Full service caterers vs restaurants that cater seems to be one of the top questions people have when choosing a caterer now days. With so many restaurants advertising, “WE NOW CATER” we can see why it can get a little confusing! Truthfully, there are many restaurants that do a fantastic job at catering events. Please know this post is not to bash restaurants that cater, by any means. Our intentions are simply to show the similarities and differences so you can make a fully informed decision. It’s just like anything else – before you choose, do a little research and ask questions to make sure you really know what you’re getting for your money. The definition of “cater” can be different depending on who you hire.
Full service caterers are used to adapting to different environments because their work place is always changing. Setting up kitchens and working out of garages, open fields, warehouses or beautiful wedding venues is just a typical day. Being exposed to extreme heat, cold, wind and sideways rain is just another work day obstacle. Because of these things, full service caterers are very good at being prepared and making split minute decisions to adapt quickly.
Restaurants are comfortable in their reliable environment. They work from the same kitchen, with the same staff, serving the same menu in the same dining room. It’s not the norm to learn new places with new policies on a daily basis. Though extremely helpful in a restaurant setting, this can cause slow downs everywhere from the kitchen to the service in the catering world. It can be very intimidating to serve 200 people in an unfamiliar place. It’s got to be second nature for it to happen smoothly.
Full service caterers have trained staff that know how to quickly work a room. They set up buffets, refill chafers and platters, maintain proper food levels and break down in a timely manner. This is all done simultaneously while clearing tables of dirty dishes and wine glasses. Catering staffs are very efficient because everything is on a time line during an event.
Restaurants may technically know how to fill chafers and platters, but they aren’t as familiar with how often it needs to be done. Buffets and stations need to be constantly tended, cleaned and refilled – never allowing them to completely empty. This is very time consuming and something easily overlooked if the staff is not familiar with the process. Remember, a buffet at a wedding is only open for a very short time. People are going through the line fast and furious and the food goes quickly! It’s not like a buffet at a restaurant that’s open all day for people to come and go. Same with plated meals. A guest list of 200 is expected to be served all at the same time! Remember, at a wedding or major event, everything is on a timeline!
Full service caterers know food in bulk! They know food sustainability, keeping it fresh and looking good for extended amounts of time. Caterers are very good at prepping accordingly and timing food just right for a crowd. Not an easy task, especially if something goes wrong or there’s last minute changes to the time line.
Restaurants know prepping ahead of time as well. However, they finish off a dish specific for the guest when it’s ready to be served. There aren’t may worries about food getting soggy or drying out because it took to long to get from the window to the table.
Full service caterers have the ability to customize menus. They have staff that sits down with you, reviews your entire event and creates a customized menu specific to your needs. After, the caterer will schedule a tasting to determine flavor profiles and aligning expectations.
Restaurants don’t always offer customized menus. If they do, most will ask you to choose from what they offer, not create something specific for you. There’s a difference. In addition, most will just expect you to know what their food taste like. No need for that tasting appointment.
Full service caterers bring everything they need everywhere they go. Dish ware, napkins, utensils, linens, display decor, not to mention everything needed for the kitchen. (And that’s WAY too much to mention.) They have staff that plans, labels, packs, loads, transports, unloads, loads back up, transports again, cleans and puts everything away after every event. It is a tedious job that takes a dedicated person who’s extremely organized and pays attention to detail. As you can imagine, there are a lot of supplies that have to be brought in to make a successful event for 200 and NOTHING can be overlooked!
Restaurants work with all their supplies already in their kitchen and at their disposal. They know where everything is and it’s cleaned, prepped and ready to go. There’re not packing or worrying about forgetting the ice. Everything is in it’s place so that they can be super efficient at what they do.
Are you wondering why you may be able to get a better price going with a restaurant? Caters can be a bit more because of all the extra steps and procedures. You’re paying for the time, transportation and event expertise. I could get really technical with you and talk about higher insurance rates, workman’s comp, transportation costs and additional staff, but that would bore you to death! But, it does all lend to why catering prices can be a bit higher. And the simple fact that you might not get FULL SERVICE catering when you hire a restaurant.
Be warned, a lot of restaurants that say they “cater” simply drop off. They don’t supply staff and they don’t set up or clean up. Table decor? Forget about it! Some restaurants will send a couple staff, just to minimally oversee things. However, as soon as the meal is over, they are GONE and they don’t care that they left dirty tables! These staff don’t see the event to the end like most full service caterers do. If a restaurant caterer doesn’t have comparable prices to a full service caterer, they’re probably giving you the minimum service.
