At Santa Barbara Wine Country Weddings & Events, we have a required “Full Service Caterer” list from which our clients must hire. These professionals already adhere to service basics in producing weddings and events. They know that the caterer’s job is more than just to provide good food. They are the backbone of a successful event: from coordinating rentals to set up, breakdown, proper clean-up, timing, and so much more. Plus, they provide one of the most essential elements of any good caterer, and that is the element of pre – event day planning and communication with a dedicated representative that will be with you in the planning stages of your event. The latter is not always reflected on a catering proposal, and not paying attention to this can cost one dearly “day of”, or in unexpected charges from the sub-standard caterer (or other service providers who have to do extra work to accommodate what the caterer should have been doing to begin with). So, while you may feel you are saving money initially, you may more than make up for it downstream with other vendors scrambling to do what the caterer should be doing. The inexperienced client generally does not know to look for this and often just goes by bottomline pricing on a catering bid alone. Consider the following story:
Recently, we had a client who was presented to several of our full-service caterers and received full catering proposals. Through a referral from another source to the couple/client, they were introduced to someone who, they thought, had amazing credentials and requested a proposal from them, as well.
When I received the call from my clients that they had compared all catering bids- including that of their “rogue” choice – they said how significantly less this “caterer” was than the other catering companies and started to show me line item by line item how they were less expensive. They also assured me that their chosen new caterer would take care of all the basic requirements on my list (if they don’t hire off my list, my clients and their chosen caterer must agree to my contractual full service requirements of any caterer working with my clients).
Fast forward: months of planning and the only response we ever had from their chosen caterer to most basic planning
questions was, “I’m busy.” Very basic planning questions that affect the caterer, set up, timing and event flow that integrated the caterer were apparently either too insignificant for this individual to deal with or…he/she didn’t know how and was avoiding them altogether out of ignorance. Regardless of the reason, key planning items and decisions never got answered.
What this chosen catering company also failed to realize was that their service was not an island. Other vendors were waiting on them to time their service and set up as well. This caterer was very impressed with themselves and nearly 90% of all responses- when we received one- was talking about all the events they were off to do and were “too busy”. I have never, in my life, seen the same answer repeated over and over like an auto-response script in an email. When this caterer did respond, they would answer 2 out of 4 questions asked. There were many mistakes due to their lack of involvement, the clients had to coordinate their own rentals (and there were many, many mistakes) and any request for any basic information was responded to with (you guessed it): “I’m busy”. At one point, an event supply partner said, “I hope they’re not too busy to do your client’s wedding”. So were we. To say they caused tremendous stress and unnecessary chaos would be an understatement.
Our clients had one very unique (and complex) request that affected catering staff exclusively. In order to accommodate their request, it would involve some timing issues as well as possibly hiring on additional banquet staff to take care of the request on the caterer’s end. As a professional, my job is to reconcile a solution for my clients and also for the vendors , so everyone has what they need. This caterer would not even allow me to help them in that capacity.
Two days before the wedding, the caterer indicated they were “free” and could talk. I gave them a window of time for a suggested teleconference to try and run interference on possible damage control from the lack of communication and asked them to have the final timeline I’d sent pulled up and ready to go through with me. They were a “no-show” for the teleconference. Nor did they ever attempt to call or email at any time after that. Or cite why, once again, they were MIA. I suppose I know the answer. They were “too busy”. We later found out that this “caterer” was not a professional caterer at all, but a “private chef” who did not have any staff (or service skills themselves) to deal with the pre-planning necessary for a successful event. Apparently, this private chef has a resume where he/she has been at many establishments no longer than one year (causing an appearance of lack of interest, perhaps incompatibility with co-workers), many apprenticeships and one “on retainer” celebrity client. Let us clarify for the record right here: doing a private dinner for 30-50 guests is not the same as planning, producing and coordinating a wedding with all its moving parts , timing and other vendors interdependent on each other. This private chef “catering company” was simply not equipped to handle weddings and yet, the initial bid would not have given any indication that the clients and their event would suffer because of this.
So , when looking at the pricing that your catering bids list, make sure that it does not just reflect the food and service that will be provided “day of”. The planning and time that your caterer will take to work with you and the other vendors in the months preceding your wedding is just as essential as as their service “day of”. Many full-service caterers are now charging a nominal “pre-event planning fee” to accommodate the time that they must take to properly communicate and plan each client’s unique event and the logistics involved. Some just have this built into their prices . Regardless, knowing that this is a “basic” item to expect, make sure you are comparing apples with apples when comparing catering bids.
We would like to give a special standing ovation to the following Santa Barbara catering companies who have always been Full Service and for whom “pre-event day planning” is the “norm” and even though they are highly sought -after, and perhaps many times even “too busy”, they would never dream of telling a client or their professional planner “I’m too busy” as their only response.