How to Choose Your Wedding Caterer

When selecting a catering company you are looking for excellent food service and the ability to work with the enormity of the detail involved in your day. There are certain key factors that you should discuss when meeting your caterer for the first time. Here are some main points to focus on.

Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Caterer: Justin Vineyards & Winery / Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Availability: First and foremost you need to see if your caterer is available on the date you require, and find out what the booking and payment process is. Be sure to understand at what point your date becomes secure, and when payments are needed. The last thing you want is a sudden shock and unexpected bill just before the wedding.

Budget: It is important you get an early indication of catering cost and what they include. Ask about what options are available to you. If you are on a limited budget tell your caterer what it (your budget) is. Ideally, they should be able to provide a package to suit your needs.  Consider what is and what isn’t included in the price, as often this can vary from one caterer to the next.

Quality of Food: This essential when choosing your caterer. You are looking for a stunning presentation paired with sensational taste. Ask to see a portfolio of the caterers work with pictures of their food, and ask if they offer a tasting. It is important that your caterer has a professional team of talented individuals to serve your guest on your special day. When meeting your caterer, it’s advisable to ask about the quality and sustainability of the produce they source. Creating seasonal menus will impact highly on the quality and taste of your meal.

Image Copyright: Dear One San Francisco

Caterer: Trumpet Vine Catering / Image Copyright: Dear One San Francisco

Tasting Sessions: Be conscious that popular caterers will have limited availability. A tasting will allow you to fully understand the quality, style and presentation of their food, and gives you the opportunity to explore how your own ideas can be worked into their existing menus or creating your own.

Expectations: A good caterer should understand your overall vision for the day and listen to your ideas, they should be able to use their wealth of experience and build upon your ideas to go beyond your expectations for your day.

Service: Service is extremely important, equal to the quality and style of your food. It’s important that you receive the utmost level of service right from your initial inquiring, through to your tasting, right up to until the end of the wedding day itself. Your caterer and there staff should provide you with the enthusiasm, excitement and expertise your wedding deserves!


How to Budget for a San Luis Obispo Wedding

I thought I’d do something really helpful for couples who are looking to get married in San Luis Obispo. Plus, capitalize on the recent article published in New Times SLO’s annual Bride’s edition, where (get ready for self-loving plug…now) I was recently interviewed to shed some insight on cost of weddings in the county.

2014 Brides Edition Image Copyright: New Times SLO

2014 Brides Edition // Image Copyright: New Times SLO

Hold onto your britches, because I’m about to drop a few important, and likely, the most helpful wedding tips you will receive in the following paragraphs.

When couples seek our services, I would say about 98% have no idea how much wedding vendor services costs. Usually, it is because of the most obvious – they have never been married before. However, another factor may be because about 90% of our clients are from out-of-county, therefore do not know what vendors ‘round-these-parts charge.

Care to make a guess how much it costs to drape this 40' x 80' banquet room?

Care to make a guess how much it costs to drape this 40′ x 80′ banquet room? // Image Copyright: Cameron Ingalls Photography

As quoted in the article (2nd self-loving plug,) “The budget is ridiculously important. Before you get carried away and start signing contracts, make sure you’ve taken everything into account – because most couples don’t.”

First and foremost, let’s get it out of the way… there is ALWAYS a budget.

I want to mention this because it is imperative that you are honest with yourself and your wedding planner (should you decide to go for a full-plan.) You cannot possibly begin to effectively (and efficiently) plan a wedding if you do not have a target number. Believe me, even my clients who have spent over $100,000 for their weddings had budgets, and when I speak with clients who say, “we really don’t have a budget, it doesn’t matter.” Somewhere along the line, when I ask if the couple is fine with spending $100k, I end up getting a phone call or email that goes like this… “Remember when we said we have no budget, well, we’ve thought about it and it’s actually $X.”

Your budget – love it or hate it… you CAN work with it.

Let me tell you why the budget is so important by using 3 common mistakes…

Mistake #1: Blowing Through the Stash in an Excited Wedding Dash

In the beginning of wedding planning, the first item on the agenda is usually the venue, rightfully so, this is why couples come to SLO to get married after all. What I have seen happen many times over is a bride and groom, without taking into consideration money allocation, will start signing contracts with vendors whom they fall in love with, then may end up left with a very small portion of the funds for other very important elements.