Bottom line is there are many restaurants that do a fabulous job at catering. But, they had to LEARN how to be a caterer. These restaurants have built their businesses and changed their business plans accordingly. And in turn, they are very successful, as they should be! However, most are not that dedicated and only offer the minimum catering service – food. So when you’re considering using a restaurant to cater your event, please ask questions. Ask what services they provide. Ask what comes with the package you’re purchasing. Ask how many servers you’ll have a what their duties are. Ask their definition of catering.
Please remember, full service caterers are just that… FULL SERVICE CATERERS. They caterer to your every need through the entire process – from the planning stages to the last call for alcohol!
These days, one of the most exciting things for a bride and groom while planning their wedding is having a tasting with their caterer! Believe it or not, years ago this wasn’t even a thing. Word of mouth, good reviews or tasting the food at someone else’s wedding was the trusted way. But, nowadays, getting a chance to sample the cuisine before hand has become a high priority for most couples.
Photo by Two Hearts
Before the actual tasting, it is very important you have a informative conversation with your caterer. In most cases, you’ve already collected some sort of menu, pricing information and established that they are available the day of your wedding. But, there are a few more things that your caterer needs to know before they prepare your food presentation.
The caterer will want you to paint a picture of your big day. Where and what time of day will your wedding and reception be? How many guests? What is the “feel” of your wedding (elegant, rustic, etc…) or do you have any type of theme? Your caterer may also get a little personal in attempt to get to know you both as a couple. Where are you from and where did you meet? What did you do on your first date or do you have a favorite trip you’ve taken together? These details can be great indications of what you are looking for.
In addition, your caterer wants to know what type of food service you prefer – buffet, family style or plated? What are your favorite types of food? Do you really enjoy heavier foods, such as rich comfort foods or classic Italian dishes? Maybe you prefer lighter fare, such as grilled vegetables and lemon roasted fresh fish. Do you enjoy chicken and seafood but can’t tolerate red meat? Maybe a vegetarian option is of high priority for you. And last, but not least, do you have any food allergies? Remember, the chef can not read your mind! The more information, the better the translation!
Tastings are held in many different formats. Some catering companies choose to hold group tastings where multiple couples are invited to try the food all at once. This is a big time saver for the caterer, but isn’t always the most helpful to the client. Many believe it’s missing that one-on-one connection most brides and grooms are looking for. In most instances, tastings are used as a tool to help choose between 2 or 3 competing caterers. No doubt there are several good caterers with competitive pricing in your area, but rest assure, you will inevitably hit it off with one caterer more than the other. (It’s not all about the food. Personality has a lot to do with it!) Lastly, some caterers only provide tastings to couples that have already booked their services. However, this seems to be happening less and less and mostly seen at venues that provide their own catering services.
Simply defined, a tasting is a chance for the bride and groom to meet the caterer, try a sampling of the food (hand selected by the chef or the bride and groom) and discuss expectations. Because you and your caterer have already had an informative conversation, they are able to present to you a great base of what you are looking for. No doubt, you may want to make small changes or even change your mind on an item or two, and that’s perfectly fine, not to mention normal. Be truthful, so when it comes to the day of the event, your menu will be what you are expecting.
Photo ByThe Veil Wedding Photography
Last but not least, there’s the big issue of cost! Some caterers charge for tastings and some don’t. Many caterers charge, but then credit that amount back to you if you decide to use their services. There really is no right or wrong way, but keep this in mind- you should not expect free. The caterer spends hours upon hours planning, prepping, preparing and presenting your tasting. And in most cases, all in the HOPES you’ll choose them as your caterer. Depending on where you are in the country and what type of caterer you’re looking for, will determine the price point. We suggest planning to pay what you would for a nice dinner out on a special date night.
Here’s Some Food For Thought
In closing, if you like the caterer, their presentation style and their flavor profiles, then you’ll like the finished product! Though, you’ll be tempted, there’s no need to set up another tasting to try again after you’ve made a few adjustments to the menu. That’s a huge misuse of your valuable time during the wedding planning process! A good caterer should be able to earn your confidence by the initial tasting, even if they have to tweak a few things to your specific liking. Don’t make it more complicated than in needs to be. Catering is an important part of your big day, but it should not be a worry!
Service, as we all know, can make or break any dining experience. You can splurge on the most extravagant dinner at the best restaurant in town, but if the service is not up to par, you’re more than likely walking away with a bad taste in your mouth. Same holds true in the catering industry.
All of us a d’Vine cuisine, inc. take great pride in the fact they we are not only known for creative and delicious food, but also our impeccable service! (Toot. Tooooottt.) How do we pull that off, you ask? Well, there are several different factors that help with our success, but it all stems from proper staffing, great team work and a plan!
First off, we do not compromise when it comes to the amount of servers needed per guest. Different caterers work with slightly different numbers, but we’ve got a formula that works best for our team. We staff 1 server per 15 guests for a plated meal and 1 server per 20 guests for buffet, each knowing their specific role. Included in that number is a supervisor or team leader, not only there to serve, but also to lead and direct the staff throughout the entire event. Also, if we think we need additional staff for any special circumstance, without hesitation, we add more!
Having the proper ratio of servers per guest is super important at any event, but especially a wedding. Not only will your food service run smoothly, but so will the entire night’s timing. Everything at your wedding runs by a time line and every vendor relies heavily on that plan. Just as the photographer needs the proper amount of time to take beautiful pictures and the DJ needs to know when to announce the first dance, the caterer needs to run on time to ensure the food is hot and fresh and the guests are served as quickly as possible. (Full guests = happy guests…and host!) Plus, food safety is always a concern for caterers. Food needs to be kept at the proper temperatures for the proper amount of time for optimal quality and safety. Have you ever had rubber chicken at a wedding? Yeah, that’s because the chicken was kept warm for too long and it actually overcooked
And let’s not forget about the mess! If there’s not enough staff, your tables won’t get cleared properly. You may think this is a silly little detail, but tables full of dirty dishes and beer bottles is less than a pretty sight, not to mention, a possible disaster waiting to happen. Glasses will get knocked over and untimely disruptions WILL occur! Yay, it’s cake time! But sadly, there’s not an empty space on your table seating 10 to put your plate!
If you want your event to run smoothly, don’t cheap out on the servers. Please don’t think you can get away with hiring even one less than your caterer suggests in attempt to cut corners. That will disrupt their perfectly calculated formula. Remember, caterers do this everyday. They have their team built, their plan set and know how to work the room accordingly. Proper staffing and good team work, along with a strong plan will guarantee a successful event – at least when it comes to your caterer!
Happy Wedding Planning!
Happy New Year! And with the new year comes new and exciting wedding food trends!! Of course, some 2016 trends are happily sticking around, like food trucks and mini everything. But there are a few new trends in 2017 that are sure to get your creative juices flowing!
Custom. Custom. Custom. We can’t say it enough. Create menus that tell YOUR story. Where are you from? Where did you and your partner meet? What foods do you like to share? All very important questions that will help make your wedding day that much more…YOU! Telling your story is what the day is all about! Are you from the south? Think local shrimp and grits! Was your first date to the carnival? Serve a few fun twists on your favorite carnival treats! Do you love pizza but your partner has a deep passion for burritos? Have them both! Offer mini pizza egg rolls and deconstructed burritos cups at cocktail hour. There are fun and creative ways to serve everything and anything you want!
Still on trend are family style meal service and passed small bites, but consider other options to encourage the crowd to mingle. Action stations will get your guests involved and engaged. Try guacamole being made right before your eyes! Serve it up in individual glasses garnished with tortilla chips for a fun touch to cocktail hour. Pair that with a mini margarita and your guests will be saying, “muchas gracias”! Wine and cheese always pair well, but how about a Bruschetta Bar paired with a nice Pinot Grigio or sushi being rolled to order served with warm Sake? All interactive options that will get the party started!
WeddingWire’s 2017 Trend Guide reports a couple exciting new food trends. Breakfast will be a very popular choice for 2017. Midday weddings are usually less expensive and breakfasts foods are always delicious, no matter what time of day! Everything from mini omelet action stations and waffle bars to doughnuts and late night breakfast sandwiches to-go.
Unexpected food combinations, in both your main menu and dessert options are definitely on point. These “Odd Couple” choices (as I like to call them) include Feta and Watermelon bites, Pickle and Whisky bars and Peanut Butter and Curry Ice Cream – all surprisingly amazing! Of course, traditional comfort foods are still right up there on the list. You can never go wrong with anything ooey, gooey or fried!
Signature cocktails are practically a must-have at every wedding, but according to the Bridal Guide, the trend seems to be headed back to the old school classics and away from the cutesy, personalized names. Moscow Mules, Pimm’s Car and Old Fashions are sure to wet the whistle well. Serve with old school canapés and deviled eggs for a real retro feel.
