How much you should expect to spend on catering depends on various factors, including the number of guests at your event, the time of day, the cuisine you choose, the dishes you need prepared, and the staff you require.
There are a few major drivers of catering prices:
- How many guests do you expect? Caterers charge less per person the more people you invite. For example, if you want full-service catering for fewer than 25 guests, the average per-person cost is $41, while the average for a large party of more than 75 people is $28.
- What time of day will the event take place? Catering a lunchtime event is cheaper than catering a dinner event, resulting in savings of up to $5 per person for full-service catering (with average savings of $3 per person). This pricing disparity adds up as you increase the number of guests.
- What type of cuisine do you want? The most affordable options are barbecue (these tend to be more informal trucks or buffets), Mexican, or Latin American cuisine. Italian and American cuisine are in the middle of the price spectrum. The most expensive cuisines are Asian, vegan, and Mediterranean.
- Which dishes do you need prepared? Expect to pay more if you are catering a full meal, instead of just side dishes or desserts. Drop-off catering a full meal for dinner was $2-4 per guest more expensive than drop-off catering of side dishes for a dinner.
- What are your staffing needs? The more staff you need, the higher your costs will be. For example, a single bartender provided by the caterer for an evening event will add about $400.
Another important driver of price is your location. Catering costs vary depending on the type of city you live in.
Questions you should ask your caterer:
- Do they specialize in a type of cuisine or service? Ask the caterers whether they specialize in certain types of food or service, and review any sample menus. Be sure to discuss any food allergies or special requests your guests may have.
- Is a tasting available? A tasting may cost extra but is often worth it – not only is this a super fun rite of passage, but it is also the best way to determine whether the caterer is right for your needs.
- What’s their cancellation policy? Details like this should be clearly spelled out in your contract – be sure to read it all the way through and don’t hesitate to ask if something isn’t clear. Look out for a defined cancellation policy and the date by which you must have a final guest count.
- Where do they source their food? A major price variable is the quality of the ingredients. There’s a price difference between sourcing ingredients from a local farmer and the freezer of your local grocery. Knowing where your food will come from and how it will be stored will not only determine the freshness of your meal, but will cut the risk of foodborne illness.
- What should I expect to pay in taxes and tip? On average, taxes and tip will add about 19% to your bill on top of all the other costs.
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