Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why the F*@% does it cost so much?? Sponsored by Whoa Nelly! Catering

Yep. I'm branching out into Sponsored Posts (or at least a sponsored post).

But instead of giving you the usual "this company is so wonderful because blah blah blah" in my voice, I thought it would be a lot cooler to let Elizabeth of Whoa Nelly! Catering have her say in her own voice.

And her voice is perfect for ESB. So without further ado....

hi, i'm elizabeth griffiths, the co-owner of Whoa Nelly! Catering. my partner, stephanie bone and i opened Whoa Nelly! Catering to be a fresh voice in the often stale world of special event catering. we love catering weddings, but there is one question that we get so often that we felt like we wanted to address it in a public forum: "why the f* does it cost so much!?"

catering a wedding is expensive. there are lots of caterers out there, and there are a wide variety of price points to choose from. that being said, if you want a caterer who cares passionately about the caliber of food being served at your wedding, get ready to spend more money than you would on an enchilada bar from the neighborhood taco joint (not that there is anything wrong with going that route. god knows, steph and i love a 'lada and a marg'...)

we're just going to lay it out here: if you hire us to cater your wedding, you should expect to pay between $75 and $100 per person on food and service. (note, that does not include rentals. why the f* rentals cost so much should be a blog of its own, not just a post...) but back to our average quotes: can we do it for less? yes. will you have to be flexible, and willing to streamline what you want? yes. is it our job to give our clients the very best value for their money, and get them as close to their vision as is financially possible? every. single. time.

so, you might ask, then why does it cost so much to have whoa nelly! cater your wedding? well, here are three basic reasons:

1. ingredients. there's a lot of lip service given to using farmers market ingredients. most of it is BS -- like if you use a local, farmers market ingredient in one dish, all of a sudden you're legit. we buy every single piece of produce we use at the farmers markets. one bunch of the beautiful, spicy, picked two-days-ago arugula that we buy from flora bella farm costs almost as much as a 3# bag of the pre-washed, picked-2-weeks-ago, flavorless stuff. But because we use these vibrant, delicious, heirloom ingredients, our salads look like this:

not like this:

one more note on ingredients. we buy all of our meat and dairy from companies who are raising their animals with care. one thing that boggles my mind is the prevalence of "filet mignon" on catering menus. one pound of niman ranch filet mignon costs $22/lb. one pound of commodity-grade, industrially produced filet costs $9/lb. If you are being quoted $35 per person for a menu that involves filet mignon, just take a minute and do the math. I think you can guess where your caterer is getting their meat.

2. labor. it takes a lot (seriously **A LOT**) of hours and a lot of people to make food for 200 people at one time. it is obvious that it take a lot of people the day of -- to make sure that everything comes out at the right time and the right temperature -- but it's the prep that makes a wedding sneakily expensive. Stephanie and i will EASILY spend a week's worth of 12 hour days in the kitchen prepping for an event (that's how long it takes when you actually peel your own garlic and pick your own thyme...) this sounds like a complaint, but it isn't meant to be. we are proud to run a company that doesn't cut corners by buying garlic in a jar, or using dried spice blends. stephanie even makes our pesto with a mortar and pestle (email us to find out why it makes a difference). if we were the kind of company who served the same menu at each wedding, it would make our lives easier, and our menus cheaper. but we really, truly believe in the value of creating custom menus for each of our clients. as is always the case: bespoke = be ready to pay more money for what you want.

3. time. the third thing we almost always get asked about is our "catering service charge." we charge this service fee as a way to compensate our administrative team (read: elizabeth and stephanie) for the time we spend working on your wedding, outside of the kitchen. i think with bigger companies, it's not such a big deal to have an assistant fire off a menu, or have an event manager be the one who's on site for your wedding. at Whoa Nelly!, we are the assistants, and the event managers, and the dish washers, and (of course) the cooks. that makes our operations small potatoes compared to some of the behemoths in the industry, but for the right type of bride, we hope it's reassuring to know that our personal hands are going to be all over every single aspect of your event -- from the first email to the last dirty sauce pan.

there is a pervasive myth out there that you say the word "wedding," and all of a sudden, the prices skyrocket. i say this is a myth not because weddings aren't expensive, but the myth is that the only reason the cost goes up is because of the "W-word" itself. it's expensive to produce a menu for 200 people that requires 8 cooks, 12 servers, and a full outdoor kitchen build-out. that being said, our worst nightmare is to have a bride who feels like they didn't get what they paid for. we want to have the happiest brides in town. we want all the girls and boys getting married out there to tell their friends about what an AMAZING experience they had working with us -- that's how we want to build our business -- not through gimmicks, or groupons, or trade shows (jesus, lesson learned the hard way on those...)

so, the bottom line is this: your wedding is supposed to be your BIG DAY. it might be a big budget day (that's what having a 200 person guest list will do for ya), but it doesn't have to be. what it should be is a chance for you to think about your priorities for how you want to celebrate. one of the very best weddings we did this year was a cocktail-style reception for an incredibly fun and creative bride and groom. we were able to work with them within their budget, because they understood that with only $25 per person to spend, they weren't going to get that lame-ass filet mignon. what they got instead was this. it didn't cost a whole f*ing lot, but it was a lot of f*ing fun.


