from what was being served off another buffet taking place that night, and they wouldn't even give you a pop without you paying for it. Nothing that they served was fantastic, but it was decent. However, the food we ended up choosing was totally different, and it was pretty bad. Thankfully, weddings are not about the food and I'm sure 7 years later nobody remembers the food details except me.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1
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      Niagaragourmet RE: rockandroller1 Feb 20, 2012 06:31 PM

      Hi rockandroller. Its unfortunate that the food you chose was pretty bad, because as a dedicated offsite wedding cater, we think thast wedding food should be memorable in the very best sense of the word.We caterers are forced intooffering tasting because of all the "advice" from wedding mags and web sites. If you are going out to dinner, do you ask for a tasting before you make a resrvation? My best advice is to check the reputation and reviews of past clients. As you can confirm, the tasting can be nothing like the catered meal at your wedding. I like to think that my couples and their guests will remember how great the food was, even after seven years!

      1. re: rockandroller1
        Bill Hunt RE: rockandroller1 Feb 22, 2012 07:35 PM

        While my wedding was about four decades ago, we book many caterers and venues for charity events. We do tastings, but those are based on general guidelines. We expect that the tastings will be rolled into the price of the event. That is what we expect, and part of what we pay for.

        For a general, charity event, we usually have narrowed things down to about 3 apps., 3 mains, and 3 desserts. We often taste wine offerings, along with those possible dishes. So far, it has worked very well.

        Hunt

      2. tastyeating RE: Bob Dobalina Mar 11, 2010 08:32 AM

        I'm getting married next year and of the places that I looked at, it's a mixed bag. Some places offer tastings before you book, some after, and some not at all. The ones that offer tastings before you book are random items. The ones after, you pick. However, all were free. I would think that some places would charge to prevent people from randomly tasting food without even thinking of booking nor planning to get married.

        My advice, ask if you could pick the items in the tasting. Make it known that you are definitely interesting in booking them but just want to make sure the food is to your liking.

        5 Replies
        1. re: tastyeating
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          Niagaragourmet RE: tastyeating Feb 20, 2012 06:38 PM

          Hi tastyeater. We book a lot of weddings based on our reputation for providing delicious food and excellent service. I would never offerr a free personal tasting without charging, as yoiu are right...too many people just looking for a free meal! The other consideration is the complexity of the menu you are considering. After all if you don't think the caterer can prepare a Caesar Salad, Prime Rib and Roasted Potatoes, them why are you considering them? On the other hand is you are comitted to using the caterer because of the affinity you felt during your consultation, a tasting could be arranged if your menu items were unique and unusual.

          1. re: Niagaragourmet
            Bill Hunt RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 22, 2012 07:41 PM

            You make very good points. Food, and food prep. cost money. One should hope to get some sort of return for that, whether it is a line-item entry, or not.

            Good luck with your endeavor.

            Hunt

          2. re: tastyeating
            Bill Hunt RE: tastyeating Feb 22, 2012 07:37 PM

            Well "free" might not be 100% correct, as food costs $, so the caterer should have factored that cost into the overall meal. One might not see it, as a line-item charge, but it should be included at some level.

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt
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              Niagaragourmet RE: Bill Hunt Feb 22, 2012 07:57 PM

              Bill I am in a relatively small market and am fairly well know for the quality and inventiveness of my food and excellent service. I do my fair share of charity events and of course bid on them but have never ben asked to do a tasting. That would drive up the price for sure and my non-profits are looking for the best possible rate. Most know what we can do and would not even think to request a tasting. So I guess as always with catering, it depends.

              1. re: Niagaragourmet
                Bill Hunt RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 22, 2012 08:53 PM

                I can understand completely. We expect to pay, at some level, for the tastings, but for me, often on the food/wine committee, the results are reflective. I would never ask any caterer to furnish me (or my committee) with free food. That is just not right.

