by: Kelly Fowler

[Editor’s Note: In an effort to provide you with the most accurate and candid information, this Tips & Advice post was written especially for ELD readers by one of our verified and vetted V List Vendors, Kelly of Just Save The Date Events! Read on to find out more on the “surprise” catering costs that you need to be budgeting for!]

As if researching venues and catering services wasn’t hard enough, chances are good that you have (or will) run across some of the pesky common “++” (plus-plus) signs that leave you wondering, “What are those? Why are they here?  Could it be a typo? Is danger ahead?” All joking aside, this is a frequent question we get from a lot of our clients and being that wedding season is upon us, we thought we would give you a little insight on this familiar (and somewhat confusing) topic.  

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The infamous “plus-plus is something that many people are unaware of, yet it can inflate your budget quickly. We know this can be confusing to someone that is not versed in the ways of catering and party planning, and if you forget about them as you are planning your wedding (and the budget), they can quickly put you over the edge.

So what does “plus-plus” (++) mean?

“Plus-plus” refers to service charges and/or gratuity and taxes. These fees are added on top of the base price for say, the per person cost of the food that you are planning to serve to your guests. Menus for catering typically list the base price with the plus-plus added on. It usually looks like this: $85++. Many couples are amazed at how complicated that little “++” can be. It seems so easy to just plug that $85/person into your budget and know how much your banquet will cost – but you would end up with the wrong number. This is one place where couples (and those who do not usually handle catering) often get into trouble.

Service charges vary by specific company, although different hotels, restaurants, and catering companies within a city or geographical area typically have similar rates. (22% is a common rate where I am located in Key West.) The services fees usually include gratuity for the catering staff (servers, bussing staff, bartenders), kitchen expenses, and additional catering staff (Sales Manager), and it also goes towards the overall cost of doing business- i.e. trucks, gas, etc.

Also, remember that service charges are taxable. Taxes are set by cities and states and are one of the few items that hotels and caterers really cannot negotiate away. After all, they still have to pay those taxes to the city or state whether they collect them from you or not (unless you are lucky enough to be tax exempt).

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Planning & Design: Just Save The Date/ Photographer: KLK Photography
See more: An Eclectic Key West Wedding

Here is a quick example:

A wedding buffet menu is priced at $85 per person (base price). If you are feeding 100 people and have a budget of $9,000, it looks like you are OK. However, remember that the rate is actually $85++, so you have to take service charges and tax into account to know if you are really under budget. If we assume a 22% service charge and 7.5% in state and local taxes, then the total for your dinner is not $8,500 but instead would be $11,447.50 – a difference of almost $3,000!

What the ++ adds up to represents a huge amount to a couple on a tight budget. Even large weddings with much larger food budgets can get into trouble if the couple forgets to include tax and service charges in their budgeting.

Remember, if you are unsure of a specific charge when looking at a Banquet Event Order, or BEO as they are commonly referred, be sure to ask your Wedding Planner or Sales Manager at your venue or catering company.  Every caterer and venue is different, so check with your caterer, planner or venue during the booking process. They can help you read through the proposal/BEO and answer any questions you may have about charges, gratuity, fees, etc.  It’s better to ask questions and be informed than to be surprised with additional charges you weren’t planning for.

Keeping an eye on your food budget can be tricky with any wedding, but if you remember to budget for the plus-plus, then at least you won’t find yourself tripped up by these charges and you will be able to relax and enjoy your big day!

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Kelly is a Florida native, and the owner and lead planner at Just Save The Date: Event Planning & Design. She has a background in Event Planning, Marketing, and Communications. A proud University of Central Florida graduate (Go Knights), Kelly has planned weddings, corporate and social events throughout the United States including the southeast, northeast, northwest and mid-atlantic.
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One response to The “Surprise” Catering Costs You Need To Budget For

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  1. Elle (a Bride)

    Great post.. Super helpful as usual!

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