  1. Loved the statement about weddings not costing a lot JUST because they are weddings. The fact is, people are floored by how much weddings cost because they've never thrown a large party. I'm often in charge of our work holiday parties and I know how much it costs for food and drink, rentals, etc. Everyone just has no idea.

    Good luck to Elizabeth and Stephanie - your food looks incredible.

  2. I think I'll die happy if I never have to eat another wedding filet mignon again.

    Also, THAT menu at $25/person? I might get married again.

  3. Your team sounds amazing, and wow... that cocktail menu is incredible. What is eggplant caviar??
    We did wind up spending a lot of money on catering, and it was one of the best meals I've ever had, let alone at a wedding (but I might have been biased). The vegetarian indian buffet was so so good.
    If I ever hear a friend worrying about catering costs, I'll point them this way.

  4. I love this post, especially because even though I work "in the industry" I have no idea about the costs that go into catering. Also, that cocktail menu? If you were in Seattle, I would totally be hiring you for my anniversary party next year.

  5. Damnit, this food looks awesome. Now I'm craving an arugula salad.

  6. I really wish there were more caterers around to whom you can say "I only have $25 per head, what can we do?" and your cocktail menu is the result. I spent $40 per head and I ended up getting served cold pizza and a server ended up walking right in front of my dad while he was making his toast.

  7. You had me as soon as I read you named your company Whoa Nelly! But then what you wrote just kicked ass, too.

  8. That is so true about costs... I just finished our annual client thank-you event and the per-guest food and bev budget is very similar to what it is going to be fore my own wedding.

  9. if you're going to do sponsored posts, this is definitely the way to go.
    this was a great and informative read. wish whoa nelly was closer to us!

  10. So good. I love seeing posts where a professional actually explains WHY you need to pay what is being charged (and also gives you an idea of what to look for in your budget).

    It's hard because you see posts like this one (and don't get me wrong - that is gorgeous and I'm sure a ton of work and love went into it) and you see that they pulled off an entire wedding for 160 with a full meal for just a couple thousand more than my CATERING bill alone. And I had a taco truck at my wedding, so my catering bill was loooow compared to the standard. It sets up some crazy expectations for people who are planning.

  11. so, um, thanks for stopping by. totally rad. for reals.

    @Rachel-- your comments really resonated with me, because i felt the same way about my wedding (which was pre-catering career).

    i don't want to write another post here, but i guess what it all boils down to is that the best service you can do for yourself and your caterer (or photographer, or whoever...) is to be honest up front about the budget. one of the most disappointing experiences for us is when we price ourselves out of an event because we didn't really understand what the bride wanted to/ was willing to spend.

    we're in this business because we love making food. we want to work with people, we just aren't willing to buy crappy frozen chicken breasts and 'vegetable medleys' to make that happen. but if you're stoked about the idea of a really fun passed app cocktail party, we definitely hope you'll give us a ring.

    @Maddie-- word.
    @Jane-- we love seattle. :)
    @Emily Elizabeth-- eggplant caviar is super simple, and super delicious, and i'll totally send you the recipe.

  12. We need more posts like this one (I have no problem with it being sponsored, esb).
    I did investigate catering for my wedding and I could not make heads or tails of the quotes I was given - there was very little transparency provided, except by the most expensive caterers who were more customer service oriented. For me however, my budget was mid range and ultimately I chose to go with a restaurant instead due to the level of uncertainty and lack of flexibility (most vendors only offered food and limited furniture so there was little room for negotiating costs).

  13. This is so fun because Elizabeth and Beth catered my best friend's wedding in Sedona, Arizona. My friend is planning averse and I love big occasions, so I ended up planning it for her. The were AMAZING. We ate and ate and it was summer and out under the stars, and the food and wine just kept coming. The beautiful mini watermelon, feta and mint on a hot day are still being talked about, as is the summer stone fruit salad. Given that we had been quoted way more from local caterers for pasta I wouldn't serve in a cafeteria, I was just blown away. So fun to see them on wedding blogs now.