Published: February 23, 2022
Updated: January 2, 2023
Read Time: Approximately 15 Minutes
If you’re planning a big event, one of the first questions you’ll probably ask yourself is “How much is catering going to cost?” and while we wish there was a simple answer, there are just too many variables that come into play. For example, do you need catering for a wedding, or a corporate reception? Is the food going to be individually packaged, or served buffet style? Are staff and rentals required? Every event will have its own costs, but let’s take a look at some of the more common scenarios so you can see how expensive catering is for different types of events in 2023.
*Please note that the catering prices listed below are based on estimates and averages, and actual catering costs may vary. The prices below do not represent an official quote or proposal. If you’re interested in receiving a quote for your event, please contact us.
In This Article
“When determining the cost to cater your event, one of the first questions you need to ask, is what type of event are you planning?”
Catering comes in many different forms and styles. When determining the cost to cater your event, one of the first questions you need to ask, is what type of event are you planning? Here are some common types of catered events and the average costs associated with them.
Virtual Events: Virtual Events have become increasingly popular in recent years. When it comes to the cost of catering a Virtual Event, you’ll save on things like venue fees and rentals, but will pay more for packaging and delivery. Virtual Events can cost as low as $15 per person for a budget friendly breakfast, to upwards of $100 per person for an elegant three course dinner.
Breakfast Catering: Catering a breakfast event will be one of the more budget friendly options. While breakfast catering isn’t typically the most popular form of catering, it’s frequently requested for corporate meetings and special holidays. Breakfast catering can range between $10 to $30 per person.
Lunch Catering: Catered lunches are usually served either as individually packaged meals or buffet style. You can go with something simple like a salad + sandwich combo for $15 to $20 per person, or if you want to offer a variety of options for your guest, you might choose a buffet style menu, which averages between $25 to $50 per person.
Plated Dinners: A plated dinner will often showcase the best that a caterer has to offer, with premium menu options, unique flavour combinations, and dazzling presentations. A standard three course plated dinner menu will cost approximately $60 to $100 per person.
Cocktail Parties: Passed appetizers and hors d’oeuvres are the most popular choices for cocktail parties. The cost to cater your cocktail party will largely depend on the number of guests, and the number of pieces you’d like to serve per guest. Bite-sized hors d’oeuvres like a Prosciutto Roll will cost approximately $3 to $6 per piece, while more substantial options like a Truffle Mac + Cheese will cost approximately $5 to $10 per piece.
Wedding Catering: Weddings are by far one of the most popular types of events for catering. Your wedding catering menu can include any combination of passed hors d’oeuvres, dinner (plated, buffet, or family style), late night stations, etc. Depending on the style that you prefer and the specific menu choices, the cost for catering a wedding can range between $50 to $150 per person.
As you can see, there are many different types of events that can be catered, and each style of event can incur different costs. Encore Catering has menu packages like our Breakfast & Brunch Menu, Cocktail Menu, Plated Dinner Menu, Buffet Menu, and more that you can download to view specific pricing. Click here to view all of our Menu Packages.
“If you’re hosting an event on a budget, your caterer will be able to work with you to provide budget friendly options that still taste delicious.”
We’ve already taken a look at the different types of catered events, and some average costs associated with those events. But let’s talk a little bit more about the food and drink costs. One of the reasons why it’s not a simple answer to the question “How expensive is catering?” is because of the wide variety of food and drink choices available. If you’re hosting an event on a budget, your caterer will be able to work with you to provide budget friendly options that still taste delicious. However, if you have a higher budget for your event, you’ll be able to choose from a wider selection of premium choices like a Braised Beef Short Rib or Barolo Braised Lamb Shank.
Food costs will range based on the type of event you’re planning, and whether you want basic or premium menu choices. The food cost for catering an event can be as low as $10 per person for a simple breakfast, to the higher end of $100+ for an elegant plated dinner at a wedding. Similarly, drink costs can also vary widely. Standard beverages like soda, water, coffee, and tea will cost around $2 to $5 per person, but may also be included in the cost of a preset menu package. If you plan on serving alcohol at your event, drink pricing will increase significantly and can cost $15+ per person.
To get a better idea on specific food and drink pricing for your event, check out our sample Menu Packages which offer a variety of choices for all budgets.
