Every caterer offers a different menu, each one of them with a different price structure. There are a few common styles of pricing when it comes to catering and it helps to understand how each one works.

All inclusive pricing

This is probably the most common when it comes to custom designed menus from caterers. An all inclusive price should include all of the food, staff and equipment necessary to serve the menu. Usually guests necessities such as tables, chairs, etc. will be included separately.

This is the easiest pricing to compare one caterer to another in many ways. It’s easy to see exactly how much you are paying for each guest. It only leaves a comparison of the services and food provided to decide on who to hire.

A la Cart pricing

This style of pricing is popular with restaurants that offer catering. You pick each dish and pay a certain price per person. Often times you can say I want 50 chicken and 40 beef. This can be nice in allowing you to control your budget but it invites issues with portion control. If you’re serving a buffet then guests will likely try some of everything. If the restaurant prepares 50 portions of chicken and 40 portions of beef for your party of 90 then you could run out if folks start grabbing one of each, even though they don’t eat all of the food on their plate. For smaller parties this works great since it is easy to know who is getting what.

The a la cart pricing structure doesn’t usually include service so that will need to be figured into the total. My biggest issue with this is that the restaurant is leaving it up to you to decide how much food you need. To me, that’s not good service. I could also imagine that a caterer would use the argument that they gave you what you ordered if you happen to run out at the party.

Group pricing

You see this a lot in grocery and specialty stores when ordering from “catering” menus. A tray of meats and cheeses that feed 30-40 people for $50…..

This works fine for smaller events, like the group of 30-40 for that meat tray. But what happens when you have 300 people? You order 10 trays that feed 300-400, seems like a big gap doesn’t it? Group pricing makes it hard to judge just how much food you’re paying for. And of course if you run out, you got what you ordered.

Pre-set pricing

You will see many caterers that publish menus with prices on their website, in print, etc. This does make it very convenient for you to get a good ballpark price for a party if nothing else. Most caterers will gladly adjust the pricing to reflect additions or substitutions to the published menu which gives you an opportunity to have a semi custom menu.

I prefer not to have published menus and/or prices because it takes away all of the creativity from the event design. I believe it’s my job to provide great service by working with clients to nail down exactly what they’re looking for and then over delivering. Plus, it’s the most enjoyable part of being a chef!

Comparing apples to apples

When you’re comparing prices between caterers it helps to make sure the prices you have are as similar as possible. In the full service catering world there are a ton of variables in product, service and equipment that each caterer provides. Here’s a list of things to check in your proposal-

  • Is gratuity included?
  • Disposables plates, utensils, napkins, cups, etc.
  • Buffet tables, linens and service equipment.
  • Extra service charges for setup of rentals and other subcontractors.
  • What is the policy on the guaranteed number of guests? Most caterers will be prepared to serve an extra 5-10%. What is the price if they do?

Take the grand total of each proposal and divide it by your guest count to get a true per person figure. This should help to see who really fits your budget.

Why we price the way we do

Our proposals will always be presented with an all inclusive per person price. The price includes food, staff, equipment needed for service and clean up of everything provided. Your grand total will include tax and a 15% gratuity (10% for drop off events).

The price per person is most often a weird number, like $20.33 or 34.56, because we design each and every menu from scratch. We’re dealing with commodities that change price daily and we don’t round up the price to pad in a little extra.

Fixed prices don’t make sense when the ingredients change so often. Tomatoes in June are always cheaper than in December (not that they should be on a menu then anyway….) so you should pay what’s fair, not an average.

I hope that clears up any questions you may have about the pricing on catering. If not, you can always get in touch with me at clint@greatthyme.com

Photo courtesy of snowpea&bokchoi