How much salmon?
A. Salmon will not be the only protein in the mains;
B. The guests will be notoriously big appetite Alaskans;
C. The service is buffet, which means pans must be kept full until the end, and people feel free to take seconds and even thirds; and
D. 4 oz per person is a typical but not generous allowance for dressed weight fish, plated
Then, 4 oz per person, dressed weight seems reasonable. That's 50 pounds of fully dressed raw fish.
How will you prepare the salmon?
If you're grilling the salmon and the flank steak, and serving it fresh from the grill... Wait a minute. It's Alaska. You are, aren't you?
You need more people, pal.
Don't argue, listen. You've never done this. You asked for advice and so far everyone who's answered, three people who have done it, are saying the same thing. Coincidence? I think not. Your crew is too small unless it's very experienced. Given that it's your first time, it's a safe bet that the experience level is very low. Get more people. Make less money if you have to, but make the event successful.
Have you ever seen 200 people approach a buffet line with a grill at the end? I have. It's not a pretty picture. You need two lines with a grill at each end, and two people on each grill alone. Of course after the first half hour things slow down considerably and you'll be hard pressed to keep people looking busy. But it's that first half hour that counts. Everything else is something else.
Salmon and flank cook very quickly. Stop smiling, that's not a good thing as far as you're concerned. That means you'll be serving salmon right off the grill, while flank will have to be held, rested, and carved. Now you're up to six people. You'll have to both fish and meat on each grill. A really experienced caterer, the sort who does film crews full time could do it with four, plus unlimited support from the teamsters. You need eight, minimum. Six on the line, a runner and someone to watch the rest.
If on the other hand, you're poaching the salmon off site, loading it into chaffers, and merely setting up and changing chaffers during the party, you might only be in deep doodoo up to your neck with five. If there's little to do onsite other than setup and serve, you can make it with six.
Get more people now!
Don't expect a lot of help from guests and family members. They will attend the wedding, the festivities and be part of the excitement. When it comes to getting stuff done, they will fade faster than fog -- not because they don't want to work but because they simply have more important things to do and because there's no one there with the experience to keep them busy, answer their questions, make sure they're free to do the stuff they came for, and don't wander off just before you need them. Which they will . Also, people in party clothes -- even Alaskan party clothes -- are lousy helpers.
Tough duty, but someone's got to do it.
It's up to you to explain this to the bride, and make sure you and she have an adequate work force so things run smoothly. Human labor is the cheapest and most efficient use of financial resources. If she has a problem with this, have her PM me.
How to charge.
I know the family is paying for the food. Are they purchasing it as well, or are you the shopper? Who pays for the rentals -- tables, linens, etc? The bar? The flowers? These are the sorts of things on which most caterers make their money. Assuming they're going to keep you away from all this...
My suggestion is that you charge an hourly fee for each of your crew members and for yourself as well, without reference to the other expenses. If this is off the books, something like the following might be reasonable. For your crew: $25/hr on site and prep, plus $15/hour travel time (both ways). For yourself, $35/hr on site and prep + $20/hr travel time (both ways), but ask for $45/$30 and knock $10 an hour off to get more people. If they give you more people before you knock your rate down, knock it down to $40/$25 and tell them it's because they were so reasonable. Figure $1 a mile (one way only) for transportation costs -- gas, wear and tear, etc. My numbers are estimates. You know how much people in Alaska earn better than I. Your crew should earn construction wages, and you should earn about 1/3 more.
How to get paid.
Sit down with a pad of paper and mentally walk through the entire event. Write down everything you'll need including matches to light the stove, swizzle sticks for the drinks, whatever. Take nothing for granted. Make sure the family is aware that although you are mostly "labor," there will be some equipment.
Put together a detailed estimate and ask for a small first deposit of "earnest money," so you can put your crew together, and arrange whatever rentals are necessary (grills, chaffers, cambros) and pay for any necessary small expenses (tongs to turn, carving boards, long spatulas, charcoal, etc.); then a second "deposit." You're very cavalier about "beverages." "Hey, beer and wine and they'll take care of it." Rots o' ruck. It seldom works that way. Find out about coolers, ice, glasses, napkins, garnish, soda, sparkling water, etc. You don't have to put it that way, but give the family a chance to reconsider their bad judgment.
Submit the estimate in writing to your clients so there's no confusion or ambiguity afterward. The estimate should include a detailed itemization (you're only charging for labor, so far), a statement that the estimate is only an estimate, and that the client is bound to pay for any additional time and expenses required. Give them a receipt for each deposit. Together the two payments should equal your estimate. In other words, money up front. Save all receipts for additional expenses you will incur (and you will incur them). Communicate with the responsible person (hopefully not the bride) two days before the wedding and fax or email notice of these expenses. Keep the originals of all receipts and submit copies when you submit the final accounting afterwards -- which you should do even if the money was right. If necessary, send an accounting by mail and keep a copy.
Since what you're doing is fairly cut and dried, your estimate should be very close to the final expenses. Try and be a little generous estimating the hours. Clients would far rather pay $4,500 and get $200 back than pay $4,000 and owe $200. It's not "net net," it's human nature.
Welcome to the madhouse and good luck,