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First Catering Gig.

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

So, I've accepted my first catering gig and the client originally said 35-50 people with 3 weeks notice. As of today, he got back to me 4 days before the event with actual numbers of it being 80 people: Mostly 8th graders, including family, teachers, and the priests running the show. Below is my menu, and I won't have my prices on the equipment, food, and disposables until tomorrow. I have one helper for this, but am short on time, and the equipment needed.


I have two questions: 


Should I charge the church (client) for the equipment?


What should I charge for my labor? (I'm currently the private chef that feeds them 5 days a week at $15/hour)


Here are my current notes. Please give any advice or make changes where you see fit. Thank you.


Attendees: 80 8th graders w/ Family & Friends
Service at 5.30pm
Snacks available at 5pm
Dinner Style: Pasta Bar
  • aNoodles
    • Rigatoni
    • Farfalle
    • Giant Elbows
  • Sauces
    • Red Sauce w/ Meat
    • Alfredo w/ Chicken
    • Vegetarian Vodka Sauce (Eggplant?)
  • Appetizers
    • Cookies
    • Chips
    • Trail Mix
    • Green Veggie Salad
  • Sides
    • Veggie Tray w/ Ranch
    • Fruit Salad
    • Garlic Bread
  • Dessert
    • Brownie Bars



    Do all the shopping



         Complete the Sauces, Sides, and Desserts. Build the Green Veggie Salad.



   6 Chafers w/ Sterno heat. 1 large pot. Serving spoons. Food nameplates. Napkins. Silverware. Plates. Bowls. Cups. 

post #2 of 16
Thread Starter 

Also, I could use help on portioning. What should I plan for?

post #3 of 16
What should I charge for my labor? (I'm currently the private chef that feeds them 5 days a week at $15/hour

Sounds like youre at least moderately underpaid. What part of the country are you in?


No drink station. Interesting.

Pasta bars like this are pretty easy, and there are some simple ways to set it up.

But basically it's a chafer service, nothing fancy, spoon the pasta then the sauce,

part of it can be self serve buffet. You and one helper can handle 80 people--once

you get going it'll only be a 10 to 15 minute serve.

I always figured about 4 to 6 servings per pound of pasta, maybe 3 oz ladle of sauce.

post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 

We'll be doing canned soda and bottled water. It's a bunch of kids. And yes, I'm underpaid for what I do. I'm currently working on that though. I'm from Grand Rapids, MI

post #5 of 16

Ok, well it wasn't meant as a diss, what you charge is up to you, but nice to hear you're working on it. :)

I've done a lot of jr high and high school events, 8th graders are pretty easy to please, I just had to

learn the hard way to individually dole out the brownies. lol

Anything else you're unclear on?

post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 

I wasn't taking it as a diss. Just acknowledging the comment is all. Should I charge them for the equipment and let the church keep the gear, or pay for it out of pocket and keep it myself? And a ballpark idea of what is "fair" in charging for my services on this, especially noting the late notice of this. I've never done it before, and I'm quite a bit stressed about the paperwork side of it. The food and service part don't scare me, but the money and planning do. I've been a part of banquets at a Holiday Inn restaurant and set up and served in many, but was never part of the planning crew. So I just need an idea of what is enough, and what isn't too much. Thank you so much.  

post #7 of 16

I didn't think you took it that way just wanted to be sure. :)

 I personally feel that if you're going to cater on at least a semi regular basis, there's certain

equipment you should acquire ASAP, provided you can afford it and have means to store it.

A stock of 8qt chafers for one, either economy or nice ones, maybe a cambro (thermal carrier)

or two, say one for hot one for cold. Other things....the less you have to rent the more you can

incorporate that savings in both $$ and time into your profit.


There are 2 major  ways to figure your rate--the going rate (risky) and cost plus.

Which can also be done a couple ways-- cost plus an added x factor like times 3 or 3.2 etc. (also risky).

But the best way is to calculate (all as accurate as possible) your food costs, your fixed costs,

your event specific costs, your planning time, shopping/prep and cooking/serving time, extra labor,

then your desired profit, to yield a price per person. 

And you need to decide your minimum. Mine tends to run at about 50 people or so-- under that and it

stays the same.

So its not only specific to your own costs, but is also influenced to a degree by your location.

Here in LA county for instance my going rate for events I've done similar to this with one helper,

disposable serviceware, and a 1 hour chafer serve would be about 14.95 to 16.95 per person.

That might sound high to you, maybe not.

But remember that this being your first event will "set the scene" for your future rates.

If you doubt that....well trust me, it will. :o It's far easier later to adjust your prices downward

through discounts, specials etc than to raise them, even under the reasonable sounding excuse

of inflation/cost of living.

Also not that there are MANY great threads in here on this very thing going back 14 years--put in

a search for Catering Price/pricing etc.



post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thank you so much for the advice. I'm going to run tomorrow and do all the pricing for the food, disposables, and equipment. After that, I'll make the decision as to whether or not I'm going to pay for the equipment out of pocket or not and attempt to continue this catering concept for a more long-term basis. I'll send a reply again tomorrow with my numbers regarding the costs to run the show, and once more, I'd love a touch more advice on the subject of profits and I'll make the best decision I can based on what I have at hand. Once again, thank you so much.

post #9 of 16

Hey no prob, sure keep us all posted in here, I'm sure their are other

opinions, and points I've missed. Lots of catering knowledge on this board.

post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 

Ok, so my pricing is done. We're looking at the following:


$703.06 - Food Cost & Disposables

$62       - Drinks 

$164.29 - Overhead for Equipment I plan on keeping.