$6,500 for a lovely venue… ok, signed.

$4,500 for a great photographer… ok, signed.

That’s $11,000.

What if you have 150 guests, are self-proclaimed “foodies” (you want a fabulous plated meal, complete with passed hors d’oeuvres and nice wine pairing) and your budget is $30,000?

Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

One of the best wedding meals in SLO County, by Executive Chef William Torres of Justin Vineyards. Delicious? Yes… Quality? Yes… Cheap? No. // Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Guess what, you have already blown $37% of your budget on 2 vendors and top caterers usually charge somewhere between $50 to $100 per person for amazing, plated service. For the sake of this computation, let’s settle at $60 per person. That’s now $9000 for food… then of course, you can’t forget tax and the service charge, which will put your catering bill to near $11,500.

You’ve just spent $22,500 for 3 vendors, and you’ll still need the to pay for a coordinator, rentals, flowers, DJ (and maybe lighting), cake, officiant, venue insurance, hotel, self and guest transport, all those tiny details…etc..etc..etc..

You see? My advice here is PRIORITIZE. Compare your actual needs versus your wants. Make a list of your possible costs per vendor (adding cushion) and only after you have shopped around, should you sign the contracts. A venue is of course, very important and should be contracted as soon as possible. However, if you want to stay within budget, be sure you get an overall view of your wedding, versus looking at only one vendor field at a time.

Mistake #2: Champagne Dreams on a Beer Budget

At Le Festin Events, we rarely turn clients away because of a small budget. We make sure to always take the time to hear a couple out, if even in the end – just to give them advice. Now, I must write that when a client’s budget is small for the size of their wedding, I tell them right off the bat. However, although it is much harder to work with less funds (and wedding planners usually quiver at small budgets because we actually end up working A LOT more, or get stuck having to work with mediocre vendors – that’s the truth,) I still very much stand on the ideal on which the company was founded  – “spectacular events on any budget.”  We can’t, however, work miracles for clients who cannot accept advice.

The key to beer money is, and really, with any budget is – BE REALISTIC AND BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.

Before you try bargaining with vendors (here’s a tip, most vendors don’t haggle dance with couples who have small budgets and won’t even give discounts, especially during busy months) come to terms with what you CAN afford, and with that, use a few extra dashes of creativity to make it fabulous!

In other words, don’t start demanding bridesmaid bouquets of peonies from your florist during the fall season, when you can have gorgeous “in-season” flowers instead (and maybe only have the bride’s bouquet of peonies.) Don’t be upset with what cannot fit in your budget or push for the impossible. Let go of unrealistic expectations.

Mistake #3: Too Late in the Game – No Pudding for You!

Although this 3rd mistake may not necessarily affect your budget much, I’m still throwing it in as an added advice bonus. Caterers – the good, true and responsive caterers are hard to come by in SLO. Not to sound like a total jack ass, but if you are used to amazing food from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, or other such major cities, you will find that truly talented caterers are few here. I have found, much like many restaurants around the county who claim to be the “best”, there can be a whole lot of over-promise and under-delivering. Hence, the great caterers are booked and snatched up looooooong before the wedding season starts. If fabulous food is a major indulgence on your list of “must-haves”, act quickly and don’t wait too long to get your deposit out – which means, definitely prepare to shell out some cold hard cash for great food and professional service.

Now, if none of the above helped guide you at all, here is a safe and realistic chart of what a nice (SLO) wedding for 150 people, with main focus on venue, fab food and good fun should more or less  look like. This is based on a $30K budget and working with professionals who are on top of their game, yet in price range. Please note that this chart does not include items like: wedding rings, bridal party attire, or the rehearsal dinner. Most of our clients do not place their wedding rings in the overall wedding budget and is usually looked upon as a separate cost, and depending on your culture, bridal party attire as well as rehearsal dinner may be paid by the party, or parents. This however can be taken into account for something like an additional $4 to $10K, depending on the couple’s preference and style.

Based on a $30K wedding, excluding rehearsal dinner, wedding party attire and rings.

Based on a $30K wedding for a couple whose main priority is a nice venue, good food and fun.