“If you’re planning a virtual event, catering will be served in individually packaged containers and boxes since the food will be delivered to separate locations.”
Depending on the type of event that you’re planning, you can arrange to have catering service in many different styles. What does this mean specifically? Here are a few examples:
– If you’re planning a virtual event, catering will be served in individually packaged containers and boxes since the food will be delivered to separate locations. In this scenario, you’ll be paying the food costs, along with packaging and delivery fees.
– If you’re planning to hire a caterer for your wedding, you may have passed hors d’oeuvres, a plated dinner, buffet style dinner, late night stations, etc. In this scenario, you’ll be paying the food costs, along with any rentals, staffing, and delivery fees. A venue fee may also be applicable.
– If you’re planning a corporate event at your office, you may want your caterer to prepare a buffet style menu for your guests to enjoy. In this scenario, you’ll be paying the food costs, along with any rentals, staffing, and delivery fees.
Those are only a few examples of different catering styles but hopefully it helps illustrate that each event can be catered in a unique way, and the costs can vary widely depending on the style chosen.
“Catering is all about the food, but sometimes the food requires some ancillary rentals to help with the presentation and serving of the dishes.”
Catering is all about the food, but sometimes the food requires some ancillary rentals to help with the presentation and serving of the dishes. Things like cutlery, glassware, China platters, and chaffing dishes may be necessary in addition to the food cost itself. These rentals can help create a high-end restaurant atmosphere for your 200+ person event. When speaking with a caterer you can inquire about these extra items to find out if they’re needed, and if they’re included in a package or priced separately.
If you’re planning an event that requires non-food related rentals, the caterer will usually help coordinate this for you as well. For example, you may want to rent a large tent to host the event outside, or you may want beautiful decor to create a breathtaking atmosphere, or you may need some extra furniture like tables and chairs. A lot of these examples will depend on what is provided by the venue directly, but it’s important to keep these things in mind. And if you do need to rent non-food related items, your caterer will often ‘middle-man’ the rentals for you. Having the caterer coordinate all of the rentals helps to make sure that the delivery, setup, execution, and cleanup of the event goes smoothly, while also reducing stress on your end since you only need to deal with one vendor, the caterer.
We haven’t included specific costs for rentals because it can be extremely variable, and rentals are often sourced from third party vendors. Depending on the type of event that you’re planning, the rentals may cost as low as $100, or it can be several thousands. It’s best to speak with someone directly so that you can get a quote specific to your event. Our Catering Coordinators are always happy to put together a custom proposal for your—get in touch to learn more.
“Most of the time, staff are essential to help the event flow smoothly and create the best experience for your guests.”
If you’re planning to have your event catered, there’s a good chance you’ll want staff as well. Not every event requires staff, for example a simple drop-off menu with individually packaged meals for a corporate lunch. But most of the time, staff are essential to help the event flow smoothly and create the best experience for your guests. Smaller events like a birthday party hosted at home may only require a few staff onsite, but a large scale 300 person wedding may require waitstaff, bartenders, chefs, and an on-site supervisor. Here are some of the key staff that are often present at events:
Waitstaff: Also referred to as waiters, wait staff, or servers, the waitstaff are responsible for interacting directly with the guests at the party to provide food and drink. You may see waitstaff walking around with passed hors d’oeuvres, or bringing your plated dinner to your table, or cleaning up after the meal is finished. The number of waitstaff needed will vary based on your total guest count and will cost approximately $35 to $45 per staff member, per hour.
Bartenders: The bartenders will also interact directly with the guests at your event, however they’ll focus exclusively on mixing and serving drink orders. Bartenders are most often thought to be associated with alcoholic beverages, but you may want bartenders at your event even if you’re only serving non-alcoholic beverages. The number of bar staff needed will vary based on the size of your event and the number of bar stations, and will cost approximately $35 to $45 per staff member, per hour.
Chefs: Most events will require on-site chefs to manage the setup, preparation, and plating of the food. The chefs usually work out of site in the kitchen and don’t interact with the guests, however certain food stations may have chefs working directly at the station. The number of chefs needed will vary not only based on the number of guests at the event, but also on the complexity of the menu. Having chefs at your event will cost approximately $45 to $55 per chef, per hour.
