This Fall, I am throwing a tented engagement dinner which is being catered by a very reputable local Indian restaurant. The price per person? $15. That’s 2 appetizers, 5 entrees, pullao/naan along with desert, for $15 a person. Not included are the fees for delivery and buffet wait staff. If we wanted them to cook on site, the cost might have gone up to $20-25 per person.
That same caterer has an exclusive deal with the downtown Omni, Hilton, and other select hotels to be their sole caterer for Indian menu requests. The price per person at those venues? $110 – $145. It’s amazing how the cost of makhni can inflate by location.
What you are really paying for is $15 for food and $110 for location. Say you have 100 guest (most desi weddings have quadruple that, but for the sake of math I’m keeping it simple). That means, you are paying $11,000 for rent. With a larger guest list, how much are you really paying for venue? I’m not even taking into consideration cost of alcohol, which is also severely inflated.
Now in the rat race which is the wedding catering industry, how do you win? There are some simple things to watch out for.
Many high end locations are very restrictive about which vendors you can use, which can drive your cost way up. WSJ’s Smart Money Reports: David Danielson, executive chef of catering at Rockefeller Center in New York, says most locations have a “preferred” list of caterers. In many cities, he adds, if a person wants to bring in a caterer not on the list, the caterer has to buy a license to serve in that facility, at the expense of the client.
In order to get on a recommended or required vendor list, a business must pay an annual fee “in the range of $300 to $500,” says Alan Fields, co-author of the bestselling wedding-guide “Bridal Bargains” — or pay a 5-10% commission. “People who don’t want to pay money aren’t on the list,” says Fields.
SOLUTION: When choosing a venue, see if they require you to use certain vendors. If you get roped into working with a vendor from the beginning, you aren’t leaving yourself much flexibility to negotiate. If you are willing to deal with the venue’s restrictions, then make sure to do research by getting quotes from other caterers under an alias, that way you know they are not overcharging you!
PROBLEM: If you say you’re catering a wedding, it will cost you more.
Diane Warner, author of “How to Have a Big Wedding on a Small Budget,” shares a tale of a bride-to-be who wanted to test this theory for herself. “She called a service in San Francisco, asked for just what she wanted, and they gave her a bid,” Warner explains. “The next day, she had her fiance call and bid on the same items for a party. He got a lower price.” Though that’s not a controlled experiment (the fiance could have been a better conversationalist or more aggressive on pricing), it just shows our quotes can change based on person to person.
SOLUTION: Since it’s a desi wedding, you can get away with making up obscure events. For example, I called my Gaye Holud (or Haldi ceremony for the Bride), a cultural party. Vendors don’t need to know the details of your life, if you say its for a party, you’re still being honest.
Unless you are doing a tented event on your property, its very difficult to control the cost of catering. But if you do competitive research, you will be an educated consumer that the big bad wedding industry will know better than to mess with. – Natasha Khan