                Usually, we have decided on the caterer (often with the venue), but the food (and wine) is important. I fully expect that the cost of such tastings will be factored into the bill.

                In my life, I am prepared to pay my way. That is never a problem. I just need to be certain that all is as good, as it can be - food, wine, etc.

                Now the OP was referencing wedding catering, and I have to plead ignorance on that aspect, but with about 4 charity events per year, catering is not foreign to me. Also, I have about 6 other events catered per year, though for smaller groups, and again, will want a tasting, unless it's a menu, that we have used before - still, the tasting WILL be on the total bill.

                Thank you for your comments,

                Hunt

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            Niagaragourmet RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 20, 2012 06:25 PM

            I'll be up front and let you know that I am a liscenced professional caterer operating out of a health inspected commercial kitchen. We do not have a banquet facility but cater "off-site" to many venues and backyard tented venues. So I am wondering why, since this caterer comes highlt recommended, you feel the need to taste the food...for free? There is no guarantee you are going to book with them so is it not fair that charge you a nominal fee to participate in the tasting, which no dount costs them way more that the charge? I don't understand why it would bug you to spend $50 if you are going to spend $10k on food, IF you book with them?

            7 Replies
            1. re: Niagaragourmet
              EWSflash RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 20, 2012 07:47 PM

              Because they're being slimy, is why. I worked as a biomedical/ industrial photographer for 36 years, and I can tell you with no qualms about saying it. After all, it's a photo of me-why do they deserve money for photographing me? I just bet they feel the same way about the caterer, and I'll let you in on a little secret I found out about some people- the less they spend on you the more they expect AND feel free to criticize and try to cheat you out of any expenditure you put into the photographic effort. you couldn't pay me enough money to photograph OR feed a group of peoplefor money after what I've seen since the early 1970s.

              1. re: EWSflash
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                Jerseygirl111 RE: EWSflash Feb 20, 2012 09:25 PM

                Wow, things sure have changed since my day. We went to check out reception venues because they offered entire complimentary evenings. There was food, a band, photographers and florist there with samples. I had a sample of the best salmon I have ever eaten at one place. The food was fabulous. This was only 15 years ago!

                If the caterer is going to charge, you should receive a prepared to order meal. However, I don't think it's fair to give you leftovers from someone else's event and charge you $50.00 for the privilege.

                1. re: Jerseygirl111
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                  escondido123 RE: Jerseygirl111 Feb 20, 2012 09:28 PM

                  But that was a whole venue so the amount it would cost them for each visitor was small in comparison to what they might make since it sounds like it was one stop shopping.

                2. re: EWSflash
                  gingershelley RE: EWSflash Feb 21, 2012 03:01 PM

                  EWflash... whatever are you talking about here? What does your background as an industrial photographer have to do with anything here?

                  What does this have to do with a wedding caterer'd tasting?

                  1. re: EWSflash
                    Bill Hunt RE: EWSflash Feb 22, 2012 07:45 PM

                    Well, as an advertising photographer for 38 years, I can tell you that I never gave anything away. If a client wanted a series of R&D shots, they paid for such.

                    Not sure how this applies here, but I suppose that you have a reason?

                    Hunt

                  2. re: Niagaragourmet
                    Chris VR RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 22, 2012 08:30 AM

                    Why should a caterer offer free samples to potential customers? It's called sales and marketing.

                    As long as we're in full disclosure mode here, I worked in sales and marketing for an event facility out on one of Boston Harbor's islands. We'd have monthly dog-and-pony shows where we'd offer corporate event planners a boat trip to and from the island, a tour of the facility, a catered lunch when they had to sit through our presentations, and we'd draw names for who would win 2 lobsters to go as a door prize. We didn't charge for these. Did it cost us money? Of course it did. But we did it for free (and the boat company did it for free as well) because we knew that our facility was unique and best appreciated in person. We knew that our food was great and they'd go home and tell their friends about it. I can't recall at this point what percentage of these converted into sales.. maybe 25%. There's no way to account for how many of those people told someone else at some point that we were worth checking out. Forums like this are proof of how valuable good word of mouth is.

