On national average, event catering can cost between $500 and several thousand dollars, depending on the services offered and the size of the event.
Full service catering companies pair your input with their culinary experience to make you a custom menu, then offer exceptional food and gracious service at your event. A caterer can provide food and hospitality at wedding celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, holiday parties, rehearsal dinners, corporate events, baby showers and everything in between.
When you want to create an unforgettable experience, whether it's for a wedding reception or a cozy special event, professional catering services will take your party to the next level. Let’s take a closer look at the various components that can impact the cost of hiring a professional caterer.
What’s in this catering cost guide?
How Much Does a Caterer Charge Per Hour?
Caterers typically charge per guest, not per hour. They may include flat fees for additional rental items, but these fees are not impacted by the length of the event.
Average Catering Cost Per Person
The price is typically quoted per person, so the first step in working with a caterer is to determine the number of guests at your event. Price differences occur based on the style of service. While a buffet or family style meal may cost $25 per person, a formal plated meal could cost $145 per person.
When more staff is required for service, the cost will reflect that increase. Here are a few examples of how pricing varies by service for Thumbtack caterer Red Dot Cuisine.
|Catering Service||Cost Per Person|
|Formal dinner||$145 per person|
|Informal food stations||$25 - $45 per person|
|Buffet||$23 per person|
|Corporate event||$70 per person|
Types of Catering Service
- Formal dinner: Plated dinners at a catered event provide similar service to what customers would receive in an upscale restaurant—a set table, linens and flatware, and a multicourse meal served by staff. Pricing varies depending on the menu, the number of courses, the number of guests, and the linen and china selections.
- Food stations: For large informal events, like graduation parties or backyard get-togethers, Red Dot Cuisine relies on food stations. Instead of a formal buffet or sit down dinner, they’ll offer a fajita station, slider station, carving station, and snacks.
- Buffet: Catering companies either provide staff members to set up, oversee, restock and breakdown a buffet, or they drop off food for a buffet and customers set up and serve the food as they like. Prices for catered buffets vary based on ingredients, the menu and the number of guests. The price could double for special requests, such as an all-organic customized menu.
- Corporate event: Corporate catering companies can help plan a meal for a corporate event, arrange for rentals and deliver great food or serve it on-site as needed. Prices vary depending on how much service is needed. Red Dot Cuisine charges $70 per person per day during a two-day seminar for an all-day catering package that includes breakfast, a morning snack, lunch and an afternoon snack.
What Affects the Cost of Catering?
Timing, event size, add-ons, supply rentals, and level of service can all impact the cost of catering.
A catering company has to cover staffing, the time spent shopping for and preparing the food, the time spent setting up at a venue, and business overhead, such as insurance and marketing. "All of these components are rolled into cost," explains AJ of Red Dot Cuisine, “and often customers don’t understand why catering costs what it does—since it is more than the cost of the meal if they were to cook it themselves. But we have three permanent cooks, four support staff and on average 12–20 people working bigger events.” By necessity, the cost per head for catered events has to reflect all of these costs.
Many catering companies charge minimum fees for jobs on high-season weekends and nights such as New Year’s Eve. Red Dot Cuisine has a minimum fee of $1,500 with a higher minimum for big days and weekends—although the company always makes exceptions for regular clients. Rentals
Many catering companies provide tables, chairs, linens, tableware, serving/warming trays and table decor, which increases the total bill.
How to hire a caterer
- Check with your venue: Some venues have restrictions on hiring outside vendors, so confirm with your venue before you start the hiring process.
- Number of guests: Because catering is typically priced per person, it’s important to know the number of guests you’re inviting to your event.
- Attend a tasting: Many caterers offer menu tastings for larger events such as weddings or corporate conferences. Your special occasion or wedding menu should reflect your personal tastes. By sampling items like hors d’oeuvres, entrees, side dishes, and desserts, you can get a sense of their ability to create an ideal dining experience at your event venue.
How to save money on catering
- Choose a less expensive catering style: Instead of a plated dinner, try options like a buffet or food stations, which require less staff.
- Be upfront about your budget: The first step in working with a caterer to determine the guest list and budget so the professional can help create a realistic menu.
- Select basic ingredients: Premium ingredients, like an all organic menu or dishes featuring high price items, are not required to create a delicious meal. Work with your caterer to choose dishes with ingredients at a lower price point.
Benefits of Professional Catering Services
Professional caterers have a knack for meticulous planning, and can shrink your pre-event to do list. By taking care of food, rentals, and service staff, a caterer can allow you to relax and enjoy your party instead of handling various dining logistics on the day of the event.