How to Calculate Catering Food Costs

How to Calculate Catering Food Costs

Good food, good company–that’s the makings of a great party in our book! When you can hire someone to have good food catered, thereby avoiding the hassle of cooking and cleaning up, it’s much the better.

Unfortunately, it can be confusing trying to figure out how to calculate food catering costs especially if you’ve never hired a caterer before and don’t know what to expect. Good event catering can eat up a large portion of your total budget for your party, so it’s important to have a rough estimate of what it might cost. Having this information can help you figure out how to save money for your next event, such as a wedding.

Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered on all bases of event planning. Keep reading for tips on figuring out exactly how much cash you need to hire a caterer for your next event.

Count Your Heads

It seems like common sense, but the more people that attend your party, the larger your catering bill will be. More people means more food and drinks, appetizers, desserts, services required, and clean up needed.

So, it’s important to decide how many guests you plan on inviting to your party and if possible, make sure they RSVP so that you can get an accurate final headcount to calculate the cost per person. This will greatly help your caterer put together a food and beverage package that meets your needs while staying within your budget.

For instance, if you make a rough estimate of $75 a person for food and drinks and you invite 200 people, whittling the list down by only 20 people would net you a savings of $1500 on a $15,000 catering package bill.

Of course, not all caterers charge $75 a person for food and drinks. There are some who charge more and some who charge less. It depends on the caterer and what kind of menu items, ingredients, and services they offer.

Many caterers offer discounts on larger events, so don’t be afraid to ask if they are able to work with you if you know you are trying to feed a large number of people.

Choose Your Catering Style

Catering comes in many different styles to suit a variety of party needs. For your gathering, you can choose to provide nothing but appetizers, offer a buffet, cater the party family style, provide a plated meal, or set up food stations. It is up to you. Based on the kind of event you are throwing, certain styles of catering may not be suitable.

If you go the nothing but appetizers route, it also may cost less than other options. Buffet-style is often considered a more affordable catering option if your hosting a lot of people.

Family style catering tends to be one of the most expensive options as you will need tables, linens, and plenty of room to pass around platters filled with food. Because the platters are large, they even require more food than would be needed with a plated catering service. There is also more staff involved to distribute the platters of food, which drives up costs further.

Plated-meals can increase the catering budget because you are paying for the wait staff and service in addition to the food. Plated meals may serve more than one course, depending on what you specify when you hire your caterer. Opt to only serve a 3-course meal instead of a 6-course meal, and you can save money on the catering cost from that alone.

Family style meals and plated-meals tend to be a popular choice, especially for people with larger budgets. Meanwhile, buffets and food stations are a popular choice for people on a tighter budget.

There are other options when hiring a caterer, such as picking up food for your party or having food dropped off (typically in disposable containers). These options can be less expensive and more appropriate for a backyard BBQ or small party at home.

Decide if You’re Providing Alcohol

Alcohol can be an expensive portion of the budget. Food catering prices can be tweaked and adjusted based on different food items and ingredients. On the other hand, alcohol tends to always be one of the most expensive aspects of hiring a caterer.

If you host a party with an open bar, mixed drinks and liquors can eat up a significant portion of your catering budget. You could also opt to offer a limited bar (sometimes referred to as a soft bar), and stick to serving only a small number of liquors, beers, and wines. This can help reduce your costs quite a bit.

Decide if You Will Offer Dessert

No meal is complete without a delicious dessert menu. Budget-wise, desserts can increase the bill. If you are providing a cake, caterers often charge by the slice. There are also costs involved with slicing and serving a cake. If you’re just hosting a low-key party at home, there are more affordable routes to take.

Choose In-Season Foods

You can never go wrong planning your party menu around foods that are in season. Not only are they friendlier on the budget, they often just taste better. This is because the foods are usually fresh and ripe. Choosing menu items with ingredients that are out of season can significantly increase your overall costs. We offer our customers with organic catering options that use fresh ingredients.

Ultimately, you decide what you are willing to spend when it comes to food catering prices. Whether you’re planning for an engagement party, wedding, or birthday party, it’s all a numbers game and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You can pare down the number of people you invite to your party and choose a more budget-friendly style of catering, but at the end of the day, you decide how much you want to pay.


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