Food platter

Breaking Down the Cost of Catering

Unfortunately, some businesses are more prone to scrutiny when it comes to their pricing than others. You wouldn’t, for example, dissect your accountant’s fees or ask your hair stylist to explain which part of her rate accounts for supplies vs. expertise. 

When it comes to catering and because everyone can, arguably, cook in some capacity or another, caterers often get pushback in the form of “That’s what a salad costs! I could make that at home for five bucks.” Well, that may be, but more likely than not, this kind of customer is missing some key information. 

So, we’re here to set the record straight and provide a quick and general breakdown on the cost of catering.

Current Catering Costs

As you’ll see from the following data, the cost of catering represents a wide spectrum of spending. According to fash, the average cost of catering in 2020 ranges from $7-$45 per head. There’s $38 worth of wiggle room in either direction there and the important thing to bear in mind is that this is just an average. 

Choosing to serve lunch versus dinner will impact the price, likely lowering it, while opting for a traditional sit-down meal over a food truck will increase your overall expenditure. 

Certain details that seemingly have nothing to do with catering or food will factor into the final fee. Location is one — right down to region and even as specific as zip code. 

Other non-food, but critical line items include the following:


Another factor that tends to get overlooked because people are so focused on the food is the staff required to run the event. Depending on the number of guests, you’ll likely need some number of wait staff or bartenders to keep the food reaching hungry or thirsty mouths in a satisfactory amount of time. 

Keep in mind, these folks don’t just work during the event, but are typically responsible for breakdown and clean up after the guests have gone home. Your caterer is likely shelling out anywhere from $150-200 per staff member to work your event. 

Set-up and Serving Supplies

It’s one thing to pay for excellent catering, complete with a professional serving staff offering your guests a variety of delicious foods, but it’s quite another to ask them to eat with their hands. 

Kidding aside, you’ll need to provide linens, cutlery, glassware, etc., and often it’s just as easy to leave this kind of prep (you know you’ll forget serving spoons, a cake server, etc.) to your caterer. If you do so, expect to incur a service charge, usually about 20% of the total cost. 

Could you provide your own linens and such? You’ll have to ask your caterer, but even if you could — are the supposed savings of hitting the Dollar Store worth your time and effort? Maybe! It’s worth exploring all your options, but the point is to remember that catering costs encompass more than just food.  

Length of Event

The longer your event, the greater the time and financial investment keeping people happy. If you are hosting a corporate event with a lineup of speakers, you’re going to need hors d’oeuvres served throughout the day. A good rule of thumb to remember is that hot hors d’oeuvres tend to cost more than cold and, depending on ingredients, may require an actual chef in the kitchen. 

Speaking of kitchens… 

On or Off-Site Food Prep

If the catering budget for your event is very tight, you might consider a caterer who is willing to prep all food off-site and then deliver it to your hosting venue. Just be sure to check that the venue has staff on hand to help with set up, serving, and breakdown. If not, you better appoint a reliable team from your inner circle to make it all happen without a hitch. 

Your Brand’s Bottomline

With respect to corporate events or anything to do with your business, professional catering lends a certain look to your brand that DIY just cannot deliver. So, while you might balk at the price of a food item and suggest you could make it cheaper, consider what you charge for your services and whether you would advise your clients to attempt what you do in an effort to save a few bucks. 

If your event is more personal, say a wedding or milestone birthday, just remember that you want memories of friends, family, and fun — no food fiascos or frantic runs for ice or other forgotten supplies. 

This isn’t to say that fees and estimates are fixed in stone. Having a frank conversation with your caterer about budget concerns from the outset is the best way to get what you want, within the price range you can afford. 

When you’re ready to book your catering event, contact Caroline’s Fine Foods and let our expertise exceed your catering needs. 

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