Sunday, August 30, 2009

Less is More ....

I was watching a cake challenge show on the Food Network tonight and heard a phrase that is SO appropriate in the food world: "Less is more ... but in this case, less is more WORK!"

In the cake side of my business, brides will tell me they want a simple cake "...just something easy. No borders or anything." I'll smile and tell them, "Oh you want me to work harder on your cake, huh?" I then explain that the border covers the seam where the top and side of the icing meets and when they request no border, then I have to work harder to make a smooth transition from top to side. Less (decoration) is more (work).

Please don't misunderstand. I do borderless cakes all the time. But it's such a great example of how something "simple" is perceived to be "easier". Less ... is more.

In the catering side of my business, I get a number of brides who come into the shop with the idea of "we're just having appetizers because we have a tight budget." While appetizers can be much cheaper than having a plated, served dinner, sometimes a buffet can be cheaper or about the same price as just appetizers.

Why? Because smaller food is more work. Less ..... is more.

Picture it. If you need one single hot vegetable, such as buttered corn for 25 people, a caterer opens a big can of corn or opens a couple of bags of frozen corn, throws it on top of the stove for a few minutes, and bingo-bango, you got corn for 25 people. One can ... one pan .... you're done.

But ..... if you want one enough of one single appetizer to feed 25 people, there are multiple steps that have to be done 25 times. It takes much longer to prepare each individual smaller food. And with smaller foods, a hostess needs to plan on more pieces per person. Less (food per bite) is more (bites needed).

As you work on a tight budget, don't assume "little foods have a little price tag", which is the most common misconception I see. Talk to your caterer. See what they can work up for you. It may work out that appetizers are your best bet for your budget. But you might find you can get a simple buffet for the same or cheaper price than a lot of appetizer items.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ask the Question: How Much is the Tasting/Sampling Appointment?

I found it interesting to discover that having a tasting appointment with your caterer or wedding cake maker is not common in all areas of the country. I live in Indianapolis, the 14th largest city in the country, and it’s almost a given that a bride will have a sampling appointment. Yet in my hometown, just an hour away, when I called various businesses to find out their sampling policy, I was met with multiple responses of “our WHAT policy? You want to taste our food for FREE?”

So I guess the first thing you should find out is does your caterer/caker even DO samplings?

If they do, you need to ask their policy. Is it free? Is there a charge? If there is a charge, does it apply to the order if you book with them? If it’s free, how many people can you bring? Are the extra people free or is there a charge for them?

By the way, a sampling is not a free food party, so lose the idea of bringing your entire wedding party to the bakery to for a taste-testing dessert party. I know one bride who got the door slammed in her face when she showed up at the baker’s with 10 people in tow. It doesn’t take a baseball team to decide if you like white or carrot cake.

I’ve seen catering websites that advertise a free consultation … but if you want to taste the food, there is a $75 fee. Evidently there is a difference between “consultation” and “sampling” appointments. Be sure to clarify when you make the call.

It is not uncommon for a business to charge for a sampling. Unfortunately, this has resulted because of what we mention above ….. wedding couples who decide to have an after dinner dessert party at the baker’s expense, or worse …. those who pretend to be getting married just so they can make the rounds and get free food and cake. (yeah … we know you’re out there, and we know how to spot you. You’re not fooling anyone.) So to weed out the tire kickers, a fee is being charged.

Bottom line: Some folks charge and some don’t (Cater It Simple does not charge for samplings). Some apply it to the booked order, some don’t. Some will permit only the bride and groom to attend the sampling, some will permit one or two other persons for a fee.

A sampling is a real and sometimes costly service that the food vendor provides for their potential clients. Respect the investment they are making for you. Ask good questions when calling and making appointments so you understand what’s involved and what’s expected on both sides.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Your Reception Venue Can Cost You More Than You Think

Picking the dream location for the perfect reception is a big decision. Location, parking and of course price all come into play in the decision making process.

But you've found the perfect location. And the price is in your budget.

Or is it?

There are things to consider when selecting a reception location.

Are you locked into to using their vendors (in-house or preferred caterers, DJ's, etc) or can you select your own vendors? Especially on the caterer decision, this can be a major impact on your budget.

When choosing between venue A and venue B, the caterer choice can be huge. Venue A is $1500 cheaper but you have to use the in-house caterer, who has a minimum of $10,000. Venue B will cost you $1500 more for the use of the room, but you can bring in your own caterer who is only charging you $6000. You've saved $2500 by getting the more expensive room.

Are there hidden charges? I say "hidden" tongue-in-cheek because the charges are available to you somewhere. One example is the kitchen access fee. Many facilities charge the caterer a fee to have access to the kitchen. This can be a flat fee (I know one place that charges $450) or it can be a percentage of the catering bill (one place charges 10% of the catering invoice with a $300 minimum). I've recently been told about one place that charges a flat fee PLUS a percentage of the catering invoice.

Before you think "wow, that's a lot of money for the caterer to pay", let me remind you that the caterer is NOT the one paying it. You are. These fees are usually added to the catering invoice.

I had a client call me just a few weeks ago and he was eligible for a couple of discounts that I offer. I told him I was calculating the discount before adding the venue's percentage fee which would reduce the venue fee for him. The client was very upset to hear about this charge and told me, "If I had known they were charging you, and in effect charging me, that fee, I would have negotiated it when I booked the place!"

An event in gramma's big back yard, by the pond, may sound dreamy and romantic, but many times there are additional fees involved to assure a pleasant and safe catering event. There is usually limited or no kitchen access, which means the caterer must bring extra ice to keep cold foods cold, extra equipment to keep hot foods hot, portable hand washing stations, and extra staffing for the extra work involved in an outdoor event.

I even have a short list of venues that I will not work in because of the super limited access. *IF* someone can convince me to work at what I refer to as a "non-vendor-friendly" location, trust me .... they are going to pay me for it! I have a lot of heavy equipment to transport and it is not worth it if I have to park 2 blocks away and carry everything to the tent or the building in the backwoods. (Yep, had one of those. Won't have one of those again!)

So as you shop for the perfect location, please remember that the price for the room rent is not the only cost you pay. Your vendors may have some additional costs to pass on to you based on the location you've selected.

This is where a wedding planner comes in handy .... they know the questions to ask and they know what to look for, because they know what the other vendors need so they can make your event a success.

As I tell folks, "If you're going to pick a silly place to have a reception that causes more work for everyone else .... then you're going to pay for it one way or the other."

Debi Brim can be reached via email at

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cost of Cakes .... some perspective

My friend Stacey had a great entry on her cake blog about cake pricing, and she graciously gave the ok for me to share the link. So check this out:

Many of us grew up on grocery store birthday cakes. We're used to spending only twenty bucks on a birthday cake. As mentioned in Stacey's blog, shows like Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss have given the public a new view of cakes.

Unfortunately, these shows never share with the public what these cakes cost. (Did you know Duff, of Ace of Cakes, has a $1,000 minimum for one of his cakes?)

So check out Stacey's blog and the next time you go to order that super special cake with the bells and whistles, you'll be armed with some good information to make your shopping easier!