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Catering for the First Time

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello chefs. I mostly cook for my familyl, friends and small gatherings and have never really been approached about catering services.  Apparently, I made an impression with one of my friends and now I've been asked to cater a small dinner party to about 12 people, which are composed of some high profile figures and this could potentially lead to more opportunities to cater other parties, and possibly become a private chef for one or more of these figures should they be impressed.  I'm preparing a variety of appetizers and then I'll be serving braised short ribs with garlic rosemary potatoes and roasted asparagus.  I'll be prepping a couple of hours the night before and will have 3 1/2 hours cook time before appetizers are to be served, and then 2 hours cook time before the main course is served.  My friend has already given me a card with which to purchase all of my ingredients and whatever else I should need for preparations and told me to tell what to charge for my services.  My question is, what is a fair or average price to charge for those services rendered?  I most certainly want to feel satisfied with the value of my efforts but I don't want to come across too cheap or too greedy either.  This may seem like a silly question, but it is one I would like some input on. Thanks.

post #2 of 16

Welcome to Chef talk you are about be educated.  Don't be intimidated or get your feelings hurt.  Most really want to help you and some of us are very direct.  If you search how to price a catering job you will find many threads.


First, do you have a business license?  Where will you be doing your work and is the kitchen inspected by the health department?  When you charge for your services in the food industry you become liable for your product.


Second, you need to know how much profit you want to make.


You might want to do a few free gigs and see how long it really takes you.  Remember you have to collect recipes, make shopping lists, decide on table ware serving pieces cooking pots, etc.  Then do prep work, cooking, serving, and clean up. Will you have to iron the table cloths and napkins?


This is a quote from a thread "how to price a catering job ?"




COSTS = Labor (including your own, if applicable) + Food + Utilities + Rent + Licenses + Tax reserve + Insurance + any other costs of doing business, including interest, depreciation, and all the hidden costs.


Chef Pete McCracken


Some one starting out in the food business is lucky to make any money at all.



good luck and welcome to the world of Chefs.

post #3 of 16
Never sell yourself at at a discount. EVER. Charge accordingly to the time,effort,and skill you bring to the table. Your experience and skill level aren't professional (yet) so say 20 dollars an hour for every siingle second you work may be an appropriate rate. Im not sure of the current wage situation in the USA.
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the welcome Jimyra :) I will heed those words and do my best not to be intimidated or take things personally.  I have seached numerous articles and I believe I read the one you're referring to.


I do not have a business license.  Is that something easily and quickly attainable by Sunday?  And what should I do if I am unable to attain one by then?  I do know that the venue is an event space used specifically for weddings and small parties, etc.  My assumption would be that their kitchen would be inspected by the health department.  Is that too big of an assumption to make?


As to the second question, I'm not sure I really know how to answer. I always feel pressure when it's a friend asking me to give them a price but I would rather be cheap about it than go beyond what they believe my services are worth you know?  I've just never cooked for pay before so I don't even have a ballpark figure in my head as to what prep, cooking, cleaning time is worth in the grand scheme of things.  Plus, there's the fact that I'm not a professional chef, so I'm not sure my time would be worth as much as a professional and if that's even something my friend has thought about?  And perhaps, I'm just overthinking all of this. Ha


I've always thought about venturing out eventually and doing small parties but this opportunity just presented itself suddenly and I thought it was too good to pass up for the experience and the possibility of other doors being opened.  I've already selected the table ware, serving pieces from what they had available.  I'll be using my own cookware.  I won't have to iron tablecloths or napkins.  I do know that much.


I thought the same.  I'd be lucky to get paid for this being my first time doing anything, but they told me they'd give me a card to go buy everything I needed and then told me to give them a price for my labor costs.  So that's why I wanted to ask.


Thanks for the reply and the encouragement!

post #5 of 16

I'll agree with the others but especially second Lagom. 

You can't get a license by Sunday and now is not the time to alert any authorities to what you are doing. Do this job, then go get the proper licenses and permits, etc. 

     By all means get paid. You are now doing a catering job for pay. You are now a professional. For whatever reason, it may go well, you will have a great experience and everyone will be impressed. I certainly hope that is what happens. I agree that $20hr for every hour you work is a fair price. Never agree to work for free or cheap. You will always be expected to produce quality work so you should expect to get paid accordingly every time. 

    But realistically, You are not a caterer, you have no experience and no training and especially important, you have no commercial, health department inspected kitchen to work out of on a regular basis. So assuming it all goes well and you get offers of more work, I adamantly advise you to turn them down. 

Do your research. Catering, as many here will tell you, isn't all roses and sunshine. There are numerous problems, nasty customers, unpaid bills, unexpected expenses, equipment and vehicle failures at precisely the wrong moment, and too much more to list. And most importantly you can not run afoul of the authorities or work for very long without them discovering you and then making your life hell. 

    So best of luck in this event. I really hope it works out. But before all the compliments swell the ego, get your act together before you go any further. 


Btw, you got fast responses to your post. In the event you stick around and post more, typically expect a few hours or a day or so before a response comes. Many have jobs and families so your question may not get seen right away. 

post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks chefwriter!  Licenses and permits hadn't crossed my mind at all and as this was such short notice, I just jumped at the chance, but I'll definitely take more precaution moving forward.  I probably should've thought all of that through before accepting but hindsight is always 20/20.  I, too, was surprised at the prompt responses.  Thank you everybody for your insight.  I'm sure this won't be the last time I am in need of it.

post #7 of 16

One thing that you can do (maybe) depending on your state is get your food handlers card. Many states have online testing, takes about an hour and costs about $10. If a health dept inspector happened to show up they could care less about a business license, insurance, tax ID or any other similar requirements. What they will ask for, FIRST THING is you food handlers card and one for anyone else that is in the kitchen cooking.

post #8 of 16

You may not be cooking like a pro but it looks like they want you for your quality food. IMHO, If I were doing this I would want to avg $100 an hr. You can take 1/2 of that or even $40 an hr and you will do just fine for your first catering. The problem is it's a friend that asking yo to do this. Your thinking it's a step into a new business so you could look at this many ways. I would say for you Max $50 an hr and min $30 an hr.......Who's serving ????

post #9 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks @chefbuba ! I'll definitely look into that for my state.  That's good to know.

post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 

@ChefBillyB I'll be serving the appetizers buffet style but my friend will be helping me to serve the main course, which will be set just before the guests are seated.  It's rather casual as its a Super Bowl dinner party and not exactly formal I should clarify, but being the clientele they are I'd still like to be as professional as I can about it.  My hope is that through my composure, service, and food quality, they'll never know I'm not a professional. Ha

post #11 of 16

gabeeaster, I wouldn't worry about any licenses or permits for now. This is a small party for friends that you are being paid for time spent. This will be a great learning experience and just may be the first step to forming a small business. It sounds like your ready and confident on your menu and talent. Don't cut yourself short, you don't have to be a Chef to serve great food. Have fun and enjoy Super Bowl Sunday, I'm sure you will do just fine.......Good Luck........

post #12 of 16

Working for friends can be tricky.

I only did one job (wedding cake) and learned after that to just pass them along to someone I trusted to treat them right.

Mostly retired now and this has been my one policy I never deviated from.

Just too uncomfortable IMO.



There was a point back in the day when I would avoid family functions until I finally figured out that one be so liberating :beer:.

After that point I would offer my services for free (example free first birthday cakes have always been a gift from me) and everyone was happier.


Do this one job (gratis or charge along the lines of the above suggestions) and if it goes great and you decide to explore this new path then start on a business plan and see where it takes you.

Don't forget financials (is there a certain level of lifestyle you will not go below?).

Doing what you love can get really old when the jobs start rolling in and you start missing important holidays and friends and family time.


Just IMO .... welcome to Chef Talk (where the bar is always open lol ;-)




post #13 of 16

One more thing.

Yes the venue will have a license but they may not allow you to work under it.

In fact they may want to see yours.

Ask never assume.



post #14 of 16

I'll drink to that.


post #15 of 16
Originally Posted by Jimyra View Post

I'll drink to that.


Hereya go....... :level: :beer:.



post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks @flipflopgirl! Yeah, I was weary at first when she asked me, but as it's the company she works for that's apparently footing the bill. She knows that I'm not a professional chef, so I assumed she would know that it would be okay for me to use the venue's kitchen? But that's good advice, I'll definitely ask. I've heard horror stories from people performing services for friends in every industry and asking for and collecting on payment has ruined alot of friendships.  I definitely don't want that.  As far as family goes, I just happen to come from a family that cooks alot and I've never offered to contribute anything and no one's ever asked me for anything so I've just silently and happily remained in the shadows lol

Thanks so much for the input. I'll definitely heed alot of this when it comes to taking next steps to possibly furthering my ventures. If all goes well, I may very well start on a business plan :)


So far, I've had nothing but constructive criticism and founded advice from the lot of you here. I'm feeling quite welcome on Chef Talk thus far. Cheers! :beer: 

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