The Caterers Corner
What to call this line item: Caterers Corner: What to call this line item:
By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Thursday, May 19, 2005 - 04:04 pm: Edit

There is much debate over what line items you put on an invoice or an estimate... and that more lines mean more opportunities for the client to "negotiate" them away.

so I'm wondering, what would you call an all-inclusive percentage-based surcharge that covers things like:

--phonecalls, faxes, postage
-- office time spent coordinating workers for the event
...and yes, gratuity paid to servers & kitchen workers

What is a nice "generic-but-not" term I can use with out saying just SERVICE CHARGE?

a tip on tips: If you call it a service charge, clients are obligated to pay it, but if you call it a gratuity, they are not - it's considered optional, and they can refuse.

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Friday, May 20, 2005 - 05:35 pm: Edit

An easy answer would be "Office charge", but that's too easy. As caterers, we don't have the advanatage a restaurant has: When a customer walks through the door, there's a 90% chance he/she will order something. The hardest work in Catering is the sales, and because we are contracters, so to speak, we are open for negotiation, which doesn't happen in restaurants. The hardest thing to do is to turn down a customer when there isn't a profit to be made. Ideally, the items you listed above should be built in to the menu prices so there can be no room for negotiaton. After all these are more of overhead costs (with exception to the grats paid to staff) than extras.

By George (George) on Saturday, May 21, 2005 - 12:39 pm: Edit


office time spent coordinating workers for the event

When you quote the hourly fee for a server, cook, bartender or whatever add in 10% to cover your time scheduling them. Do the same thing with rentals and linnens if the company does not kick back(or discount) 15% like they do around here.


and yes, gratuity paid to servers & kitchen workers

Pay your servers a fair wage that is not contingent on a gratuity. Make the gratuity just that, an extra for the client to pay if they feel the staff excelled.

Other expenses should be built into your menu prices and not be a line item. When is the last time you got your car fixed or went to the dentist and the bill had a surcharge for office, insurance or telephone expenses?



By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Saturday, May 21, 2005 - 01:10 pm: Edit

I don't have menu prices... I don't charge by the head. I only do onsite catering at private residences and for private events.

I charge by the hour for me & my staff, plus straight reimbursements for groceries. I rarely have to do rentals because everything's in a person's home... the home limits the size of the party. I have a full repertoire of chafers and platters and all the stuff I need. (My garage is bursting!)

Here's a few of examples of recent events I've done:

30 guests, heavy apps: me, a sous, and a server
12 guests, seated/plated: me, a sous, and 2 servers
4 guests, formal seated dinner, just me.
45 guests, "elegant barbecue": me, a sous, a kitchen assistant, and a server.

These are all at private homes, like I said, so the people either use their own china or they use disposables.

as far as your comment "Pay your servers a fair wage that is not contingent on a gratuity."

No matter what you pay them, they still expect a tip. In fact, if I pay them a lower rate and give them a tip, they're grateful. it's psychology, I guess......

but even the people who come from the staffing agencies (when I can't fill a job from my own roster of 50) that charge a fortune, the staffer doesn't see that amount, and they still expect more than a handshake at the end of the job.

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Saturday, May 21, 2005 - 01:35 pm: Edit

So you don't have a menu per se? No wonder why the customers take advantage of you. Take for example our pricing, it starts with x $ for a tray of 36 apps, pick-up price. For a little larger one, say 250 pcs of apps (7 platters/varities of 36 pcs) the price for only trayed up food is given on one line with delivery and set up fee quoted on the next line. Next stage, for a party of 50 people, with apps, non alc. beverages and 2 wait staff, food and beverage are quoted on one line, wait staff on the next, delivery complimentary, linens, rentals, decor, etc quoted on the next. This way when the customer starts slashing prices, you can start slashing extras but still cover yourself because the food will still earn some money.

Designing a menu for yourself will be a lot of work, but definately worth the time investment. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but should cover apps, hot and cold food, beverages, service charges, and delivery fees. This will be your base point to use for quotes. Say you have a smoked salmon app. on the menu that sells for $2.50 p/pc, and the customer wants something she saw in a magazine that includes salmon but a few other ingredients. Now you can say that you have something like that for $2.50, and you can customize it for an extra $.50. Once the customer is aware you have set prices for these items, the knee-jerk action of demanding a discount won't be so knee-jerk anymore.

By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Saturday, May 21, 2005 - 02:07 pm: Edit

Foodpump, with all due respect, you read into that way further than you needed to.

Nobody's taking advantage of me... nobody's "demanding" a discount, they're not even asking!

Whether a client asks for filet, chicken or tofu, I get my hourly rate no matter what. I don't do alcohol, I don't do cakes, I don't do platters... none of that crap, it's all headaches to me.

I just make food and serve it, then I clean their kitchen and go home. I don't have to upcharge my food to make a profit because I'm charging for my TIME. I talk to people and find out what they REALLY WANT TO EAT... not limiting them to what's on my menu that I've priced out to make a profit.

I always make a profit on my events, because I don't charge by the head! I don't negotiate my hourly rates because they're non-negotiable. Only the menu is negotiable. I think I'm taking the exact opposite approach from what you described.

Please re-read my original question...I just wanted to know if anyone had a polite euphamism for "service charge" because I feel it's too ambiguous. :-)

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Saturday, May 21, 2005 - 02:26 pm: Edit

Ooops, sorry. Been too long in this racket I guess, it's just that I've never had a customer who didn't want some kind of price reduction, even for last-minute funerals...

By Chefmanny (Chefmanny) on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 08:42 am: Edit

If you die during the week you get 10% off, on the weekend full price but, they can always put you in the walk in freezer until Monday!!!!!

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Friday, May 27, 2005 - 09:26 am: Edit

No, no, no. I charge full price for cold storage...

By Catergreat (Catergreat) on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 04:16 am: Edit

Call it a "service charge" and move on. No matter what you call it, if you have to "justify it" to the client, something is wrong.....

I've had very few people ever question the service charge.

If they question the prices or make some comment like, "wooooo, that's high!!"

"Yes, they are, aren't they??? Great food costs more. Great Staff costs more. Great Catering costs more. Are you willing to accept anything less than a great event?"


"would you like a lower price? what would you like to cut out of our services for a lower price?"

By Chefspike (Chefspike) on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 10:23 pm: Edit

"I've had very few people ever question the service charge."

cause they are affraid of getting beat up too !
or hit with a food magazine while hes waving his hands around saying all that.

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