What to Ask When Hiring a Caterer

The Art of Weddings organizers posted this great blog about questions to ask your caterer! We thought it would be fun and informational for us to go ahead and answer these for you now!

“More than likely, your catering bill will be the largest expense on your wedding day. Given the investment, and the importance of great food, drink and service, we want to help you ensure you find the perfect caterer for your wedding.”

“HERE ARE A FEW QUESTIONS TO ASK TO HELP YOU DECIDE WHICH CATERER WILL BE THE PERFECT FIT!”

1. Are you a licensed and insured caterer and will you be able to provide proof of that to my venue?

Yes! We are fully licensed by the State of Oregon and our county health department and insured appropriately for our business.

2. How would you describe your food style?

Fresh, Northwest! We create a lot of our menu items by first asking what is in season during the event we are building a menu for. This allows us to use fresh local produce and gives us inspiration for creative northwest grown dishes. Still, our Chef loves to dabble in southern and spanish inspired dishes.

3. How many weddings have you catered? How long have you been in business?

After 20 years working for other restaurants with catering services, Chef Joe and his partner, Ashley, started The Hive Catering in 2016. You can read more about our origins on the Art of Weddings blog!

4. Would you say your strength is your food or your service?

What a great, and difficult, question! Our service team is made up of an Account Manager with serious dedication and years of event planning experience, professional serving staff, and bartenders. Still, praise rings loud for Chef’s amazing meals.

5. What is average size of the events you cater?

While the size of events we serve ranges from 25-500, we mostly serve events between 100-200 guests.

6. How many weddings/events do you typically do in one day?

O-N-E! We recognize that our rather young business has limited resources and our first priority is to make sure we provide the quality and service we promise. So, we only accept one large event per week, or up to three small events.

7. What is your policy on providing a tasting before we book?

We host tastings dependent on schedule availability. Tasting fees are $25/person which are applied to the final invoice should you choose to book us!

8. Have you catered at our venue before? Any challenges/hurdles we should be aware of? How many hours before our ceremony starts do you like to arrive?

We’re happy to provide the answer to this one on a case-by-case basis. We do walkthroughs with every client to ensure that we have a clear understanding of their expectations and a clear plan for navigating the varying challenges of individual spaces.

9. Are there additional charges for table and chair set up?

Yes, in the sense that our team will need to be scheduled further in advance of your event start time to make sure everything is perfectly in place.

10. Are there additional charges for removing trash/recycling?

We pack out any trash and recycling resulting from services we provide. If you need additional trash or recycling removed, there may be an additional fee.

11. Are there additional charges for setting the table?

Our team set tables for almost every event. When we provide a proposal, we assume that this is a need and calculate time for our team to execute.

12. Do you provide staff for busing the tables?

Yes! We also bus for every event. We’ll collect trash and dirty dishes and prepare them for pickup by the rental company.

13. How many service staff do you think I need for my guest count at my venue?

The number of hours and serving staff will vary depending on your venue, serving style (plated, family style, or buffet), and your timeline. Our general ratios for basic service are as follows, unless there are additional service needs or challenges: Plated - 1:16 | Family Style 1:32 | Buffet 1:50.

14. Do you have licensed bartenders to serve alcohol at our wedding? Are we able to provide alcohol for you to serve? If so, is there a corkage fee?

Yes, and yes! We can provide alcohol or you can. We don’t charge a corkage fee - rather we’ll provide a bartender at an hourly rate. We do have a fee for bar kits (bar tools, ice, taps, etc.) and an administrative fee ($200-$300) which covers licensing and insurance and varies depending on the details of your event. We take OLCC requirements and alcohol safety seriously.

15. Should I have a second bar with my guest count? Any additional charges for that?

We recommend a separate bar for every 100-150 guests. You’ll need a physical bar, bartender, and bar kid kit for each bar.

16. Will your staff cut, plate, and serve our wedding cake? Any additional fees for that?

We will! We do have a cake cutting fee of $1/slice. However, if your cake is created by one of our favorite bakeries, we’ll waive the fee!

17. If there is left over food, are we able to take that home?

Our team will package and leave leftovers as long as there is an available refrigerator on-site. We don’t want anyone getting sick.

18. What are the most popular items on your menu?

Most couples will include chicken on their menu to ensure there is an option nearly guaranteed to accommodate picky eaters - so our Herb Crusted Chicken and Hazelnut Pesto Chicken are popular choices.