                    No business person should expect their reputation to book a sale. It's nice when it does happen, but you can't expect that. The best way to book a sale is to prove yourself to a potential customer. Even if they don't book, you never know how your marketing effort will come back to repay you in the future.

                    Sure, I had it a lot easier dealing with the corporate market versus the private market. But even if you have quarterly tastings where you invite all of your prospects to one of the venues you work with on one of their off nights and put together an array of sample-sized tastings (you can even give out a limited number of tickets if you're worried people will come and gorge themselves for free), I'd bet just one of those, promoted through mailings and social media would net you a lot more bookings than just ONE ad in a local bridal publication.

                    1. re: Chris VR
                      KarenDW RE: Chris VR Feb 22, 2012 05:58 PM

                      I suppose a lot depends on the size of the business. Weddings are not my major business, obviously; I might do two such events a year. As a personal chef, I have approximately 15-18 days a month (3-4 days a week) available for providing service. A tasting takes two days to prep and serve; basically the same amount of time as a paying dinner party.
                      A prospective client who is willing to book me based on reputation will likely have been a direct referral from a knowledgeable associate, or a happy client, who thinks we are a good match. My business model may not work for everyone, but it does work for me :)

                  3. e
                    escondido123 RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 20, 2012 09:23 PM

                    Why should you get a meal for free? If you go with them, they put that toward the final bill. I see no reason why people shouldn't get paid for their efforts.

                    1. KarenDW RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 20, 2012 11:00 PM

                      Full disclosure: I am a personal chef who uses an health-department inspected off-site kitchen for catered events and in-home events. I do not operate a banquet facility. Most of my new clients come via referrals, either from business associates or previous clients. From time to time, I will be asked to provide a tasting, prior to confirming for a large event. These tastings take place in the client's home or venue of choice, and may take between 5 to 7 hours for me to prepare, not including planning the menu or shopping for supplies. For this service, I charge a minimum of $300, which would cover up to 8 guests. I consider the tasting to be an opportunity for the potential client to both taste, and to see, the way that I prepare dishes. Therefore, tasting plates are garnished, table is set, I introduce each dish, etc. If a potential client expected me to work for 2 days for free, I would think twice about choosing to work with them.

                      1. f
                        fourunder RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 20, 2012 11:38 PM

                        I think Bob and tasty have already had their events and moved on.....

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: fourunder
                          rockandroller1 RE: fourunder Feb 21, 2012 05:59 AM

                          Completely agree. I'm not sure why caterers are bumping up a 2 year old thread? I'm cool with weighing in on the subject in general, no matter how old, but to reference the OPs like they are still deciding or comment on 2 year old posts like they were just made yesterday seems a little strange.

                          1. re: fourunder
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                            Isolda RE: fourunder Feb 21, 2012 08:16 AM

                            But the topic is still relevant to many people who may be planning events and wondering what it's reasonable to expect.

                          2. t
                            The 1st and only KSyrahSyrah RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 21, 2012 04:33 AM

                            Oops. You're right!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: The 1st and only KSyrahSyrah
                              Bob Dobalina RE: The 1st and only KSyrahSyrah Feb 21, 2012 05:29 AM

                              Thanks for all the feedback, folks.

                              So ended up going to the paid tasting - it was good, but not blown away.

                              What sealed the deal was meeting with the caterer, seeing she was very likeable and easy to work with, a great sense of humor (turned an off-the-cuff remark into a terrific menu idea), worked easily within our budget, and the food and the experience ended up being great all the way around.

                              1. re: Bob Dobalina
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                                Niagaragourmet RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 21, 2012 10:38 AM

                                Bob I wonder if you would have booked this caterer after your meeting even if you didn't taste her food. I ask because wedding catering is about much more than the food, like the qualities you mentioned. Not that the food isn't really important!