So here's where I'm kind of just making shit up. I've seen people charging for their services in a few different ways, but here's what I did. I added up those 3 numbers and came to $929.35. I then took 33% of that and came to $306.70. So I added, the Food Cost, Drinks, and 33%, and got $1071.75 for my final number. Now if you divide that up, it comes out to be $13.40 a plate, which is cheaper than you mentioned earlier, but I believe geographically, it's fair. The client seemed to like my numbers and set my ceiling at $1200, so I'm coming in under budget. 


Any thoughts?

post #11 of 16

First..... looking at your menu above 700.00 seems a bit high to me for food& disposables for an 80 cover pasta bar.....?


But you priced it so okay, if I figured 765 for food/drink/serviceware, pro-rated 30 bucks for the owned equipment (that gives you like 5 events to "pay it off" )

say 60.00 for a helper, that's 855.00 leaving you 216.00 for all your personal planning, pricing trip, shopping, prep and serving

time. With no actual profit over that. And no "fudge factor" to cover unexpected and things you forgot, no gas/vehicle, ins expense

written in etc.

If this was me, I would consider it too low and rework it to come up close to the 1200.

I think your business is eventually gonna lose you money cutting it that close--one unforeseen glitch can eat up $$ in a hurry, 

but it's your call, and you are in a different area.


And BTW, I'm also not very big on clients putting "ceilings" on my final price. Its gonna happen though, and it depends how it's

done. Before they receive the bid is one thing, but some use their "budget cap" to simply finagle a lower price.

When they try that, I start cutting things...things they usually want. lol

post #12 of 16
Listen to the monkey man.
I get it....you are catering for your bosses so don't wanna rock the boat while you are seeking a bigger paycheck.
I get it...your boss is a priest (just curious but do you also attend their church?) and having grown up in the Church I for one have dragged all that confessional guilt around my entire life.
Those facts in themselves would make it close to impossible for me to quote a function that left a decent amt of $$$ in my pocket.
After all.... Those guys are God's representatives on earth, right?
It would be almost a sin, right?
That said always ask for the budget BEFORE you turn in any numbers.
No matter who is the client.

Call for a sit down with whomever is calling the shots.
Tell them up front your long term goal is starting up your own catering company..... also let them know they will remain your number one priority.
You will not accept jobs that would interfere in any way your commitment to them.
One other thought.... if the church will be hosting future events let them know you will be purchasing certain buffet pieces and offer them the chance to "chip in" on the initial cost .
The bonus for the Church would be waiving any rental charges for all future functions.

post #13 of 16
Thread Starter 

Meez - 


Well, I figured out why my food numbers seemed a bit high. It's because my portions were way off. I did all the prep yesterday for the things that can be pre-made. My actual food cost is closer to $675.80. But I have more than enough food, and still some purchased items that I didn't use. I'll be returning them off course. I did include a fudge factor in my food cost, more along the lines of I'd rather have too much shit than not enough. So that number will go back down tomorrow once I return some of the items. As I said, I've never done this before, and the portioning got a bit out of hand. I do believe I'll be taking your advice on the "ceiling" concept. This is my gig, and I've put more effort in to it that the church currently has (I have to move all the tables from one building to the next and set them up to accommodate the 80. So, they're going to pay for this in a fair manner. Just because I'm they're every day cook, doesn't mean I'm giving them any discount. 


Flip -


While that's not a bad idea, it's really not my goal out of all this to start up a catering business. My goal by the end of this year is to open up a Cajun/Korean fusion Food Cart with a fellow chef friend of mine. As for the Church, I attend every now and again, but I'm Southern Baptist, and they're Catholic. I got the job because we had my son baptized last year, and the head priest found out that I'm a chef and his current lady was retiring. As for all that sinning and guilt, like I said, I'm not Catholic. Haha. 


Thank you both for your advice. My gig is today at 5.30pm. I'll let you know how it goes.

post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 

Heya Meez, 


Sorry I didn't get back to you yet. I meant to earlier this week, but it's been a hell of a week with my wife starting her new overnight job, and I've had the full responsibility of watching our 1 year old son during when she's not around. Scheduling has become a bitch.


As for the event, it went well. I hurt my leg and back moving the 125 lb tables with no help, but I had sufficient prep that the event wasn't overly difficult. My help bailed on me at the last minute so I had to call in my mother-in-law to help out, but she's an excellent cook, and at her job she deals with banquets all the time. So it wasn't totally unfamiliar for her. So 80 people showed up at 5pm for sodas and snacks, and within 5 minutes of arriving, 25 of them left. So I ended up having way too much food. I was perfect on my vegetarian option portions, and my chicken alfredo, but I had way too much red sauce. 3 half pans to be exact. The guests loved the food. A couple of old ladies asked for my alfredo and brownie recipes. All in all they were pleased, and so was the Priest that hired me. 


In the end, I took your advice and charged him $1200. After buying all the equipment I planned on keeping, I only came out with $150 on top. So it really wasn't worth my time with the exceptions of now having a decent stock of equipment to work with, and the experience of doing it from beginning to finish. Next time, if there is a next time, I'll be much better prepared. Should be fun.

post #15 of 16

Very cool, I appreciate the update.

Moving things too heavy? Help bailed on you?

A third of the head count walking out before service?

Gee sounds like SNAFU to me.

Welcome to the exciting world of  event catering!! :lol:

Sounds like a great get-your-feet-wet event.

And 1200, with only 150 clear--sounds like we called that one right.

You just need to reassess what youre charging next time, cut costs as

much as possible, but above all be accurate in your cost calculations.


Curious, what did you end up making for the vegetarian main dish?

post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 
Yeah, it was definitely a good learning experience. I could have used a bit more than 4 days to plan it all out but it ended up working out alright. For the vegetarian dish, I just made a vodka sauce with the pasta. There were only a handful of them anyway. I really do appreciate all the advice. It helped out tons.
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