I have been doing off site, small (under 150) catering, personal chef and culinary parties in the NOVA area. When I have looked at rates of others it usually seems like it boils down to around $50 -$60 an hour or so. Please keep in mind however, this area is one of the top cost of living places in the US - with costs almost 22-25% above most of the US. In this area the personal chef rates are really becoming standardized.
However, most of the group culinary parties or small in home personal catered parties I have seen by others show rates that are double the normal rate, in this area around $750 for the evening, plus food. So to keep this in perspective a 4/4 meal plan could cost a little over $350 -$400 in labor plus food and a small party would be double this to start.
Since I do not attempt to work full-time anymore, I am selective on my catering jobs and tend to charge less, because many of the jobs I take are for charitable organizations and/or referrals from friends. However, the biggest way to burn yourself out, or go under is to "forget" to pay yourself. The actual answer to your question is what will your market afford. I would always rather show a larger wage and give a discount than to reduce the labor wage. This way if someone refers a friend they know how much I charge and spread that labor rate. It is up to the friend to negotiate a discount.
As far as other things such as favorite menu items... I always say my default is Italian because it is my area with the most training -- but really as I am getting older I am finding out that my favorite items are those which are easy to prepare, always come out tasting great and are clean and simple. This list is one that I am actually rethinking right now as I review my recipes, etc.
Hope any of this helps.