Supervisors: If you’re having a large scale event, a supervisor is often necessary to ensure that the entire catering operation is executed flawlessly. The supervisor will also be the person responsible for making sure no issues arise throughout the event, and will resolve any issues if they do arise. Most events only require one supervisor, but depending on the scale of the event you may need more. Having supervisors at your event will cost approximately $45 to $55 per supervisor, per hour.
“If your event requires the food to be delivered at a certain temperature, heating equipment or a refrigerated vehicle may be needed.”
With the surge in online shopping during recent years, everyone has become hyperaware of shipping and delivery fees. The catering industry is no exception. Standard delivery rates can range between $0 to $100, but the delivery fees for catering are also influenced by a handful of other factors, including:
How far does the food need to be delivered? The most obvious factor that influences delivery fees for catering is where the food needs to be delivered. The caterer will operate out of their commercial kitchen facility, and then deliver the food to the event location. For example, Encore Catering is located in North York at 5000 Dufferin Street, so delivery within Toronto and the GTA is set at a standard rate. However, deliveries to farther regions like Muskoka, Kitchener, or Peterborough will incur a “Distance Fee”, which can be an additional $20 to $500, depending on just how far the food needs to be delivered.
How many locations is the food being delivered to? Most events only need the catering to be delivered to one location, the venue of the event. But what if you’re hosting a Virtual Event or a Hybrid Event? In these situations the food needs to be delivered to multiple locations, often within a specified time window. For a corporate gala virtual event in 2020, Encore Catering coordinated deliveries to 1,200+ individual locations! This type of delivery schedule may incur an additional rate of $15 to $25 per delivery location.
Does the delivery need to be in a temperature controlled vehicle? If your event requires the food to be delivered at a certain temperature, heating equipment or a refrigerated vehicle may be needed. Extra steps, equipment, and/or packaging may be needed to perform the delivery, and this may incur a modest additional fee of $10 to $30.
Does the delivery need to arrive at a specified time, or on a statutory holiday? Most catering deliveries will arrive at a predetermined time before the event. However, if there are tight time requests or if the delivery is required on a statutory holiday, the caterer may charge an additional $10 to $50 to accommodate.
“A deposit is important so that the caterer can hold the date for you and start preparing for the event by ordering ingredients, scheduling staff, etc.”
Nobody likes surprises when they see an extra fee they weren’t expecting on an invoice! This is why we want to highlight the lesser-known fees that may show up when working with a caterer.
Venue or Landmark Fee: You may see a line on your invoice that says “Venue Fee” or “Landmark Fee”. If you’re wondering what this means exactly, check out our article “Landmark Fees Explained | Costs When Booking a Venue”. Simply put, it’s a fee that the venue may charge the caterer to operate out of their space, and the caterer passes this on to the customer. It’s not a fee charged by the caterer directly. Landmark Fees usually range between 5% to 20%.
Cancellation or Rescheduling Fee: These type of fees are standard practice and will be outlined in your contract with the caterer. Cancellation fees may vary depending on how much notice you have given to cancel your event; for example, if the cancellation is last minute after the caterer has already purchased and prepared the food, you may not be entitled to any refund. However, if you provide adequate notice the caterer will likely refund a predetermined percentage of the invoice.
Deposits: A deposit for your event isn’t an additional fee, but rather a portion of the regular fee that the caterer may require at a specific date. A deposit is important so that the caterer can hold the date for you and start preparing for the event by ordering ingredients, scheduling staff, etc. Deposits may be refundable or non-refundable depending on the specific terms of the contract.
“Many clients will simply tell the caterer their specific budget, and the caterer will factor in all of the variables that affect pricing while working within the budget.”
So, how expensive is catering? As you can see, the answer often depends on a wide variety of factors. There are different types of events, food and drink costs, rentals, staffing fees, and delivery fees that all need to be taken into consideration. But it’s nothing to be overwhelmed by. Many clients will simply tell the caterer their specific budget, and the caterer will factor in all of the variables that affect pricing while working within the budget. Hopefully this guide to catering prices has given you a better understanding of what it will cost to cater your event. If you have a specific event in mind and would like a formal quote or proposal, feel free to send us an email or give us a call—we’re always excited to hear what you’re planning!
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