Another Bridal Guide projection is that tall, tiered wedding cakes are making a comeback (did they ever really leave?) but with unique flavor and filling options per tier. Mini desserts and doughnut walls are delightfully showing up everywhere, but try passing the desserts “cocktail hour style” for a fun twist instead of having a stand alone dessert table.
Bottom line for 2017 is this…custom is key. It’s your wedding. It’s your taste. It’s your story. There’s really no right or wrong. The day should reflect YOU. So mix it up! Serve what makes you feel good!
We all know there is no such thing as a “perfect wedding”, but as I sit here reflecting on some of the best we’ve been a part of, this one comes as close as you can get! The venue, the planner, the flowers, the menu and most of all, the wedding couple…all exemplar. The entire experience was comfortable, exquisite and fun all at the same time! Isn’t that the goal?
Let’s start with the venue; the beautiful historic Ribault Club located on Fort George Island, Florida. The recently restored 1928 club was the perfect picturesque location for this beautiful spring day wedding. (Did I mention the Club is right on the water?) As the 200 guests arrived in timely trollies, they were directed through the house to the back yard where they got a big, beautiful eyeful of the old oak tree the couple were to marry under. The guests were seated and the ceremony began.
Oh, and the details! The planner, Sarah Anna Events sure does her job right! Every last detail from the seamless time line and traditional saber arch exit, to the cutesy sayings on strategically placed chalkboards and the Eco friendly bug spray for those pesky Florida bugs – everything had it’s own special place and purpose. She, along side the amazing florist, Shea Hopely, known herself for her impeccable decorative eye and attention to detail, worked together to create a stage of varying shades of blushes and golds, accented with spring flowers and beautiful green garland. Perfect for this amazing couple on the this amazing day.
My goodness, the MENU!! It was definitely right up our alley. A southern bistro inspired compilation of trendy meets tradition and comfort meets fun. We worked closely with the bride and groom to create a menu reflecting the couple, their vision and the overall feel of their big day. Local shrimp and grits topped with chorizo and red pepper jelly and sweet and salty candied bacon were just a couple tasty creations the guest would enjoy while being passed during cocktail hour. On to dinner with a surf-n-turf meal, if you will, and plenty of southern inspired sides to compliment.
See entire menu here!
And who did they get to capture this all on film? The very talented Christina Karst! Snapping and capturing the most precious moments from the very beginning. Moments of love, friendship and pure joy! Not a single detail was left unphotographed; the dancing, the desserts, the sendoff, all forever recorded perfectly in time.
I leave you with the review this wonderful bride wrote on our behalf. Yes, we are patting ourselves on the back a bit (we just love this couple so much!) but it shows what a bride truly appreciates from not only the caterer, but the entire group of vendors she trusts with her most important day. She just wanted perfect. Perfect for them. That was the goal and that’s what they got!
“Hope and her team guided us through the planning process with such ease. I, as other brides may have mentioned, that Hope did a great job getting to know both my husband and I at our tasting – it felt very genuine and personable; which made our decision a no-brainer when we decided to go with D’Vine. From our initial meeting, she wanted to help us out in any way; whether that was guidance in picking out the menu, giving recommendations on what dishes go well with one another that were in season, overall decor and feel of the night; and working within our budget; whatever it was – she was attentive to our requests and ideas 100% of the time. Her staff was also very responsive through email communication leading up to our date, and especially with coordination the week of our wedding. The food and presentation were wonderful!
If you are looking for a vendor that truly will go above and beyond in making your day special, and the experience a breeze, I would highly recommend Hope and her staff!”
*All photographs provided by Christina Karst Photography.
By now, you’ve probably heard this advice at least 100 times, and with very good reason – because it’s TRUE! Hiring wedding industry professionals for your big day is a MUST! We’re not saying this to try to trick you for our own selfish reasons. We’re not saying this because we like to hear ourselves talk. We are saying this because it’s absolutely, undeniably TRUE! We’ve seen what happens when Aunt Suzy Q and cousin Sally offer to do the flowers and decorations. (Doesn’t always turn out like the picture you saw on Pinterest.) We’ve seen what happens when Uncle Billy Bob offers to do all the catering for 200 people. (Not always so tasty when he has to cook for a crowd.) I’m here to tell ya, it rarely ever turns out the way YOU want it to!
To help drive our point home, we interviewed one of Jacksonville’s best wedding planners, Master Wedding Planner, Heather Canada, owner of First Coast Weddings and Events. Heather is one of only 72 Master Wedding Planners in the WORLD and is continuously recognized as an industry leader. She is an active member of the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC), National Association for Catering and Events (NACE) and the St. Augustine Wedding and Events Association (SAWEA).
