How Much Does Catering Cost?


Written by:  Howmuchisit.org Staff
Last Updated:  August 7, 2018

Catering is ideal for those who want to throw a party or event without having to worry about cooking, cleaning up, or doing any of those necessary kitchen chores.  This is not only going to give you more time to enjoy the event, but it also offers your guests a variety of things to eat.

Catering Food by SARUSUKEY, on Flickr
Catering Food” (CC BY 2.0) by  SARUSUKEY

How much are catering prices?

When it comes to catering, there are five popular options:  a full-service catering service, buffet catering service, drop-off catering, wedding catering or corporate lunch catering.

On average, catering can cost anywhere between $8 and $75 per plate.  Most caterers are going to fall between the $10 and $25 per person, but higher end caterers can be as high as $80.  The cost of a caterer is going to greatly depend on the size of the party, the type of food being served, the type of catering and the company.

A full-service catering service, which will do everything from prep the food on the spot to including a staff to help with the event, can cost an average of $51 to $95 per person.  WeddingBee.com members did a poll and more than 47 percent paid $61 or more per person.

A buffet catering service, which will prep the food either on site or in their professional kitchen, will set up the buffet and monitor it as guests use it.  This will be a cheaper option when compared to a full-service option and will cost anywhere from $13 to $28 per person.

A drop-off catering service, which, as the name says, will simply drop off the food and you will be responsible for setting everything up.  The catering service will either deliver the food to you or they may the option to allow you to pick it up on the day of your event.  This type of service can cost $5 to $15 per person.  For example, 12stcatering.com offers a drop-off catering service and charges $4.50 per person for breakfast sandwiches or $8.95 per person for a full continental breakfast.

For a corporate luncheon or meeting, many companies/restaurants can do box lunches or dinners.  These are simple box meals will include something simple such as a sub sandwich and chips.  This type of setup can cost anywhere from $5 to $19 per box.

Local restaurants can create catering packages that can feed up to 20 to 40+ people, and depending on the type of restaurant, the prices will often be close to what you would pay at the restaurant.  A sandwich platter at Subway, for instance, can cost $35 for about nine people.

Members on theknot.com said they have seen quotes as low as $13 per person to more than $80 per person with alcohol being served at weddings.

What are the extra costs?

Caterers generally won’t include items such as drinks or alcoholic beverages.   While some services may be able to include them, it will be added to the plate fees.

Dinnerware and linens could be an additional $1 to $6 per person, depending on the quality.

Most catered food can either be done on the spot or can be picked up from a specific location.  For those who want to have the food delivered, this can cost extra.  More than likely the food will be prepped and served the say of the party/wedding.

Including appetizers and a dessert menu can increase the costs per person.

Corking the wine could incur $1 to $3 fee.

Depending on the service, a tip will be recommended.  While some add it, many expect it if they don’t.  Plan on adding at least 20 percent for a good tip.

If the party goes longer than expected, additional hourly expenses can apply.

Tips to know:

According to the Bridal Association of America, the average catering cost for most wedding ranged anywhere from $80 to $90 per plate.  With drinks, cake and dinner, the average bill for most weddings were between $10,000 and $13,000 for an average of 150 guests.

Always make sure your caterer is licensed by the local county health department.

Ask around for a good referral.  Consider asking the venue, friends/family who were recently married or even searching online.  Always interview at least three to five before making a choice.

How can I save money?

Monday through Thursdays tend to be a caterer’s slow day.  Many companies will be able to give you a discount that could be up to 20 percent if you were willing to work with their schedules.

Meet with the caterer to discuss your options.  Many of them will be more than happy to work out a plan that will meet your budget as long as it’s fair.

The more people that eat at an event, the more you may be able to save per plate.  Most catering companies will put the prices into three groups such as 50 people, 50 to 150 people and 150 or more people.

Choose the least expensive food items.  There’s no reason to choose filet mignon if meatballs are 75 percent less in price.

As you can see, catering can get expensive.  Consider gathering some friends and preparing the meals yourself.

Passing on the appetizers and desserts could cut costs.

Consider purchasing food that’s in season.  Food in season will be cheaper and will taste much better.


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