Important stuff to know from start-to-finish:
Important stuff to know from start-to-finish:
Can I see pre-made menus with predetermined prices?
It would take thousands of pages for us to capture our full cuisine repertoire. That's why, with us, every menu is a custom menu designed in close consultation with you. You can check out some of our past custom menu examples but they don't even begin to cover our full cuisine range. The examples are just a few of the menus that we have created in consultation with past clients.
What do you charge per plate?
Since our culinary repertoire is endless and every menu is a custom menu and every venue is different, we can't answer that question apart from consulting with you personally. Contrast the following two scenarios: (1) your five-star indoor resort venue is two hours away, has a commercial kitchen, and you want individually plated gourmet seafood; and, (2) your outdoor venue is five minutes away and you want BBQ pulled pork sandwiches served from a buffet line. Obviously, costs per plate will substantially differ.
For many reasons, food costs over the past few years have increased by an average of 17%, both in the U.S. and worldwide.
Overall, as a very general rule-of-thumb, you should expect quality catering to cost around three times the amount per person compared to what you would pay for an actually equivalent meal at a quality restaurant.
Why is quality catering more expensive than going to a restaurant or ordering take-out?
Hiring the services of a caterer is not something that most people have done before, especially young couples planning a wedding. Misconceptions about what catering is and what it entails are common and entirely understandable.
Hiring a caterer is not like ordering take-out or going out to eat at a restaurant. You are, instead, hiring a dedicated team who devotes their all to you and your event from start-to-finish.
Essentially, we are creating a restaurant for you and your guests for one amazing custom meal one time. The stakes are very high and we utterly cannot drop the ball or screw it up. And since no two events are quite alike, we have had to become highly skilled at hitting the ground running within unfamiliar and sometimes less-than-ideal environments.
Catering your event entails planning a menu together with you, calculating costs and portions, procuring ingredients specific to your menu, determining the required equipment and staffing and transportation, and more...and all of that is before highly skilled chefs work to prepare your food. And then we make it all come together on your special day. Your one event typically takes months of planning and weeks of crazy-busy work over multiple eighteen hour days and sometimes a sleepless night or two.
Food ingredients can cost more for custom caterers, like us. We don't make the same orders week after week.
Our staff must be proven and trusted superstars. They were hard to come by and require and deserve their topmost pay.
When the event day comes we are typically the first to arrive and the last to leave, but when all is done we return everything to where it all started as if we had never been there.
None of the above is true at any restaurant.
What is the average amount that couples spend on wedding catering?
According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, the recent nationwide cost average of wedding catering is $75 per person. We give preference to booking requests at that rate or above during the peak wedding season. Other factors can come into play, however, such as location, so please do request a consultation no matter your budget.
Can you help me understand why I found a caterer who costs less than you?
Not all caterers are equal and not all food is the same. It's not even close.
Consider a car analogy: A junker might get you and your passengers from point A to point B, but you can choose to ride with assurance in style while impressing your passengers. Both experiences leave a different "smell in your nostrils" and "taste in your mouth."
Some places call what they do "catering" when in reality it is just drop-and-go delivery of non-special food. Sub shops, local pubs, supper clubs, local restaurants, and BBQ or pizza joints can "cater" your event that way. After delivery, most everything else is left to you.
We don't cater that way, nor are we "bargain caterers" who typically prepare food off-site and travel with it over the road in warming boxes, then take it out and serve it. Bargain caterers typically serve degraded and disappointing cafeteria-style food despite any sound of elegance in the names of dishes. We don't cater that way, either. We'd feel beet-red embarrassed to serve what we have seen bargain caterers pass off.
What about bargain-priced whole animal and BBQ caterers? What's the difference between you and them?
Bargain whole animal and BBQ caterers are typically novice backyard enthusiasts who use often questionable homemade equipment. By contrast, we are expert pitmasters and actual chefs who use the very best equipment. A whole animal or BBQ'ed meat, done properly, is a big ordeal and typically involves a largely sleepless night. Inexpensive whole animal and BBQ caterers typically rush things. The meat is straight-up bad compared to ours, and if a whole hog, the skin is usually burnt and inedible. Our meat is perfectly succulent and the skin is lucious and crisp.
Additionally, the side dishes of bargain whole animal caterers are novice compared to our chef-made ones. With us, sides and trimmings are an absolutely amazing and essential part of your meal, not just afterthoughts.
