Post # 1
I am fifty shades of not freakin interested in paying $60/person for dinner for my reception. The food we want is super simple (barbecued roasted chicken breasts, marinated steak, potatoes, grilled veggies, and soup/salad options) and buffet style, so I posted a Craigslist ad looking for a just-starting-up caterer who would want to do this for a reasonable price to build their portfolio.
I got many emails back but only liked one person when I had a follow up conversation on the phone. Everyone else was kind of short with me. So FI and I met with this woman and she explained everything to us:
She has a culinary degree and works as a chef in a nice restaurant in town. Her husband and her prep cook’s husband are deployed, so they’ve been making some spare cash and using their spare time to work on a part-time catering business they want to start up together when their husbands come back. This is not their primary income, so they will do it for very cheap. They collectively have a lot of buffet items and are looking to invest in more, but can borrow from their restaurant if need be. She was very professional and asked a lot of great questions and so on.
Here’s how it would work:
We will have a tasting in January in which we will taste the exact meal fresh and then will also taste the meal she prepared in advance so we would know what it all tasted like a few hours old (since buffet style involves pre-cooking stuff, and food sitting in warmers). A few days before the wedding she/they would purchase the food from Costco and the restaurant supply store then bring us the reciepts to be reimbursed. We will pay them each $100 for their labor, then $50/each for their assistants (probably 2-3) who will only be there half the day. We do not have to pay anyone until after dinner on the wedding.
She thinks we can get my entire wedding – 150 guests – catered for less than a grand. She quoted us a ballpark of $700 total, assuming $500 for food which she said was highballing, and we would leave her a generous tip if everything went well.
Does this …. sound too good to be true? What could go wrong, bees? Help me make sure my butt is covered because I’m blown away by how great this sounds!
Post # 3
$100 in labor seems SUPER cheap, I would be skeptical about that.
Post # 4
@jenilynevette: Agreed, but she said it’s about $10/hour which is what she makes at the restaurant. Idk! She said she might be there for more than 10 total hours, but it would be a flat rate.
Post # 5
@208bride: Is she insured or licensed or anything? I’m not certain how that works but libaility-wise it may be worth checking to. I know to even have an outside baker do our wedding cake they had to be both licensed and insured etc.
Post # 6
@springbride23: Agree with this.
Does your venue require licensed caters?
I know many of them I looked at required them to have a lisence.
Post # 7
@springbride23: I don’t thiiiiiiink so. I mean I guess she’s a legal food handler in our state since she’s a chef? But I don’t know what kind of licensing you’d need. I know the venue doesn’t require anything like that but do you mean liability-wise as in if she makes everyone sick?
Post # 8
It sounds too good to be true. If you only spend $1000, you’re paying just under $7/pp for food and everything else. For your wallet’s sake, I hope it’s legit, but it sounds WAY underpriced in all realms.
Post # 9
Sounds like way too many opportunities for something to go wrong, starting with the fact that she might not have a license to sell prepared food. In and of itself, that is really not the end of the world; your guests won’t be checking her license. But your venue might, or she might get caught out due to another event and be unable to actually cater your event, like if the city fines her for operating without a license, and it might be too late to line someone else up.
I’d also be really concerned that an unlicensed caterer might not know or respect all the food sanitation practices, so if you do decide to go with her, quiz her very strictly on how she plans to prepare, hold and serve the food in keeping with sanitation laws. For example, food is only allowed to remain between 45*F- 140*F for 2 hours in many jurisdictions; that is the “temperature danger zone” and the range at which bacteria is most likely to grow and contaminate food. If she plans on making the food in advance and heating it up to serve, how does she plan to actually reheat it so that it spends as little time as possible at that dangerous temperature?
Really the whole thing would make me way too nervous that something is not going to turn out right, either the quality of the food or the sanitation of the food, or the overall execution. To me, this is not the way I’d choose to save money.
You may want to reach out to your local culinary arts school as they often have catering departments where student chefs work under the supervision of a professional chef-instructor. You can often get top-quality food and professional service for very nice prices through the culinary schools.
Post # 10
@208bride: has she considered the amount of time it will take to prep, set up, serve and clean up? $100 for labour is really cheap. i would be a bit concerned. you get what you pay for.
Post # 11
@208bride: It sounds pretty good. I guess it’ll depend on how much you trust them, others’ reviews of them and what the food tastes like. A great price won’t matter if they don’t show up .
Post # 12
This sounds too good to be true. Where is she cooking all this food? In her house? That’s a deal breaker for me. Houses are not inspected by the state like restaurants and catering facilities are. Her being a chef means she presumably knows how to cook. That’s it.
Why on earth would anyone do ALL THAT WORK for $100? That’s insane and I don’t trust it.
Catering is expensive for a reason. Not everyone who knows who to cook knows how to cater for an event.
Post # 13
@208bride: Yeah. For our venue it stated in the contract abou needing to use licensed catering and present the license in x amount of days before the event. Last week they sent me an amended contract adding the same clause for baked goods. I guess they’ve had some issues.
I would also check into the restuarant she works at and make sure it’s legit and she is an employee. Getting people sick wouldn’t be good – that is what I meant about liability. Is she having you sign a contract?
Post # 14
As a PP said I’d make sure there aren’t any rules at your venue, or in your state, about food handling and permits.
You COULD ask her if she’s done this before and if she has references. It’s definitely nice, and maybe she really is just looking for the experience, I mean that’s what you typically get off CL. But I would probably try to have a back up plan with a caterer you can cancel with just in case something goes awry.
I hate to say it but a lot of times, if something seem’s too good to be true it probably is. It’s all about your comfort level and listening to your gut. And I’d make sure you guys have a signed contract even though she’s not an official caterer with a business.
Post # 15
@Horseradish: +1 all my concerns, exactly. Just better said! 🙂
Post # 16
PS the license to sell prepared food is not anything that usually follows the chef; usually it is the restaurant or the catering company that gets the license. So the fact that she is a chef says nothing about her licensing. Also, cooking to-order in a restaurant as a chef is a very different ballgame than catering, especially where santiation is involved. Very few restaurant chefs have to concern themselves with holding food in the “temperature danger zone” because the food comes off the stove, onto the plate, and to the customer’s table in a matter of minutes. Preparing food that you know is going to be reheated or packaged and shipped off-site is a very different discipline.
(I also have an AA in culinary arts and i’ve worked both in a la carte service and full scale off-site catering and they are very different worlds)