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New, small, long-winded and clueless on pricing

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
I could really use some advice on how to set prices for my burgeoning, and slightly accidental, catering business.

A bit of background; I am 37, I am not a trained chef, and my only 'professional experience' is from working in a steak house/ bar for a few years. I have always enjoyed cooking and experimenting with food, and have become the default cook for any holidays or gatherings of our fairly large family. Countless hours have been spent researching techniques and recipes online and in books, and I've spent more time watching the food network than I should probably admit.

My younger sister provided an outlet for my catering experiments by throwing three annual parties every year (new year's flashback, sproing, and plummet ;)) She tended bar and I kept the buffet full. We averaged 60-100 people per party and the 'menu' evolved into a collection of fairly simple hot and cold finger foods that could stay tasty all night and into the next morning.

Then, I slipped on ice, shattered my leg and became unemployable in the restaurant biz (too much of an insurance risk with a drop foot). Eventually I bought a house with a convenience store on the front and a fuelling station on the property. It backs onto a provincial conservation camping park so we have near-captive customers when the park is open, and a lot of holiday traffic passing by in the summer. The nearest towns are 15 minutes away in any direction.

On the 21st of December we got a commercial kitchen licence for a bedroom we had converted and I started baking like a person possessed. The holiday treats went over so well that a couple of people approached me about catering birthday parties. The kitchen was meant primarily for fresh food take-out, but word has spread and a few more have hired me for catering as well. I have done several tasting consultations, but the first actual event is this coming weekend.

The food is simple; pinwheels, phyllo packets, stuffed mushrooms, mini quiche, tea sandwiches, fruit & cheese trays, baked squares & cookies, etc. The only direct competition in the area is from the local Sobeys grocery. They provide freshly prepared trays of food that are comparable to what I can provide, though less 'custom' and less variety. Restaurants in the greater area provide catering for $20 per person, and up.

The soonest upcoming party is for 75 people and they've requested 6 pieces per person. So far I've figured that my food cost averages from 45c to 60c per piece. About 80-90% of the food I cook from scratch. It will likely take me about 6 hours to prepare, and they don't require servers.

So here, finally, is my dilemma: how should I set the pricing? Fairly low-brow finger food prepared literally out of my home by a self-trained 'foodie'...
post #2 of 12
what are you options?

Price for drop-off or pick-up vs staffed event.

some of the biggest, top end caterers around here have not had formal don't debase your lack of "schooling".

we can't tell you how to price......several of the recent threads have talked about what goes into pricing.

AT the end of the day, it's all about is it worth it to you & your clients?
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
I looked at a lot of the other threads, and I understand the variability of it. I can see how the details I included may have been buried in the background (it was a lot to read :rolleyes:) and I'm really just fishing for a reasonable ballpark.

75 people
6 apps each
45-60 cents per app, my cost
6 hours prep
delivery, but no service

Immediate competition: Sobeys grocery; average cost is $2-4.00 per person.
Local area restaurants within 1 hour: $20.00 per person and up
post #4 of 12
HOw long is the party going to last? I ask that because 6 pcs per person isn't much if the party lasts longer than an hour or so.
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
The party is supposed to last about 2 hours, mid afternoon.

I've spent the past few days inputing food costs, working out the actual costs of my recipes, compiling a breakdown of how many pieces of each item ordered and how much they cost... added in prep time and serving time (though 1 hour serving time as a minimum includes the cost of delivering the food) and added 10% for variables.

Basically, what they've ordered for numbers (ppl x pieces) does not mesh well with what they've selected for items; unless I'm wrong in thinking each guest should have potential access to at least one of each item being served.

pinwheels x 6 kinds, tea sandwich x 3 kinds, little stuffed mushrooms x 2 kinds, century grape bundles, thai beef cucumber cups, veg dip, fruit dip, fruit + veg + cheese + cracker trays, baked squares & cookies...

I do so very much love cooking. Not so much this part, though... :confused:
post #6 of 12
OK, based on the figures you supplied, your costs are $0.60 X 6 X 75 = $270, that's about $3.50/person WITHOUT any return to you.