Further, we don't bring stuff we bought from a store and then just open and serve it as backyard enthusiasts typically do. We bring our handmade uber-delish signature sauces and toppings. From start-to-finish, everything is made by a chef who is also an expert pitmaster.
Can you book every request, and can you work with a limited budget?
For a wedding, there are very good reasons to make catering your literal highest budget priority, and we're not just saying that because we are caterers. Years out, people will remember two main things about your wedding: your love and the food.
For us, catering your event is not a mere transaction where we simply exchange money for food service. We take it personally.
During the peak wedding season, especially during September, we receive many more requests than we can fill. Amid that period, we tend to book based upon your budget, your venue's amenities, and often the interest-level we have in your desired cuisine. We book only one wedding per week. Once you have us, you have us fully and we become devoted to your event.
For weekdays and during the non-peak weekend wedding season, our availability and budget range is more open.
In all cases, please inquire. Hearing back from us to schedule a consultation is the next step.
You say that every menu you serve is a custom menu. How do we go about determining that?
During a voice, streaming video, or person-to-person consultation, we ask smart get-to-know-you questions, propose ideas and possible menus, and then dialogue with you about and ultimately settle together upon a direction for your event's deliciousness.
Consultations are without charge and last 20 to 90 minutes or so. Menu proposals are drafts, may go through several iterations, and are refinable or even completely changeable.
Do you have any venue selection advice, and do you have preferred catering venues?
Choose your caterer before you choose your venue. We can help you navigate the selection of a venue that maximizes your cuisine options and that can overall save you event costs.
The wedding venue business can be a bit of a racket. Many of the nicer indoor venues were bought up by equity investor conglomerates during the early to mid-2000s. Their venues are easy to rent but can be hard to work with afterward and usually have lots of additional fees hidden in the fine print. Other indoor venues may exaggerate their capabilities with a showy kitchen that no one is allowed to actually fully use. Wedding barns and other outdoor venues certainly have a romantic pull but your menu options will necessarily be limited and the venue owners may not disclose that to you before you lay down your deposit—plus, rats and mice may be hidden guests. Sometimes, the best venue cuisine-wise and budget-wise is a family property, public facility, or in the case of a wedding a larger church. We are well-experienced with all of this and can advise you.
Overall, if you choose a venue with a kitchen that your venue confirms to you as fully usable by your chosen caterer, your menu and service-style possibilities will be wide open; plus, it could overall save you costs in the long run.
We will maximize the possibilities of any venue, delish-promise, but wish to open up your cuisine and service style options from the start.
Are there any venues you won't cater to?
Yes, when safety is an issue. For example, we won't cater events in contained spaces where the expected guest count exceeds the maximum fire safety occupancy count.
How do I estimate the number of diners at my event?
The key is that the invited number of diners never equals the number who actually come.
Here is one broadly accepted best practice for determining the estimated guest count at your event:
(number of out-of-town invited guests x 75%) + (number of local invited guests x 90%) = estimated guest count
So if you have 120 people on your invited guest list, 30 of which are out-of-towners and 90 local, here's how the estimated guest count is likely to play out:
(30 out-of-towners x 75%) + (90 locals x 90%) = approximately 104 guests
Accurately estimating your guest count depends on the event occasion, where the diners are coming from, and the time of year. Consider that people are more inclined to travel for a wedding or family reunion than a high school graduation party. As well, people are more inclined to travel and attend during temperate weather than during winter. Invited out-of-towners who may not be able to afford the trip or take time off should also be factored in.
Estimating guest count is partially math and partially art. It is also never fully precise, which is why we build in a plus-or-minus 10% grace variance for your event.
Can you help me understand catering food service styles?
Can you work with our event planner?
Yes! Event planners are among our best friends. We will coordinate with your planner very early on.
However, in the past, we have encountered a few unethical event planners whose goal was to increase their own share of the event pie by harmfully squeezing other vendors at the last minute. Consequently, in rare cases, we may request you deal with the catering for your event between just you and us.
How do I book you and how do retainers and payments work?