19. Will your staff light the candles on the tables?

Definitely - please let us know that you will need candles lit so we can schedule our timeline to include it.

20. What are your service fees?

Our service fee is 20% on food and beverage.

21. Are there any taxes that will be on my bill?

Nope! Thank you, Oregon.

22. Any tips for lowering my catering costs?

For sure! We can talk about specific ideas for your special day but, aside from choosing lower-cost menu items, there are ways to structure timelines, site layouts, and service needs to help reduce catering costs.

Serving Style Guide

PLATED | Guests are served each course at their tables by serving staff.

Cost: $$$
Plated services require more kitchen and serving staff to cook, assemble, and serve individual dishes.

Formality: Formal

Menu Options: Choose two main course options (or three including a vegetarian option) and collect guest selections in advance or serve a duet meal, which includes two options on one plate.

Logistics: Guests RSVP’s should include their meal selections which must be tracked for reporting quantities to the caterer. It is ideal to have a place marker or seating chart for each guest, indicating their meal selection, that is clearly visible to the serving staff.

Pros: 
Less stressful for guests than buffet style
Less wasted food with these meals, since plates are pre-portioned by catering staff
Increased level of sophistication

Cons: 
Less variety than a buffet, it is best to serve foods that accommodate guests with dietary restrictions
Takes up more of your reception time

FAMILY STYLE | Large platters are served at the center of each table for guests to share.

Cost: $$-$$$
Family style service requires some additional kitchen and serving staff to cook and assemble platters, but typically fewer than required by plated services.

Formality: Semi-Casual / Semi-Formal

Menu Options: Choose up to two salads for the first course and then a maximum of two main entrees and four sides for the main course. Order enough food for everyone to have at least one portion of each main entree offered. Expect some guests to take multiple portions.

Logistics: Table space is limited so table decor should be sparse. Consider plating or pre-setting* the salad course if you only select one salad.

*Pre-set dishes are placed on guest tables prior to guest arrival. You can choose to pre-set family style platters or individual plates. This option allows guests to begin eating right away and helps to narrow the timeline for meal service.

Pros: 
Encourages guests to mingle
Guests can help themselves to as much or as little of each dish as they want
Place settings can be fully set for a beautiful tablescape

Cons: 
Potentially messy
Guests will be distracted when serving their plates
Extra food must be ordered to account for guests who will serve themselves multiple portions

BUFFET | Guests dish their own plates from menu items stationed at a separate table.

Cost: $
Buffets require the least number of kitchen and serving staff.

Formality: Casual

Menu Options: Buffets allow for the most variety. You can choose as many salads, main entrees, and sides as you like.

Logistics: Buffets require the least logistic restrictions, but do require separate tables and space to form lines. While guests are able to observe activities while being served at their tables, buffet service requires undivided time to retrieve meals. If your event is large, its best to announce separate sections to dish up at a time.

Pros: 
Ability to offer a large variety of food in sizable amounts

Cons:
Can get hectic if too many people go up to get food at once
No portion-control
Tables can look bare if plates are waiting at the buffet

So, We Got Engaged!

I’ll admit, its pretty strange planning a wedding as a bride. I’ve planned and managed hundreds of events with our brides and other clients preparing for corporate or non-profit events. The upside of planning a wedding with my experience is that I know what my options are from working with other wedding vendors and being at so many events. The downside is that I know how many amazing options I have - how to choose?

My budget is definitely not extraordinary. Another event professional recently told me, “rarely are we our own ideal client”. Amen. I’m definitely not going to be able to hire all the lovely vendors I wish I could - namely Alli at Bramble Floral and Cindy at Peachy Keen Coordination. Two dreams, dead.

I feel pretty confident that I can pull my wedding together since my background is also in wedding logistics. A sweet friend of mine that works with us at The Hive, Rachel, is excited to help me pull together the event design. Her weddings was one of our first ever caters. Her wedding was amazing and her penmanship skills are off the chain! I’m excited to see what we come up with.

I’m still weighing my options about my flowers. I’m a pretty creative person but I haven’t worked with flowers as would be desirable. The flowers are super important to me! I love, LOVE plants so this was kind of important to me and I’m facing a DIY. I’m going to ATTEMPT planting flowers for our wedding. I’ll keep you posted on the landscape and garden progress too, its going to be a doozy.