                            2. pitagirl RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 21, 2012 07:48 AM

                              I'm getting married in June and when looking for places only one caterer was actually charging for a tasting (they were doing it as a group thing) for $40.00 per person. I didn't choose them for other reasons but I thought that amount of money for food you couldn't choose was a bit much. If I was asking the caterer to make me specific things I would be willing to pay a premium, but not going to pay that for generic offerings.

                              1. m
                                milklady RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 21, 2012 10:48 AM

                                My experience has been that free tastings were not offered until we had already committed to a caterer/site. I would be okay with that nominal fee, given that they will apply to the cost of your wedding if you select them.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: milklady
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                                  Niagaragourmet RE: milklady Feb 21, 2012 11:23 AM

                                  HER: (after greetings) I would like to schedule a tasting for next Friday evening.

                                  ME: A tasting for what?

                                  HER: I got engaged on Valentine's Day and we are getting married next year. I have heard good things about you and want to schedule a tasting of your awesome food.

                                  ME: Well if you have heard good things then why do you need to do a tasting? Catering is more than just food.

                                  HER: (frustrated) Do you DO tastings?

                                  ME: Of course. After we have had your initial consultation, secured the date, and honed down a menu then we will schedule a tasting one afternoon when our schedule is open at our kitchen.

                                  HER: No, it has to be at my house and I would like it next Friday.

                                  ME: Well, Friday is a premium date and our resources are usually tied up producing other weddings across the area, plus we only do tastings at our kitchen on a weekday afternoon. Why don't we schedule a consultation and start figuring out a game plan.

                                  HER: (frustratedER) So are you going to do this or what?

                                  ME: I am not sure what you are getting at here miss. You are getting married in over a year. We have plenty of time to work out the details. There are a lot of pieces that go into planning a wedding and the food is just one of them. We want to put our best foot forward and prepare a meal for you that is representative of the meal at your reception. I mean at $250 a pop, you want to make sure you only have to do it once.

                                  HER: You CHARGE for tastings?

                                  ME: Of course, we have to pay our chef, purchase ingredients, etc. There is a lot that goes into a tasting. You are welcome to bring up to 5 other guests with you. But once again, we need to have a meeting and work out the details first.

                                  HER: Why would I PAY to taste the food of a company that may or may not be any good?

                                  ME: Why would I prepare a free meal for someone who may or may not even use me? We are a business. We only give free meals away to charities. Everyone else has to pay.

                                  HER: Are you TRYING to piss me off?

                                  ME: No, I am just trying to explain how we can work together. Why would you think that someone would do a private meal at your home for free? I mean, we can do it, but we need to get a menu and a bid together if that is your wish.

                                  HER: I didn't just make this up, I read that most caterers offer free tastings and I just wanted to combine our tasting with us telling our parents that we are getting married.

                                  ME: So you are looking for a free meal?

                                  HER: Yes.

                                  ME: No Thanks. Good bye.

                                  1. re: Niagaragourmet
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                                    Niagaragourmet RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 21, 2012 11:29 AM

                                    This is a REAL conversation one of my catering friends had earlier this week.

                                    1. re: Niagaragourmet
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                                      joe777cool RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 22, 2012 04:33 PM

                                      "Chowhound is a rare bastion for pure consumer discussion. In the end, the dining enthusiasm we generate makes Chowhound a very good friend to this industry, and we ask commercial parties to help foster this environment by resisting the urge to join the fray."

                                      Im getting married in September and would love to hear more about this topic from differing perspectives.

                                      1. re: joe777cool
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                                        Niagaragourmet RE: joe777cool Feb 22, 2012 04:50 PM

                                        Maybe start a new topic...Weddng Tastings 2012?

                                        1. re: Niagaragourmet
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                                          joe777cool RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 22, 2012 06:41 PM

                                          this thread is just fine - as long as the conversation is not dominated by biased opinions.

