The Complete Pricing Guide to Catering Costs in 2023


Catering is one of the most popular ways to feed events with a large guest list. Whether you’re planning a wedding, birthday, corporate or community event, feeding a large group of people can be a fun challenge, especially when you’re in the right hands. But when it comes to large-scale catering, one of the most important factors is the cost. 

So, what exactly is a fair price point for catering? How much should your catering services really cost? Well, to answer that, we’ll need to dive into a complete pricing breakdown for traditional versus food truck catering services; we’ll take everything from food and service costs to location, time, and everything else into account so that you get the full-picture of catering costs! 

Let’s get started.

Table of Contents

Average Cost Per Person

Catering companies tend to set their prices based on the number of people who will be attending the event rather than pricing out individual costs for items like food supplies, staff, and fuel. Traditionally, catering costs for an event can be as low as $20 per person, but more extravagant events can cost around $200 per person or more. 

Food truck catering costs tend to be on the lower side of this scale with the majority of trucks charging $20 to $35 per person for the meal. They may have additional fees for set-up and travel depending on your location and the food truck company you choose to work with– whether it’s a pop-up cart or a fully functional food truck. You can also go with a “point-of-sale” (POS) model and have your guests pay the trucks directly using a digital POS system.

Additionally, costs may be affected by the way you want the meal served. If you want a traditional sit-down service, prices will be higher per plate than they would be for a family-style or buffet meal. It’s also important to keep in mind the difference in cost based on other amenities you might request, such as having a cocktail hour with bartenders or platters of hors d’oeuvres and appetizers separate from your food truck wedding catering.

Type of Catering Avg. Price Per Person Description
Traditional $70 - $85 Sit-down catering provided by an on-site caterer with pre-prepared or fresh meals
Food Trucks $15 - $40 Freshly prepared meals provided by local food trucks - price varies by cuisine
Private Chef $50 - $150 Catering provided by a private chef with a custom menu
Bar Service $25 - $60 Cocktails, beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages
Buffet $25 - $70 Pre-prepared meals kept in heating trays and served at-will

Determining Factors in Your Price

While per-person costs serve as the backbone for catering prices and fees, other factors will affect your final price. Remember, caterers have to cover meal-associated costs beyond just providing food and staff services. They also have overhead to consider, including an average tax rate of 7-8%.

When you’re planning a catered event–especially if you’re on a budget–it may be helpful to be aware of things that will result in higher fees. These may include:

  • The type of event you’re hosting
  • Whether the event is formal or casual
  • The time your event will start and end
  • The way your food is served: individually plated, boxed or premade, buffet or family-style, etc…
  • The kind of food you serve
  • Whether alcohol will be provided
  • Whether dietary restrictions will need to be accommodated
  • Whether utensils, china, tablecloths, or other setting elements will need to be provided

Let’s break a couple of these down to better understand how they can affect your total budget.

Location

Prices are simply higher in some locations than in others. If you’re hosting an event in a large city like Los Angeles, costs for ingredients, labor, and permits will be much higher than they would be in smaller towns. However, it’s important to note that if you’re hosting an event in a small town and need to have a caterer drive a greater distance to reach you, they may charge additional travel fees for your truck rentals.

Meal Type

If you’re serving higher-end luxury meals like lobster, quality-grade steak, or organic meals, your costs will be significantly higher than if you opted for cheaper meal choices like tacos, barbeque, or spaghetti. 

Service and Staffing

Serving your meal in a traditionally formal sit-down manner is going to be a lot more expensive than choosing to serve it family- or buffet-style. Traditional catering involves significantly more labor to plate food up and serve it to guests in a timely manner than self-serve options. You can incur additional fees if you need staff to facilitate specific services like drinks or dessert bars, and these costs can skyrocket depending on your number of guests as that will impact the waitstaff directly.

When booking food truck catering, you also have the option of hiring the trucks to cater with a point-of-sale (POS) system that will allow them to charge your guests directly. Keep in mind, however, that many trucks have an event minimum. If the minimum is not met by sales, it’s expected that the host will cover the difference.

Timing

You don’t just pay catering fees for the time that food service is happening. Instead, you have to pay to cover the costs of set-up, serving, waiting, and clean-up at the end of the event, and all of these times can add up. 

Pricing for Different Event Types

You may assume that all event catering will be priced essentially the same, but it’s important to note that the type of event you’re hosting will have a significant impact on your total price. Let’s dive into three of the most common event types and how their pricing is typically laid out.

Weddings

The most popular–and most expensive–catering event. For traditional catering services, you can expect to pay an average of $70 per person or $85 for food and drinks per person. But if you choose to go with food truck catering options, you’ll only pay $20-$35 per person. If you are using a wedding planner for your special event, consider mentioning the exact type of cuisine your’re seeking and at what price point to get a better idea of what the differences could be.

Corporate Catering Event

Corporate catering event pricing will vary depending on its theme. If you’re hosting a formal event like an annual holiday party, you can expect to pay close to $4,000 for 100 employees. But if you’re catering a more casual event, your costs may be cut in half at $2,000 for 100 employees.

Private Events

Smaller private events like birthdays, anniversaries, and quinceaneras may end up costing you more per person. This is because events with less than 50 guests may not meet the average spending minimum for the majority of catering companies, leaving you with extra fees to make up for their projected loss. But again, food truck options may be a better option for you here as they can save you on costs.

Type of Catering Wedding Corporate Private Party
Traditional $70 - $120 $50 - $120 $30 - $85
Food Trucks $15 - $40 $10 - $40 $5 - $35
Private Chef $50 - $150 $70 - $200 $40 - $120
Bar Service $20 - $60 $10 - $40 $10 - $35
Buffet $30 - $65 $20 - $50 $15 - $40

Top Pricing Tips for Caterers

Pricing for catering events isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are a ton of moving parts that need to be taken into consideration because they’ll be different for every event. So to help you set fair catering prices, let’s look at a few key tips:

Conduct a Market Analysis

One of the best ways you can determine a fair price to charge for your catering service is by conducting a marketing analysis. Analyses of your location, the type of food you’re serving, and your competition will go a long way in helping you understand what price points are acceptable for your business. If your competitors are charging $20 per plate for similar food truck catering services to yours, you may not be very successful if you charge $30 as event planners may not want to spend an additional half of their catering budget for the same level of food. Additionally, set a clear expectation for your catering package and catering menu options so that you can work with the event planner to find a common ground.

Communicate Your Costs

People don’t like spending money on services without knowing what it’s for. By communicating some of your standard background costs to your customers, you have the opportunity to insert more transparency into your business. You don’t need to break down every single background cost, but listing some of the basic prices like the varying prices of an entrée can go a long way in improving your customer relations.

Have Fluid Pricing

Every event is going to be different, so setting one standard price for all events isn’t a good idea. You want to leave room so that you can charge less for more casual events to meet the price needs of your clients and room so you can charge more for luxury meals so you don’t lose money. Wedding catering costs might force you to raise your average price due to add-ons, a full-service model, or required processes like additional clean-up during the wedding reception.

Pricing Catering Services in 2023

Looking forward in 2023, event planners need to take other sociopolitical and economic factors into account when they’re budgeting. Last year, the cost of meats increased by up to 17%, and the price increase is not expected to slow with another 12.8% predicted in 2023. So, expect catering costs to rise with it, and plan accordingly. 

To make catering remain a viable event service, planners and caterers will need to work together to avoid exorbitant meal pricing with these new higher prices. But if everyone understands the costs of running a catering event well and can work together on budget goals, perfect parties and events can still be hosted at the right price for everyone involved.

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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