Catering Costs: The 2021 Complete Pricing Guide


Spring is near, which means wedding season, graduations, and gathering with loved ones to welcome warmer weather. But, when you want to feed a crowd, the most important question to figure out is catering costs. Depending on the type of event, type of food, the number of guests, location, and more, you should expect a custom quote for your event.

The good news is that you can follow guidelines to figure out how much you’ll spend. Check out our complete pricing guide that’ll have you celebrating from St. Patty’s Day to New Year’s Eve.

Catering Costs for Event

BREAKING DOWN AVERAGE CATERING COSTS PER PERSON

Breaking down catering costs is more about the whole than the sum of its parts. Catering companies set their pricing structure based on how many people will be attending. 

Traditional catering costs can be as low as $20 per person or as high as $200 per person. Likewise, food truck catering costs range from $20 to $35 per guest, excluding any set up or travel fees. Depending on the catering company you choose, prices will vary. Similarly, costs will change whether you book a food truck or pop-up cart or want a traditional sit-down service per plate or family-style.

LOOKING AT CATERING PRICES AND FEES

When considering catering, it’s all about the fine print. Of course, the cost per person will set the baseline for how much you pay but think about a company’s overhead because fees are added so companies can remain in operation. 

According to Catersource.com, the average tax for caterers is between seven and eight percent. And, since no two events are the same, it’s critical to ask yourself these questions about the scope of your event:

  1. What type of event are you planning?
  2. Is your event formal or casual?
  3. What time will your event start and end?
  4. Will the food at your event be individually served, boxed/pre-made, or family-style? 
  5. What type of cuisine will your event feature?
  6. Will alcohol be offered
  7. Will your menu offer options for dietary restrictions and allergies?
  8. When and how often will the food be served?
  9. Will flatware, china, or tablecloths need to be provided?
Catering Costs

DOES EVENT TYPE IMPACT COSTS?

The short answer is: yes. When determining costs, the type of event your hosting heavily impacts how much you’ll spend. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular catered events and how their pricing structures differ:

  • Wedding catering is the most popular and priciest catering event. Traditional catering costs are roughly $70 per person for food or $85 per person for both food and drinks. Food truck catering is a budget-friendly alternative and will only set you back $20 – $35 per person
  • Prices for corporate event catering vary depending on the theme. Is it formal, or is it casual? If you’re planning your company’s annual holiday party, hosting a light and fun event can save you money. For 100 employees, you’re looking at spending somewhere between $2,000 and $4,000 total.
  • Private events like birthdays and anniversaries are generally smaller affairs. For less than 50 guests, it may not be worth spending the average minimum many catering companies require. But, you can save on costs with food truck rentals that are a fraction of traditional catering costs.
Cost of Food Truck Catering

WHAT ELSE AFFECTS CATERING COSTS?

Think of it this way: from top-to-bottom, the look and feel of your event will either add to or subtract costs. So, feel free to use your imagination and think big. But, understand your vision will also set the price tag:

  • The location: Is your party in New York City or Savannah, GA? Naturally, large cities charge more due to higher costs for labor, ingredients, and permits. Alternately, less populated locations will cause travel costs to increase.  
  • The meal: A selection of hors d’oeuvres versus a three-course dinner will affect catering costs. So, keep in mind how the presentation will dictate how much you spend. 
  • The food: Luxury meals like lobster or organic dishes may be more expensive. But, options like tacos and BBQ can feed a hungry crowd without breaking the bank. 
  • The service: Do you want meals formally served by the plate? Family-style? Will there be serving stations? Caterers offer various ways to serve your guests and at price points that’ll satisfy every budget. 
  • The staffing: The type of service you want for your event also requires a necessary amount of staff to facilitate it. Say, if your party features a bar, you’ll need a bartender to serve beverages.
  • The timing: A common misconception is how long you should book your catering. Many moving parts are happening, between set-up, serving, waiting, and clean-up. Those added hours of service means average catering costs will be higher.

PRICING PRO TIP FOR CATERERS

If you’re a caterer, how should you set your pricing structure? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach because every model is different. But, there are tips to making sure your prices are fair, for your business, and for your clients:

  • Conduct a market analysis of your location, the type of cuisine you serve, and your competition. It’s necessary to understand price points and weave those comparisons into your research and analysis. 
  • Think strategically about communicating costs and sharing that information with your clients. While you don’t need to explain how much you pay bartenders and barbacks, listing the price for booking a bar will still provide transparency. 
  • Your pricing structure should be fluid. Every event is a learning experience in streamlining how much you charge. Because things can happen, learn to expect the unexpected and determine whether you should incorporate those costs into what you charge. 

UNDERSTANDING CATERING COSTS FOR 2021

2021 is the year of welcoming back private events on a larger scale after a year spent away from loved ones. As people look toward the future, they are resuming celebrating milestones in their lives.

Delicious food is the centerpiece of any great event. Whether small bites and drinks during a cocktail hour, after-party desserts, or a formal sit-down dinner, you want to guarantee the food and service will be outstanding. But, you also want to avoid crazy prices that are financially draining.   

Understanding catering costs and how your budget fits in with your vision can help you plan and execute the party of your dreams and at the right price.

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