Catering cost guide

Back in 2017 caterers earned $967 million which is a third more than 8 years ago. The industry of mobile food services continues to develop and grow offering new kinds of menus, serving options, food preparation techniques, and additional rental opportunities for their clients. Catering services exist to facilitate preparation and holding of any event by providing food and drinks together with all supplementary rentals.

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Catering services are most often hired for events, gatherings, parties, and in the hotels to provide food and drinks service to guests and clients. The offered duties include everything from full-service dinners with plated food serving and food prepared on the spot to ready-to-eat buffet style food serving. Apart from actual food and drinks, caterers usually offer the rentals of linens, silverware, glassware, and plates. Most catering experts provide all kinds of food serving: breakfast, brunch, tea, lunch, cocktails, dinner, and desserts.

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Catering services cost is usually calculated in per-person ratio. The average catering cost is $30-$120/person for a regular meal serving; for large events like weddings or any kind of formal dinner be ready to pay as much as $275-$350/person.

Types of catering services with prices

What are the food serving types usual for catering services?

There are four basic types of food serving offered, namely plated dinner (full-service), buffet, family style, and cocktail style.

  • Plated dinner costs the most: about $80-$155/person. Plated dinners are most common at official events or for large celebrations. In this case, the catering company not only cooks pre-agreed meals but also serves them individually to your guests.
  • Buffet style is the most affordable one. It costs about $15-$30/guest but the price heavily depends on the choice of food and the quantities you request.
  • Family-style catering is a combination of the buffet and plated dinner service, so the cost is in the middle as well ($55-$120/guest). At family-style parties, the food of your choice is served to every table individually on big plates from which the guests decide on the food they would like to eat.
  • Cocktail-style catering services cost about $45-$90. In this scenario, caterers set food stations around the venue and servers to mingle among guests with hors-d'oeuvres. Cocktail-style catering is perfect for business meeting and large galas where food is expected to be a supplementary and not the main entertainment.

How the cost of catering depends on the event type?

The kind of event you’re holding also makes an impact on the cost of catering services. Wedding catering costs much more than just a formal dinner with a business partner, for instance Here is the tentative per-person ratio of catering services for different event types:

  • Corporate event $70-$90/person
  • Formal dinner $85-$145-/person
  • Graduation party $25–$45/person
  • Wedding and similar celebrations $95-$200/person

Cost-related questions

Is there a minimum fee for catering services?

Generally, caterers have a minimum fee for big weekends and nights to guarantee that they work these special nights for a reason. As a rule, you will see minimum order fee for the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve events. The size of the minimum is a variable that is chosen by every particular caterer; however, you can expect the minimum to be about $1,500.

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Do caterers provide anything but food?

Most often catering companies include into the estimate not only a chef who cooks but also lots of stuff that helps with cooking and deals with serving the food. So, the price you see on the caterer’s website will include the workforce required for a particular services package. For instance, if you want to have a plated dinner then the caterer will include the cost of servers required for the food serving; another option is that the caterer calculates the cost of the food and then adds the cost of labor separately. The pricing strategy depends on a company, so ensure to request a detailed estimate before signing the papers.

Do caterers provide any rentals?

Yes, all companies provide equipment and food-related items for rental. Many, but not all, caterers offer tables, chairs, linens, tableware, silverware, glassware, and table decor for rent. While plates, glasses, silverware, and linens are generally included in the estimate, the rest will be added to your cheque as extras. On average, rentals increase catering cost by $10-$25/person.

Do caterers serve beverages and alcohol?

Yes and no. Yes, caterers provide beverages serving. Yet, these are non-alcoholic beverages of your choice (water, mineral water, tea, iced tea, coffee, hot chocolate, juices). If you want the server to take care of the bar at your event, make sure that the service you hire has a liquor license and a skilled bartender. In many cases, caterers don’t have a liquor license so you will need to hire a bartender with a bar for about $150/4 hours and additional $50/hour for every next hour of work. For more details, check our bartender cost guide.

Other frequently asked questions

How can I calculate the total catering cost?

There is no one-fits-all formula that can dot the i’s and tell you how to calculate the total cost. However, below you can find a list of factors that influence the final bill:

  • Menu
  • Guest count
  • Per-person cost for both adults and children
  • Working hours
  • Additional fee for longer service hours
  • Extra prices for holidays and seasonally busy times
  • Rentals cost
  • Venue cost
  • Travel expenses

How far in advance should I decide on the menu?

Smaller catering companies with narrower menu options allow making menu changes up to 4-5 days before the event. If you’re ordering a customized menu with a particular serving method and guest count, then the general requirement for any changes from the caterer services is that you decide no later than two weeks prior to the event. In case you have less than 5 days left to your event, call the chosen caterer directly and ask about their service; most catering companies will do their best to accommodate last-minute offers.

Do I need to tip my caterers?

Tips are usually expected in the catering business but are never required. An average of $15-$20/person is enough.

Bottom line

Catering services provide food, beverages, and serving services for such events as parties, celebrations, business meetings, etc. Caterers serve food and non-alcoholic drinks as a standard service package. The services cost begins at $30-$120/person with the top-notch orders ranging at $275-$350/person.

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