My goals in that regard are pretty lofty. We live on 18 acres in Canby were we lease one acre to Dirt Rich Farms. I’ve made a list of projects I want to complete before the wedding and assigned them a time frame to work on them. Because of the wedding projects, we are pulling in the reigns on our own vegetable garden this year while we transfer our garden from one site to another. We just missed the boat on doing any preparations for a smoother move last fall because Joe had surgery and life just overtook us. We have trees and plants to plant, constructions projects, and buildings to move (yes, to move!). Should be an interesting journey! At the end I feel like we might finally be settled into our live more - Fynn will be in school, our barn will be organized for smoother operations for the farm, we’ll have developed social space for having guests over, and our home kitchen will function better for us. It’s going to feel really good to accomplish these goals and develop more efficient routines!

Stay tuned!

The Event Planning Timeline

As caterers, we work with a lot of professionals who work entirely in the events industry. Other times, we serve clients who are planning a special, once-in-a-lifetime event. This portion of our guide is meant to help those who aren't so familiar with the event planning process so no one misses out on an opportunity to have the perfect day.

ONE YEAR

BOOK YOUR VENUE
If you've been dreaming of saying your i-do's somewhere special to you, book it asap! You would possibly be amazed at the number of events that happen every year (just think - weddings, birthdays, corporate events, fundraisers, public events and beyond). So if there is anything that is limited to one per day or weekend, book it fast before it's not available. It helps to be flexible with your date, too. 

BOOK YOUR COORDINATOR
There's more than just the "availability" reason to book your coordinator well in advance. Booking them early also means that you'll have their help early in your planning. Coordinators should be organized, creative, and connected to a network of other event professionals that they can recommend to help you realize your vision.

BOOK YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
Finding the right photographer is usually just a matter of budget and preference. Unless you've already been following your favorite event photographers on Instagram, you'll probably look to the web to find some candidates. Pick photographers whose photos you simply like. Check out their pricing and structure - most photographers charge a single fee for a specific amount of hours and/or images and then give you digital copies to order prints and products from wherever you'd. And, of course, event professionals book up quickly - usually 9 months to a year in advance. Availability will be a factor - so, get right on finding the right person to archive your memory.

BOOK YOUR CATERER
We book weddings and annual events up to a year in advance, and we know other amazing caterers whose calendars fill up quickly also. The caterers that reserve the entire date to focus solely on your event are the ones that you want to have serving your event - the downside being that they won't be able to serve you if the date is already reserved. Catering an event can be complex, so comparing proposals can also be a bit complicated. The way information is presented from caterer to caterer, including the cost of individual items and services included can vary widely.

9 MONTHS

BOOK YOUR FLORIST
Hoping for a florist that uses fresh, local flowers - or maybe one that specializes in decorating gorgeous arbors? Like photographers, the style of the florist matters, and you'll want to reserve the one that's the right fit for you before its too late.

ORDER DESSERT
We work with a local bakery that puts together amazing dessert displays and gorgeous wedding cakes that actually also taste amazing. They're already booking for a year away. While there are a lot of different dessert options (don't feel stuck with a traditional cake!) and also a lot of talented pâtisseries,  you'll want to get on the books with someone great.

6 MONTHS

SEND SAVE THE DATES
Give your guests plenty of time to request vacation and make travel arrangements.

ORDER RENTAL ITEMS
Reserve your rentals! There is a limited existence of table linens, place settings, and even more so - specialty rentals. There are some awesome rentals companies in our area that carry unique items for table settings, decor, furniture, lighting, and more. Check our Something Borrowed and Vintage Meets Modern.

BOOK ANY REMAINING VENDORS
Have a rule that all of your vendors are booked 6 months before your event. This could include event transportation, music, an officiant, photobooth, etc.

3 MONTHS

GET YOUR DIY ON
If you have any final projects, its time to start completing projects and finalizing arrangements. Since you can accomplish these projects without th exclusive availability of another, they're the perfect to-do to save for the months leading up to your event.

SEND YOUR INVITES
You don't want to send your invites out too far in advance. A lot can change for a person in 3 months. So, send your invited out 8 weeks before your event date - and ask for a response by 4 weeks out. You'll want a couple weeks to finalize your plans, report numbers to vendors, and put your seating charts together.

With all of that said, an event planner is also a valuable asset to have both before and during an event - and even after! We can happily recommend some seriously talented coordinators who can help with logistics as well as brainstorm and execute some beautiful ideas for styling your special event.