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Mar 8, 2010 03:30 AM

Do you have to pay for wedding caterers' tastings?

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. 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

      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

        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.


      2. 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

          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

            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.


          2. re: tastyeating

            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.


            1. re: Bill Hunt

              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

                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,


          3. 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

              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

                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

                  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

                  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

                    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?


                  2. re: Niagaragourmet

                    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

                      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. 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. 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.