Hard Truths About Catering Costs

Our clients rely on our expertise for pricing and planning their events. When it comes to the costs of catering though, everyone’s an expert. Right? From the Food Network and foodie culture and each person’s experience planning theirs or their friend’s wedding, we all think we know best. At the very least, many businesses come with strong opinions about what food SHOULD cost and their own ideas about where they can save money.

To disabuse you of your preconceived notions, enter the savvy folks at Portland-based caterers Vibrant Table. Here are some of my favorite catering misconceptions that they do an excellent job of explaining:

CATERING SHOULD COST THE SAME AS RESTAURANT FOOD

Restaurants “ambiance, equipment needs, menu and staffing are preset and limited by the seating capacity of their establishment. Plus, because the same menu is served over several days, restaurants can also lower food costs by ordering for extended periods of time.”

In contrast, Vibrant Table writes, caterers “plan menus uniquely for each event. Products for one event may not be the same for an event happening the next day…whether the event is for 25 or 2500, the food has to be fresh and amazing. Add in load-in, breakdown, and travel time, not to mention, the one-on-one planning that goes into an event” and you can see why your catering will likely cost more than a restaurant meal.

HOTELS ARE LESS EXPENSIVE THAN OTHER EVENT VENUES

This might seem true for a number of reasons, but it’s really often “six of one, half dozen of another.”  Vibrant Table makes the point that “once the costs for the hotel rooms are factored in, the end cost can be the same, if not more, as an off-site venue with third-party caterer.”

In addition, be sure to understand the difference between the food and beverage minimum that a hotel’s contract requires and the actual cost of your food and beverage. A typical hotel contract may, let’s say, $45,000 for an all-day event in a large ballroom. Before signing that contract, though, do the math on how much you need to feed your guests. Once you factor in all of the meals and snacks, you may be well over that figure. In addition, that figure excludes the cost of tax and service, as well as other items like bartenders and station chefs, that the contract will also require. Here’s a sample of the difference between a base contract price and your possible reality:

COST HOTEL CONTRACT REAL COST FOR YOUR EVENT
F&B $45,000 $65,000*
Bartenders & Station Chefs $450
Service Fee, 20% (taxable) $9,000 $13,000
Tax, 9% $4,860 $7,060
Total $58,860 $85,510

* 500 guests x ($20 (breakfast) + $40 (lunch and snacks) + $70 (dinner) – doesn’t include alcohol

A PLATED DINNER / BUFFET / HORS D’OEUVRE RECEPTION IS LESS EXPENSIVE THAN A PLATED DINNER / BUFFET / HORS D’OEUVRES RECEPTION

Yup – we’ve heard each combination of this idea. Google it, and you’ll see how much varying advice there is out there. But I love their reasons and explanation:

Sure, plated dinners provide your caterer with more portion-control, but they also require more service staff. A grand buffet spread with wild Alaskan salmon and prime cut filet can be more costly than a plated dinner with pre-set salad and served pork shanks. Those adorable appetizers? It took five staff members five hours to prepare 400. They hardly sate the appetite and the French cheese runs $30 a pound wholesale. The seafood station? We’re not even going to go there. 

We highly recommend Vibrant Table’s two posts, Common Catering Misconceptions: Budget and Common Catering Misconceptions: Food & Beverage — they are so good that they will be our point reference for all future client questions. Rather than explain costs, options and limitations ourselves, we will send these links along.


 

Did you find this blog helpful?  You may also enjoy 5 Ways to Get More From Your Expert Event Planner and Quick Tips to Reduce Food Waste.

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