How much does a wait staff cost?
Many catering companies, event planners and bartending services can provide wait staff or bartenders for $20–$30 an hour. This depends on a variety of factors like the size of your special event, if they're serving alcoholic beverages, and what kind of work the food service entails.
Event help and wait staff provide extra hands at parties and special events by setting up, serving food and drinks, clearing away used dishes and glassware, and often cleaning up afterward.
Catering and food service companies will typically provide the necessary staff according to an event’s needs and the service contract in place with the customer. But for smaller events like a private party or intimate wedding reception where you prepare the food yourself, you may opt to hire a few event helpers to assist with food service or to tend bar at the party.
What's in this cost guide?
What affects the cost of event help and wait staff?
The type of event, event size, and length of event all affect the overall cost. Certification and licensing, as well as services required, will also impact your bottom line.
Type of Event
Different types of events require event help and wait staff to have different experience and skill sets. The type of event can also dictate their attire. Wedding receptions are generally more formal, for example, and so are some cocktail parties, especially those held in the evening. Some catering companies and staffing services may charge a bit more for formally attired (black-tie) wait staff.
Theme parties may require event staff to dress in a certain way to help bring the party theme to life. If your flashback party requires waiters to dress like classic San Francisco hippies, or your beach bash requires San Diego surfer outfits, the cost will reflect these costume additions.
Length of the Event
The length of an event also affects cost. A continuous party is straightforward, but some events, such as wedding receptions, may be paced so that wait staff greets guests with glasses of champagne and passed appetizers before guests sit down for the meal. Such details will likely add to your final bill.
Catering services add to your overall cost, and pricing depends on the menu, number of guests, whether you’ll have seated or buffet dining, and other variables. Domestic Affairs Bar and Waitstaff Service near Fort Worth, Texas charges hourly for event staffing and has a two-person, four-hour minimum. Aiming to work within customers’ budgets, Once Upon an Event of Tampa Bay can create custom packages for catering services, full or partial day-of event coordination, and complete event-planning services.
Generally, the more services a company provides—both event catering and decor, for example—the higher the overall costs. Doris Reid-Worthington, owner of Now That Was a Great Party in New Jersey, helps clients plan and orchestrate events for 20 percent of the total event cost and offers day-of event coordination services starting at $100 an hour. Chef Tim offers event catering with full staffing starting at $350 plus food costs. Bartenders Unlimited of Ohio provides bartenders and wait staff for almost any size event and the hourly rate per staff member goes down once a certain number of hours are reached.
Party hosts can provide the food and beverages themselves and then hire wait staff services a la carte. Hiring the helpers this way costs less than if the service provider also prepares all the food and drinks. Extra Hands Catering in Washington specializes in helping clients who like to cook and entertain but would rather pay someone else to handle the the setup, food service and cleanup. KT’s Hospitality is primarily a bartending service, but owner Katie Martinson can provide wait staff for events for $25 an hour per staff member.
Certification and licensing
Many states require bartending services and caterers to have liquor licenses to prepare and serve alcoholic beverages. Texas requires bartenders to have Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) certification. Catering employees may also need safe food-handling certification. Now That Was a Great Party’s Reid-Worthington has ServSafe Manager certification from the National Restaurant Association's ServSafe program, which provides food safety training, exams and educational materials to food-service managers.
How Many Servers Do I Need for a Wedding?
You’ll typically need one event staff member per table of 8–12 people for seated dining, and two event staff members per buffet station.
It’s recommended that you have at least one bartender for every 50 to 70 guests—or more if you are serving blended alcoholic beverages or specialty cocktails with more than three ingredients like a Long Island Iced Tea.
How to Hire Event Help and Wait Staff
- Be clear about what you need: Know what you're looking for and provide as many details as possible about timing, services, and unique party elements.
- Look for certification: If your venue requires certification, or if it's important to you to hire certified staff, make sure your staffing provider has the correct certification for the services you need.
- Equipment and available services: Find out if they offer party equipment rentals and if they can provide you with the services your event requires. If you need a mix of bartending, passed appetizers, and buffet set-up, you want to check in specifically about the availability of those services before you hire event help.
- Look at reviews: Reviews will help you discover high quality, reliable staffers with a reputation for excellence.
How to Save on Event Help and Wait Staff
- Streamline services: Additional services, as well as more hours and equipment, will add to the price. If you only need event staff for specific tasks, like bartending or working a buffet, stick to those tasks and don't add on additional services like passing hors d'oeuvres or washing and stacking dishes.
- Consider a smaller guest list: You typically want to hire at least one event staff person per 15 guests. Your event staffing service will let you know how many staffers your party requires to run smoothly. Every additional staffer brings an additional cost, so if you're interested in opting for a slightly smaller party, you will see a smaller price.
- Find a deal on equipment: From tables to dishware to bartending gear, you can typically rent party equipment from your event staffing service, but it will add to the cost. Borrow these items from friends and family or find a separate deal from a party supply rental company.
- Don't have your holiday party on the actual holiday: Finding staff for a Christmas party on December 25th will be considerably more expensive than hosting the event the week before. Get in the festive spirit early and pick an alternate date close to the holiday you're celebrating instead of celebrating on the actual day.