TO the Feathered Arrow blog. I'M Kari! A WEDDING PLANNER, PODCAST HOST, BIZ EDUCATOR, AND A LOVER OF COFFEE, ALL THINGS OUTDOORS + A SUCKER FOR A GOOD LOVE STORY.
Welcome back to our vendor question series! We chatted with Isaiah Seay of L.A. Roots Catering, a full-service catering company that can do it all and one of our very favorites!! After years as a chef, general manager + restaurant consultant, Isaiah started L.A. Roots specializing in California fusion cuisine with massive success! We’ve been fortunate enough to work with for L.A. Roots for some of our favorite events (like this colorful nuptials, this whimsical wedding, and this modern stunner). We are so thankful Isaiah has shared more of his advice on questions to ask your catering company.
This is a tough question. The number of staff needed depends greatly on the caterer you are going with. The caterers that have in-house staff (like us), are going to require less servers. Their in-house team are more familiar with the operation and are therefore more efficient and so less are needed. Caterers using a staffing agency will require more servers since they are less familiar with how that caterer operates, so there is more of a learning curve. Also, the chosen service type and headcount obviously take play in the number of servers needed.
The way we typically break it down is: At least 4 Servers on an event no matter what. One of them being a captain. After that we break it down as:
Plated Service – 1 server for every 10-15 Guests
Family Style Service – 1 server for every 20-25 Guests
Buffet Service – 1 server for every 30-35 Guests
We feed our staff on our dime and tell our clients not to include them in the vendor meal count. We do however, require a list of all of the vendors + their name and job title ahead of time. Then we check them off of the list as soon as they come back to get their meal. That way we are keeping track of who ate.
On “Blank Canvas Builds”, which is typically an outdoor venue with no infrastructure, a kitchen needs to be provided. Every caterer operates differently, but we only ask for what we need to get the job done the right way. We have seen caterers ask for elaborate setups that cost upwards of $6k, and other caterers that don’t ask for anything. Be wary of them both.
The ones that ask for expensive kitchen builds are either not looking out for their client’s bottom line, or inexperienced and are asking for way more than they need. The ones that are asking for barely anything are typically cooking the food in advance in their kitchen, then packing it and bringing it with them to the event and plating it, which obviously is a far worse product then it being executed fresh on-site.
We do provide delivery and pre-executed meals with our services, but there is a limited menu. Not everything we have travels well, and we always prefer to execute the menu as fresh as possible. For the record, our average kitchen build for the average wedding is around $2,000 – $2,500. However, that depends on the rental house as well, as pricing greatly differs from one rental house to the next. Also be wary of the catering outfit that provides their own kitchen equipment as well as front of house rentals. In our experience, their focus is typically not on the food and service. They are stretched very thin handling the food, service, staff and rentals. We have seen events go terribly wrong with the “all inclusive” catering packages. Not all, but most.
We love this question, though there is no set answer. We typically recommend anywhere from 10-20% of the pre-tax total. I also recommend to give cash in a sealed envelope to be distributed with paychecks (as they are tips and not taxed the same way as income). We also ask that it be handed to the captain or the chef the day-of. Then they in turn hand it to management, to be distributed later. We do not want a tip (or lack thereof) to determine the level of service we provide for our client. It is a system that has worked well for us, so we keep with it.
At L.A. Roots, we do charge for tastings. We are a boutique catering company. Every dollar in and out counts, and doing over 80-100 tastings a year, we cannot absorb the cost of a free tasting. We use top quality ingredients and take on every tasting like we take on events. We don’t use pre-existing stock, and we shop, prep and execute for every tasting individually. Therefore, it costs us more than companies using frozen or runoff stock.
We didn’t always charge, but realized some people were coming for a free tasting with no intention of using us. They just wanted a free meal under the guise of planning an event. We don’t make any money on the tastings; we just need to cover our cost. At L.A. Roots, we charge $200/couple and we let them choose 6 menu selections to try. However, if they want more people to join it’s $75 per person. Also more than 6 menu selections is an additional charge as well. We also don’t see the point in doing “group tastings”. You have 20-30 couples in a room, trying a bunch of food they may not even want on their menu. It’s counterproductive. That said, our offer is that if your contract is over $10k, we will remove $200 from your deposit, rendering it effectively a free tasting.
People love our tastings because we serve full portions and there is always leftover for them to take. And because we charge for the tastings, we let the client decide whether they want the tasting before or after they sign on with us. However, we let them know that we cannot hold the date without a deposit. And unfortunately, we have actually had clients lose the date because they waited too long to decide. Which is heartbreaking. So, it’s up to them, but we always let them know: the food is delicious, so better nab us with a deposit to ensure you can have us for the date, then plan your tasting at your leisure! Which is what most of our clients end up doing.
I hope this helps you move forward with the best catering company for you! Huge thank you to Isaiah and the whole team at L.A. Roots Catering for helping us with this blog post!
Ready to start planning your big day with the best catering team by your side? Contact me on my homepage!