My minimum fee would be around $300, assuming no "surprises" or "specal effort". That raises the "costs" to about $7.50 per person or about $562.50 AS A MINIMUM!
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #7 of 12
One quick question- when you say pinwheels, are you talking about sandwich rolls? One more- are the guests more women or men? If it's a ladies' tea-type event, I'd figure that 6 pcs/person is okay, but if it's men, I'd go higher.

Pete is probably right in his pricing, but I'll bet you're thinking it's way too much, aren't you?

I hate, hate, hate pricing! Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think, "Oh no! I forgot to figure in X." More likely is that I wake up and think I've over charged them. That is NEVER the case.....

Listen to Pete; he knows.
post #8 of 12
In catering you are able to be a little more aggressive with your costing, I would take your total cost and multiply it by 4X, FOR JUST THE FOOD, this includes the hours you spent making the food, the overhead you have to pay, the platters and or chaffers to present the food on etc. If you are providing staff typically you should earn a little profit from that as well, take the total $/hour of on site staff icluding all taxes (don't forget if you pay someone $10.00/hr its really costing you $13/hr with taxes), and add x/ hour for the hastle of finding the staff, overseeing quality etc. it's up to you what you want x to be, but I would charge about $5/ hour/ staff member on top of what it was costing me. Also if you are arranging rentals, flowers, band, bar service or any other auxiliiary service then you should charge at least 10% for these services, (even if you don't provide them you should get a referral % from other local vendors for reffering them (they will refer you as well and you should give them some type of referral fee). It sounds like you are in a captive rural market so charge accordingly, if they don't like your prices explain to them that your services and time are valuable and you need it to be worthwile. Be sure to bring plenty of business cards to put out as many people will take them and use you as the caterer for their event down the road. Good luck, to work in food successfully you'll need it.
"Rustic= French for lazily lacking technique" .... My new sous chef
"Rustic= French for lazily lacking technique" .... My new sous chef
post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 

oh, thank you!

Pete, thanks so much for some solid numbers to go by (whew :look:)

They do make sense, even if my gut reaction is !too high! (good call, Lentil ;)). I was a carpenter doing renovations in a previous existence and my biggest problem was under-pricing to be competitive; I'm trying really hard not to repeat that mistake, no matter what my gut says.

Yes, the 'pinwheels' refer to spiral sandwich on wraps, sliced... they are my go-to food for reliability and oddly popular with the people in this area. The filling options are near-endless and thier make aheadedness suits my night owl persona. So far the requests have been for cocktail-style parties, but there are quiet rumblings about a full dinner cater upcoming.

The next three caters are short (2-3 hour) mid-afternoon birthday parties for women, but I don't know for a fact that the population will be estrogen heavy.

Thanks much for the advice EthChef, but I think you are waaaay ahead of me. Right now it's just me, and my mother if she ever gets over her phobia of doing something wrong. My sister and a friend will be helping me serve at an upcoming, and they will be paid, but we're still a little sketchy around the edges. When I'm big enough to hire staff I will certainly bring your advice back to the fore.

I'm sure I'm going to pop outta bed in a panic a few more times (if I can get to sleep ;)) but I really appreciate the advice and feedback. You guys are awesome. :peace:
post #10 of 12

It seems like everyone is giving you some great information - getting your pricing set is one of the most important things - besides that i started using to compare pricing from my vendors. i found that it saves me several hours of hageling with my sysco and us foods vendors, when i first signed up for the program they sold it to me as the Travelocity for the food business and that it was, Ive been in business in florida for 18 years and thought my vendors were giving me great prices and when i started using esave - my cost of goods decreased quite a bit - worth looking at it..

post #11 of 12

therestppl   Welcome to Cheftalk I noticed this is your first post.....for a first post it's looking very spammy.   Great thread so I'll keep it up.    

cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #12 of 12

Good eye Shroom, I for one really aprreciate how you guys keep on your toes for this kinda thing, when applicable. thumb.gif

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