Complete our brief catering inquiry form. It is the best initial contact method. It upfront asks for the first information we need
If requested, schedule a consultation with us
Review and comment on the menu proposal. We use Google Docs for this
Review and sign our catering contract. We use Google Docs for this, too. You can e-sign
Review the invoice and pay the 18% retainer online by bank card. This locks in your date. We use Square as our secure payment processor
50% of the remaining is due by bank card online 45 days before the date
The remainder is due on the event day
As private chefs or menu consultants:
Negotiated on a case-by-case basis
Do you have hidden fees? Do you charge for travel?
We don't complicate or hide things and there are no suprises. All staffing is included, nor do we tack on ridiculous costs such as a "cake cutting" or "uncorking" fee. We provide items such as plating, serving ware, and closely related at passthrough costs—we charge just our cost—and show you the receipts. For travel, we add on nothing more than the standard IRS overnight stay, travel, and per diem reimbursement rates—they are bare-bones and never fully cover our full costs. Certain corporate venues may charge us per hour, from the time we arrive to the time we leave, to cater your event; that, too, we pass along as passthrough costs. With us, cuisine is #1 and we structure everything accordingly.
Once you receive our retainer, how does communication work?
We are reachable within a reasonable response time and often immediately by text, phone, or email during normal waking hours. Please do reach out with any questions or concerns. During the four or five days prior to your event, we become completely engulfed in making your meal come together and may be hard to reach. This is no cause for concern, it just means we are working hard to make your event happen!
Where do you cook your food?
Nearly all caterers in central and northern Wisconsin cook their non-grilled food off-site and then travel with it across the road to your event in insulated boxes. Typically two hours have passed by the time your food is served dry or hard or chewy or soggy, or some combination thereof.
We don't cater that way. If your venue lacks a kitchen, and in some cases even if it does, our cuisine standards demand that we set up a mobile kitchen at your event site. We also use several commercial kitchens (more here) across Wisconsin, including one right near our home base. That all may mean we can cost some more, but you and your guests will be delighted!
Do you offer tastings?
Despite what some popular internet and magazine articles may say, only about 50% of caterers offer tastings.
Caterers who cook and then travel with your food across the road to your event typically very much want you to do a tasting, since what they will be arriving with at your event is unlikely to be as fresh and good. Chef-driven custom caterers like us who primarily cook on site normally don't offer tastings, because it just wouldn't be the same even if we did. First, like most expert chefs, we don't cook by recipes because we don't need them. Most dishes don't turn out exactly the same way twice but are expertly delish every time. Second, cooking for a hundred or two-hundred or so people just does not translate into cooking a few samples.
Check our qualifications, photos, and reviews. If you still wish to test us, we love being hired as private chefs for a small event in your home or other small venue. Start a conversation with us! Private chef events start at around $100 per person and usually require our usage of an on-site kitchen of some sort. If you end up hiring us for your catered event, we'll deduct 10% from your catered event.
With notice, you can drop in to eat for free as guests of the caterer at an event we are doing. The cuisine will not be yours but the clients—recall that every menu we do is a custom menu—and doing so may involve you travelling within our service range.
How are you guys doing all of this out of a small town in the middle of Wisconsin?
What if I have to cancel or reschedule?
Our cancellation and rescheduling policies are entirely within normal industry standards, if not more generous. Basically, we want to recover any costs we may have incurred, and in some cases lost opportunity; so, the further away from the event day you cancel or reschedule the better. In the event that some horrible catastrophe happens among either party, we both agree to just graciously accept our losses and walk away, unless the catastrophe is temporary. We plainly spell all of this out in your catering contract.
Can you cater events that span more than one day?
Absolutely! We love doing so. For one example, Friday dinner, Saturday brunch, dinner, and late night chow, and Sunday brunch. For situations involving more than three days, we prefer to be hired as private chefs.
Are you trained in food safety and do you carry insurance?
Chef Steve is a certified ServeSafe® Food Protection Manager, the highest food safety certification available within the industry endorsed by the National Restaurant Association, the state of Wisconsin and nationwide, and broadly accepted internationally. From start to finish, he is running the show during events. We carry $1-million liability insurance. Northwoods Catering is a Limited Liability Company in the State of Wisconsin.
Do you offer delivery/drop-off? Also, can you prepare only the meat at our event?
Drop-off is not catering. It is large-scale food delivery of food prepared off-site. On days we are not already busy, we can deliver BBQ with sides and sauces within a limited radius of our home base. Other parties may provide appetizers, bakery items, desserts, wedding cake, and beverages.