Friday, February 19, 2010

Why is catering so expensive per head, versus going to a restaurant? For example, why can I go to dinner in Los Angeles and have an upscale meal for $50 to $75 per person but caterers in the area can't seem to do something comparable for less than $100 per person? 

Catering is definitely one of the top expenses of planning your wedding and every couple can't help but feel a little uncomfortable when cutting a check in the five digits to a single vendor for their wedding day. Believe me, I can empathize! There are a lot of logistical details that go into catering and the expense to actually cater an event. To make sure I didn't leave anything out, I reached out to one of my all time favorite catering chefs here in Los Angeles, Jerry Baker of The Food Matters. Here are just a few elements that Jerry mentioned to me that differ between catering and dining at an existing restaurant (thrown in with a little of my own commentary):

~Caterers have to build a new kitchen at every event, where as restaurants already have this in place. This includes bringing in ovens, shelter, lighting, etc. Essentially at every event, caterers build out their own personal kitchen that is similar to that of an existing restaurant kitchen.

~Restaurants are able to serve other customers while you are eating your dinner allowing them to make additional revenue for not only the restaurant but also for the servers staffing the restaurant, where as a caterer and their staffing is there only for you and your group when catering your wedding.

~Restaurants are typically able to sell overages on the food to other customers or turn them into additional profitable menu items to be served on different nights. Whereas, caterers actually have to overbuy just in case of additional guests, large eaters, etc. and at the end of the night the leftover products go to waste. It's not likely that the caterers will have an event the next day using the same products or menu that you had at your wedding.

~A restaurant has an area where all of the food can not only be prepared, but one where dishes, silverware, plates, etc. can be cleaned. A caterer often has to prepare the food off-site, safely transport the food to the temporary kitchen built for your day and then transport the cooking equipment and such back to their off-site kitchen for clean up. Talk about time consuming!

~Staffing at a restaurant is also different. The amount of setup a restaurant server has to do compared to that of a catering server doesn't even relate. Catering staffs do a whole lot more than wipe a few tables down and refill salt and pepper shakers for the evening crowd. This being said, they start hours before the event helping prep everything from building a bar from scratch to plating up and expediting food throughout the evening all while on a strict timeline.

Anyway, I don't know about you, but just typing this out is exhausting! I definitely wouldn't want the job of catering a wedding. With that being said, though, I am so thankful there are so many talented chefs like Jerry, who couldn't think of anything they would rather do. Thanks Jerry for your insight into the world of catering!


ever ours said...

great question and super informative answer, beth! thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chef Jerry!!! Lots of work behind the scenes to what you do....