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How to Estimate Catering Jobs: A Pricing Guide for Small Business

Stuck between trying to land new clients and make a profit? Our catering cost breakdown and pricing guide will help you make accurate estimates of food, rental, alcohol, labor and overhead costs so you can charge what you’re worth, keep your cash flow happy and stay in business for the long haul.

Need a catering estimate template? FreshBooks’ online estimating software makes generating and sending estimates easy. Plus, you can quickly convert them into invoices when the job’s done.

In this article, we’ll cover:

1. Get a Guest Count

Nothing will affect the final price more than how many guests are attending the event (other than the food choices, of course), advises Draper’s Catering. Of course, some people inevitably won’t show up or others who didn’t RSVP will. You’ll need to include a policy in your estimate around changes and guarantees to protect yourself.

2. Consider the Type of Food and Service

Your costs are going to depend greatly on the client’s choice of menu and service. An hors d’oeuvres buffet usually comes with the lowest price tag, though adding stations to this buffet can up the price quickly.

A dinner won’t cost much more than appetizers only in terms of food prices but glassware, servers and china plates will definitely add to the total fee. For clients looking to save money, advise them to feed guests outside of regular mealtimes so they won’t have to provide as much food.

Also consult with the client about special requests and additional items. Do they want sustainable seafood? Are there any dietary restrictions? Review potential menus with the client and get them to approve all the ingredients, advises the Houston Chronicle.

3. Add Food Costs

Now that the client has approved the menu, make a detailed ingredient list with quantities and add up how much it’s going to cost you. Find a supplier and price out any special ingredients that have been requested.

It’s easier to figure out how much to feed everyone if each guest is served a set meal as opposed to a buffet. For a set meal, ach person will probably eat about four to six ounces of meat, two side dishes, an appetizer and dessert.

Keep in mind that your food bill should be about 30 percent of your total price, advises the Houston Chronicle.

Here are some estimates of food prices per person from Draper’s Catering:

  • Hors d’oeuvres: $14 to $18
  • Buffet dinner: $10 to 14
  • Plated dinner: $11 to $15
  • Stations: $14 to $18

4. Add Supplies Costs

Consider if you need the following items and how much each will cost you:

  • Chafing dishes
  • Napkins, tablecloths and other linens (disposable or not)
  • Chairs
  • Glassware
  • Flatware
  • Utensils
  • Equipment

Draper’s Catering estimates that rentals should cost $2 to $6 per person for any type of food service, whether it’s plated or buffet.

5. Add Bar Costs

Bars at events can get really expensive. Sometimes clients will pay two to three times their food costs on alcohol. The client may choose to buy their own alcohol and hire a licensed bartender, if the venue allows for it. Otherwise, you will need to price out the cost of alcohol and nonalcoholic beverages, the set up, cups, ice, a bartender and more.

Draper’s Catering recommends pricing for one drink per hour, per person and buying 35 percent beer, 30 percent wine and 35 percent liquor. Or 60 percent beer and 40 percent wine. One keg of beer should provide 140 to 165 12 oz servings and a 0.75 liter bottle of wine should serve five 5 oz glasses. A 1.75 bottle of liquor should serve 40 1.5 oz drinks.

On average, bar services should cost about $2 to $4 per person.

6. Add a Service Charge

A service charge will first of all include labor costs. Figure out how many servers and assistants you’re going to need. You can also include a gratuity in the service charge, or leave it up to the client to tip staff themselves.

The service charge should also cover administration and coordination costs. In short, your overhead. Consider the owner and all other administrative staff’s salaries. You also want to factor in the cost of rent, marketing, equipment, utilities like electricity and gas, vehicle fuel and maintenance, internet and phone bills, insurance and taxes. Find your average monthly overhead.

Now consider how many jobs you do per month. You need to split your monthly overhead between these jobs.

  • For example, if your monthly overhead is $5,000 and you do 10 jobs a month, you need to charge $500 extra per job to cover your overhead.

Finally, you need to factor in your profit margin. You can add a flat fee or factor in a percentage, like 25 percent.

Draper’s Catering estimates that the total service charge should be $5.50 to $9 per person.

Sometimes you may need to be flexible to accommodate the client’s budget, but you should certainly always be making profit from each job. Don’t drive down your prices to compete otherwise you’ll hurt your cash flow as well as your chances of surviving over the long term.

7. Find Your Total

Add together your food costs, labor, rentals, bar services, service fee and taxes to find the total price to quote your client.

Draper’s Catering estimates the following per person rates:

  • Hors d’oeuvres: $26 to $36
  • Buffet dinner: $26 to $37
  • Plated dinner: $31 to $42
  • Stations: $14 to $18

Pocket Planner is an app that has a free catering pricing calculator in case you want a quick way to provide a preliminary estimate for a client. You can also download this catering pricing template to calculate food costs and gross profit.

People also ask:

How Much Does a Caterer Make per Hour?

Caterers typically make from $8.72 to $25 per hour, with the average being $15.25 per hour, according to Sokanu. Top end caterers make $25 per hour while those just starting out typically make about $8.72 per hour. The average hourly rate is highest in New York and California, at $17.46 and $17.41 respectively.

How Do You Calculate Food Cost per Person?

First, cost out how much your ingredients are going to be and find out how many guests are attending. Divide the total ingredient costs by the number of guests.

It’s easier to price this out if you’re doing a plated dinner, as you’ll typically be serving four to six ounces of meat, two side dishes, an appetizer and dessert per person. Remember, children will only eat half as much as adults.

Here are some ballpark numbers for a buffet or other type of service:

  • Appetizers: Six to eight pieces per person per hour
  • Main dishes: 6 to 8 ounces per person
  • Side dishes (3 total): 4 to 6 ounces
  • Salad: 1 cup per person
  • Bread and rolls: 1 to 2 per guest
  • Fruit: 1 cup per person

What Is the Average Cost of a Wedding Catering Buffet?

The average cost of a wedding catering buffet in the U.S. is $4,000, with a range from $1,800 to $7,700, according to Wedding Wire. That said, the cost can go as low as $400 and as high as $13,000 and up.

What Is the Average Catering Cost per Person for a Wedding?

The average wedding catering cost per person for a wedding in the U.S. is $85 per person, according to the Bridal Association of America. This figure is based upon a wedding with 150 guests (the average) and includes food and food service, drinks and drink service and cake and cake cutting fees.

The price goes down for less involved events. A wedding with an hors d’oeuvres reception or buffet with no cocktail hour and a limited bar would cost about $30 to $70 per person.

Add a cocktail hour, a sit-down dinner and open bar and you’re looking at $125 to $300 per person.

Keep in mind that catering in large cities, the Northeast and the West Coast cost about 30 percent more.

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