If your nuptials are taking place in San Luis Obispo, there is a high probability that you are not from the area. It’s funny, but most of the locals I know get married outside of SLO, while 90% of my clients are from elsewhere.
You may be a little nervous about having a destination wedding, but once you have the “big” vendors locked in, you should take comfort in knowing that you’re 1/4 of the way there!
If you have selected a venue that does not offer in-house catering, there are quite a few caterers in the area that will guarantee a meal that will make your guests re-think the possibilities of “wedding food”. San Luis Obispo boasts great caterers at almost every price point, so all you’ll need to think about is your budget and the experience you’ll want to have.
If you are a self-proclaimed “foodie” like me, food is incredibly important to you and you want to select a caterer with excellent experience, service and of course… food offerings.
So, how do you work with a caterer that doesn’t offer a tasting until AFTER you have signed with them? The solution is super simple, but first, let’s talk about why some caterers choose not to offer tastings until after booking.
TASTINGS CAN GET PRETTY EXPENSIVE AT COST AND TAKE A LOT OF TIME. Imagine having 2 fresh appetizers, 2 proteins and 2 seasonal side dishes at a “nice” restaurant (sans drinks). How much would you spend on the bill? For the sake of this paragraph, let’s say you spend $60 per person (dinner and 20% tip for great service), totaling $144 for 2. The reason why you only spent $144 is because you visited a restaurant that is regularly staffed, regularly stocked and regularly open. The restaurant has justified their menu prices based on cost of ingredients, staff, rent, utilities, reputation and all the other back-end business needs to keep patrons coming.
Many event caterers do not have a restaurant and rely on their commercial kitchen/space to host tastings. This means that preparing for your amazing tasting may have meant:
shopping specifically for your tasting selections
staffing the kitchen with a chef (or 2) to prep, cook, plate and listen to your feedback
staffing a banquet coordinator or another kitchen member to plate/serve/discuss your meal
having a staff member review your meal request beforehand to select drinks that would pair well
for Sunday tasters - having said staff members come in on what may have been their day off, after working a 12-hour shift at the day prior’s event/wedding
opening the kitchen and using utilities specifically for your tasting
What does all this mean? According to some number crunching by the very reputable Trumpet Vine Catering who totally customizes tastings using quality ingredients, it means that your dinner (or similar) for 2 for $144 at a restaurant may actually cost your caterer $500.
I’d also like to personally point out that most caterers don’t even get a tip during a tasting!
Now, imagine yourself as the caterer. Let’s say you charged your potential clients $100 for a tasting for 2, then your clients decide that they’d rather go with someone else. You’ve just lost $400 along with your morning and afternoon of family time.
“BUT, THAT’S THE COST OF BUSINESS” you may be thinking.
Yes and no.
A truly remarkable caterer’s cost of business starts long before the moment they answer your inquiry. It starts with training and having a great staff, attention to communication and detail, paying monthly bills, and certainly the time it takes to craft a menu created just for your wedding.
Creating a menu that will speak to you upon receiving your initial inquiry takes time, and as the age old saying goes... time is money. Every time your prospective caterer answers your email or call, they are already investing in your business.
SO, what DO you do when the caterer you want to work with does not offer a tasting?
RELY ON REPUTATION. Much like selecting your wedding planner or entertainers. Don’t hesitate to ask your booked and prospective vendors about the caterer. Your venue, planner or coordinator, DJ, photographer – ask them! In San Luis Obispo, if you hire a reputable vendor that has been in business for a while, chances are we’ve all worked with each other at some point in time. If you have a coordinator, it is of utmost importance to get his/her input as he/she works closest with caterers.
PAY ATTENTION TO REVIEWS. With the many places for businesses to be reviewed, you’ll likely find your prospective caterer in Weddingwire or Yelp. Remember to take less than ideal reviews with a grain of salt and if your caterer has one, talk to them about it. You’d be surprised at the kind of insanity that may happen during weddings, and I’ve had great colleagues with amazing reputations get bad reviews from well… crazy people.
LOOK AT ALL THE PRETTY PICTURES. Does the caterer’s website or social media have amazing photos of REAL events? I stress “real events” because a styled shoot does not properly show whether your vendor is an ace at what they produce during an actual event. When it’s crunch time and a caterer needs to crank out 400 tiny appetizers and 150 plated dishes, things get a whole lot more hectic than spending 20 minutes making a plate look impeccable for a controlled photo shoot. Flora & Fauna Fine Food pictured.
OBSERVE THEIR ATTENTIVENESS. San Luis Obispo is a VERY small city in comparison to Los Angeles or San Francisco. Most in the wedding industry are what you’d consider small businesses and from time to time, especially during the height of wedding season, communication can get a little… well… slow. I have to admit that after moving from the fast pace of Los Angeles, it took me about an entire year to get used to the molasses-dripping speed some vendors took to get back to clients. It was hair pulling and I just couldn't believe that days - sometimes WEEKS would pass without getting a call or email response. After settling down into the #SLOlife, the one thing I realized is that although some vendors do take a long time to respond, most of the time, when it comes down to the nitty gritty, these vendors have their sh*t together... MOST of the time (this is when I urge you to have a wedding planner or at the very least a coordinator to handle communication with vendors).
However, with that said, there is still certainly no excuse for any business not to answer you in a timely manner to get your wedding menu started, questions answered, and contract settled. If your caterer is not attentive to your inquiries from the get-go, chances are, they won’t be during the planning process either. That's something to consider if you are the type who will fuuuhhhh-reeeak out if you don't get an email response within a week.
Voila! I hope this was insightful and will perhaps put you at ease when selecting a caterer without a tasting.
Delicious Food and Photographers:
1st and 2nd Images: Trumpet Vine Catering , Photographer Yvonne Goll Photography
3rd Image: Flora & Fauna Fine Food, Photographer Kiel Rucker Photography