Heather started her career in 1999 working in the hotel, tourism and catering industry and in 2002, she opened her own business. With the help of her experienced and supportive team, First Coast Weddings and Events is able to manage roughly 30-40 events a year offering everything from Full Service Wedding Planning to On-Site Wedding Management (more commonly known as Day Of Coordinating). Simply put, there’s no doubt about it, she KNOWS her stuff!
Here is a taste of my interview with Heather and some interesting facts that just might surprise you:
Jen: What are some common misconceptions you think brides have about wedding planning that leads them to considering NOT hiring a wedding planner?
Heather: BUDGET! Bride’s assume that can’t afford a wedding planner or coordinator. Actually, planners help you stick to a budget and avoid common budget and planning mistakes. It ends up being a very affordable investment to ensure your big day runs smoothly.
Another common misconception is that the planner will “take over” your wedding. Planners are there to guide the happy couple, not control them.
Jen: Why do you think it’s important for the couple to hire other industry professional for their wedding, such as DJ’s, photographers, caterers and florists?
Heather: No worries about quality! I only recommend vendors that I am confidant of their abilities. Not only that, I save the bride time and worry by checking all references and vendor availability. I also try to match personalities between the vendor and client the best I can. That’s super important!
Secondly, it eliminates friend and family DRAMA! Wedding professionals are able to leave emotions out of it! They have one goal that day – to make your day the best it can be. Simply said, they are strictly there to do the job you’ve hired them to do.
Jen: Because we are a catering company, I need to bring catering directly into this conversation. Why do you recommend always using a professional caterer?
Heather: Caterers are a HUGE part of every event! They can literally make or break your wedding reception. You definitely do not want someone running your food service that doesn’t know how to work the room correctly and efficiently. It’s critical to stick to the time line! Equally important, you don’t want someone that doesn’t know how to prepare food for a large group the proper way. Food safety is a big issue!
To be honest, from a caterer’s perspective, we MUCH prefer working events with a wedding planner or coordinator running the show. It’s easier on all the vendors! Though your family and friend’s intentions are always good, DJ’s and caterers tend to have to fill the role as “coordinator” when one is not present. That in turn, forces these vendors to stop focusing 100% on the job you hired them to do and focus on a job you hired no one to do. Less than perfect vendors = less than perfect event.
According to Heather, it’s best to think of a wedding planner as, “ the conductor to your orchestra”. The “orchestra” is made up of all the details of your special day, including your team of professional vendors. Each vendor has their own specific part to play and they do it with expertise. With the help of your “conductor”, each works together to create beautiful music. So, sit back and enjoy the performance knowing the professionals have it rehearsed!
Get To Know…Your Caterer!
We are d’Vine cuisine, inc. – a catering company located in Jacksonville, Florida. We service everywhere from Amelia Island to St Augustine and Green Cove to the beaches. Whew, that’s a lot of land!
Hope Dempsey, owner and chef, started her company 11 years ago after a 25 year career in the insurance business. She was known as the woman who would always bring treats to the office. The woman who always had something delicious to share! Her passion for food was evident to everyone who knew her, and encouraged by all, Hope decided to follow her passion and enroll in culinary school. After graduating from the program and interning at several successful catering companies in the Jacksonville area, d’Vine cuisine, inc. was born!
Over the years, Hope has been known for not only her fresh, exquisite food but also her remarkable ability to connect with her clients and interpret their vision through her creative menus. However, Hope actually prides herself more on her strong, professional staff! Each and every employee has the same passion for food as Hope. Each strives to make every event better than the last. Professionalism, customer service and attention to detail is key! We know that every time we cater an event we are actually representing the client and their individual choices. It’s our job to do so with an unsurpassed level of professionalism and creativity. Hope, along with her staff realize that even the smallest details matter, right down to the salt and pepper shakers and the tailored black gloves! Read more about us here
What’s our style of food, you ask? Traditionally, Southern Bistro fare is our niche. (We are in the south, after all!) Keeping our ingredients fresh is very important to Hope, so she loves to create seasonal farm to table menus with ingredients supplied by our local farms. But we don’t stop there! Hope and her experienced kitchen staff have studied and appreciate all types of foods. Whatever global creation you’d like, d’Vine cuisine, inc. can do it.
As Hope always likes to say,
“Catering is a difficult job…we like to make it look easy!”