                                    2. re: Niagaragourmet
                                      Bill Hunt RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 22, 2012 07:52 PM

                                      Good points made, though possibly lost "in translation."

                                      "Why won't you give me a bunch of free stuff, in hopes that I might choose you for my _____?"

                                      Well, it's about the cost of doing business. Not every person was born with a "silver spoon" int their mouths.

                                      Hunt

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
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                                        Niagaragourmet RE: Bill Hunt Feb 22, 2012 08:26 PM

                                        In my market I could blow committes away with the food but it would come down to what they can afford so whats the point of serving caviar dreams for a beer budget?

                                        1. re: Niagaragourmet
                                          Bill Hunt RE: Niagaragourmet Feb 22, 2012 08:57 PM

                                          We always have a budget, and that is provided early on. Then, the general menu suggestions are offered, and that committee will weed through those. By the time that we do the tasting, things are pretty close. We always do a wine tasting with each dish, and narrow it down to the ultimate combo.

                                          Committees can be an issue, and I have been overruled on some occasions, whether with the food, or the wines. When that happens, I let it be known to those at the event, that what they are experiencing, is not my doing. I have a reputation to protect. Still, when we DO the tasting, we are about three levels into the event.

                                          Hunt

                                  2. j
                                    Janet from Richmond RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 22, 2012 06:45 AM

                                    My daughter and SIL were married in 2010. The venue we used has in house catering. They had an outstanding reputation.

                                    They did their tastings in large groups so that you could get the experience of how 100 people are served at a function and what was popular among everyone. They also will do custom items for an event. We were allowed to bring 3 people (increased to 4 because of a cancellation) for no charge, but we had already booked the place.

                                    1. Bill Hunt RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 22, 2012 07:32 PM

                                      At some level, I would say yes. It might not be itemized on the bill, but at some point, all should be paid for, and one should expect to pay for it.

                                      Hope that things go smoothly,

                                      Hunt

                                      1. e
                                        escondido123 RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 22, 2012 08:16 PM

                                        I always thought that tastings were to refine the menu using the caterer/restaurant you had already booked, not decide who you were booking for your wedding.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: escondido123
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                                          Niagaragourmet RE: escondido123 Feb 22, 2012 08:24 PM

                                          Ah Escondido! A voice of reason!

                                          1. re: escondido123
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                                            Janet from Richmond RE: escondido123 Feb 23, 2012 05:36 AM

                                            That was the case with my daughter's wedding. It was booked already. And it was great to see how everything would be served, not just what it would taste like. And we were able to get feedback from other couples/families having their event there.

                                            And when the time came, the food was great, the bar was fabulous and the service top notch.

                                          2. mamachef RE: Bob Dobalina Feb 23, 2012 02:09 AM

                                            I can only speak for the places I've worked, but a tasting fee has always been the norm there. The group thing is strange to me and would bother me, but a tasting fee was just the way to weed out the serious from the "just looking." A lot - a LOT - of people "cater hop" and "bakery hop" as a way of gathering ideas, and there's nothing wrong with that, but bear in mind that just about all reputable caterers keep photo books and testimonials, and you can cull ideas from there without doing a tasting. When I have managed a tasting, it puts us to expense, timewise and foodwise, and we do need recompense I will say that virtually every single place offered the option of applying the tasting fee to the final fee should they decide to go with us, which is extremely fair, but expecting to utilize a company's time and resources for free is not fair.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: mamachef
                                              Bill Hunt RE: mamachef Feb 24, 2012 08:33 PM

                                              At my age, the caterer is usually known, well in advance, but then the tastings are geared towards the event. I expect to pay for such, where it is a line-item on the invoice, or not. I would never expect them to "comp" my tastings, regardless of how much business I give them. That would just not be right. In the end, we all care about one thing, the food (and wines) at the event.

                                              Hunt

                                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                mamachef RE: Bill Hunt Feb 24, 2012 09:16 PM

                                                Ain't that the truth.

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