How to Estimate Catering Jobs? | A Pricing Guide for Small Business


Are you struggling to find new clients while also trying to make a profit? 

Our catering pricing guide will help you estimate food, rental, alcohol, labour, and overhead costs accurately so you can charge what you’re worth, keep your cash flow happy, and stay in business for the long haul.

In this article, we’ll cover the following:

  1. Get a Guest Count
  2. Consider the Type of Food and Service
  3. Add Food Costs
  4. Add Supplies Costs
  5. Add Bar Costs
  6. Add a Service Charge
  7. Find Your Total

1. Get a Guest Count

Draper’s Catering advises that nothing affects the final price more than the number of guests attending the event (aside from the food choices, of course). 

Of course, some people will fail to show up, as will those who did not RSVP. You’ll need to include a policy in your estimate that covers changes and guarantees to protect yourself.

2. Consider the Type of Food and Service

The client’s menu and service preferences will heavily influence your costs. The cheapest buffet is usually an hors d’oeuvres buffet, though adding stations to this buffet can quickly raise the price.

In terms of food prices, dinner will not be much more expensive than appetizers, but glassware, servers, and china plates will undoubtedly add to the total cost. To save money, advise clients to feed guests outside of regular mealtimes, so they don’t have to provide as much food.

Also, discuss any special requests or extra items with the client. Do they want seafood that is sustainable? Is there anything you can’t eat? With the client, go over potential menus and get them to sign off on them, advises the Houston Chronicle.

3. Add Food Costs

Make a detailed ingredient list with quantities and add up how much it will cost you now that the client has approved the menu. Locate a vendor and estimate the cost of any special ingredients that have been requested.

If each guest is served a set meal rather than a buffet, it’s easier to figure out how much to feed everyone. 

Each person will likely consume four to six ounces of meat, two side dishes, an appetizer, and dessert as part of a set meal.

According to the Houston Chronicle, your food bill should account for about 30% of your total cost.

Here are some estimates of food prices per person from Draper’s Catering:

  • Hors d’oeuvres: $14 to $18
  • Buffet dinner: $10 to 14
  • Plated dinner: $11 to $15
  • Stations: $14 to $18

4. Add Supplies Costs

Consider if you need the following items and how much each will cost you:

  • Chafing dishes
  • Napkins, tablecloths, and other linens (disposable or not)
  • Chairs
  • Glassware
  • Flatware
  • Utensils
  • Equipment

Draper’s Catering estimates that rentals should cost $2 to $6 per person for any type of food service, whether it’s plated or buffet.

5. Add Bar Costs

Bars at events can be quite pricey. Clients will sometimes spend two to three times their food budget on alcohol. If the venue allows it, the client may purchase their own alcohol and hire a licensed bartender. Otherwise, you’ll have to factor in the cost of alcohol and nonalcoholic beverages, setup, cups, ice, a bartender, and other expenses. 

Draper’s Catering advises charging one drink per hour per person and purchasing 35 percent beer, 30 percent wine, and 35 percent liquor. Alternatively, 60% percent beer and 40% wine. A keg of beer should serve 140 to 165 12 oz. glasses, while a 0.75-liter bottle of wine should serve five 5 oz. glasses. A 1.75 oz. bottle of bourbon should serve 40 1.5 oz. drinks. 

On average, bar services should cost about $2 to $4 per person.

6. Add a Service Charge

First and foremost, labour costs will be included in a service charge. Determine how many servers and assistants you’ll require. You can also include a gratuity in the service charge or let the customer tip the staff directly.

The service fee should also cover the costs of administration and coordination. In a nutshell, it’s your overhead. Consider the salaries of the owner and all other administrative personnel. Rent, marketing, equipment, utilities such as electricity and gas, vehicle fuel and maintenance, internet and phone bills, insurance, and taxes should all be considered. Calculate your monthly overhead average.

Consider how many jobs you complete each month. You must divide your monthly overhead among these jobs.

For instance, if your monthly overhead is $5,000 and you do 10 jobs per month, you must charge $500 more per job to cover your overhead.

Finally, you must consider your profit margin. You can include a flat fee or a percentage, such as 25%.

Sometimes you may need to be flexible to accommodate the client’s budget, but you should certainly always be making a profit from each job. Don’t drive down your prices to compete otherwise you’ll hurt your cash flow as well as your chances of surviving over the long term.

7. Find Your Total

To find the total price to quote your client, add together your food costs, labour, rentals, bar services, service fee, and taxes.

The following per person rates are estimated by Draper’s Catering:

  • $26-$36 for hors d’oeuvres
  • Dinner buffet ranges from $26 to $37.
  • Dinner for two costs between $31 and $42.
  • Stations range from $14 to $18.


How much does a caterer earn per hour?

Typically, per hourly rate for caterers is between $8.7 to $25. Top-end caterers earn a fairly good amount, which is around $25, whereas new caterers get about $8.7 to $9. Hourly rates vary from place to place; in New York, it is $17.46; in California, it is $17.41.

How to calculate the per-person food cost?

To calculate the per-person food, first, cost out your ingredients. Then divide the amount by the number of guests, and you get an approximate value. You can even benchmark certain items on a per-person basis. Fruits and salads can be considered 1 cup per person, or appetizers can be six to eight pieces per hour per person.

What Is the Average Cost of a Wedding Catering Buffet?

The average cost of a wedding buffet is between $1800 to $7700. The how much is catering cost for a wedding may fluctuate and can go as low as $400 and high up to $13000, depending on the arrangements and services.

Average Catering cost per person in a wedding

Catering costs in large cities are more than in smaller ones. A sit-down buffet would cost more, including the cocktails and bars, and the amount varies between $125 to $300 per person. For hors d’oeuvres reception or buffet with no cocktails or bar, the price can be around $30 to $70 per person.

Related Articles: