On average, event catering typically costs between $500 and $3,000 (and more), depending on the services offered and the size of the event.
Wedding & event catering prices:
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, caterers 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 cost guide?
- How much do caterers cost per hour?
- Average catering cost per person
- Types of catering service
- Additional cost factors
- How to hire a caterer
- How to save money on catering
- Benefits of professional catering services
- Find a catering service near you
How much do caterers cost 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. So in this example, the average cost of catering for 50 guests can ranges between $1,250 and $7,250.
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 a Thumbtack caterer, Red Dot Cuisine.
Cost per person
|Formal dinner||$145 per person|
|Informal food stations||$25 - $45 per person|
|Buffet||$23 per person|
|Corporate event||$70 per person|
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Types of catering service
As you're planning your party, figure out what type of catering services you need. Here are a few of the most popular types:
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 multi-course meal served by a waitstaff.
Catering prices vary depending on the menu, the number of courses, the number of guests, and the linen and china selections.
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.
Catering companies either provide staff members to set up, oversee, restock and breakdown a buffet. Or, they might drop off food for a buffet, and customers set up and serve the food as they like.
Prices for catered buffets vary based on the ingredients, menu and number of guests. The price could double for special requests, such as an all-organic customized menu.
Corporate catering companies can help you plan a meal for a company event, arrange for rentals and deliver great food (or serve it on-site as needed).
The catering 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.
Timing, event size, add-ons, supply rentals and the level of service can all impact caterer costs.
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 during high-season weekends and nights such as New Year’s Eve. For example, 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.
Supplies, dinnerware and decor
Many catering companies provide tables, chairs, linens, tableware, serving/warming trays and table decor, which may increase the total bill.
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How to hire a caterer
You should look up top-rated caterers in your city by searching online. Then, thoroughly read the caterers' profiles and look at their photos of past events to get a sense of their specialties and services. Do they have experience catering at large weddings or child birthday parties? And what type of cuisine are they known for?
Next, read the online reviews left by happy (and unhappy) customers. Flag any caterers who have a slew of negative reviews that criticize the caterers' quality of food, punctuality, timing and professionalism.
Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when hiring 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.
- Know the 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.
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How to save money on catering
To stay within your budget, try implementing the following money-saving tips.
- 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 is 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-priced items, are not required to create a delicious meal. Work with your caterer to choose dishes with ingredients at a lower price point.
- Get multiple price quotes. Comparing cost estimates from several caterers in your area can help you find a company that's offering a great deal for great service. Aim to get at least three estimates before hiring a caterer.
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.