How To Determine Final Catering Costs

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With some vendors it is easy to tell how much their services will cost you. You look at their package price and any tax that might be added and whamo, that’s it. But with catering it can be a little confusing as to what you are going to see for charges on your final bill. And why is that? Because they often charge service fees, off site catering fees, rental fees, and/or travel fees that are not usually listed in the proposals they send out you in the beginning.

Let me start by breaking down what each cost is -

Food and Beverage costs - This is the fee for all of the food and beverage the catering will be serving to your guests. The cocktail hour food gets wrapped up in this so you can consider this your per plate expense plus the cost of your bar. This is the most straight forward cost and can easily be calculated based off your estimated guest count. If your caterer is charging $175 per person for all of the food and beverage on your proposal and you are expecting 100 adult guests you are looking at a Food and Beverage cost of $17,500. Easy peasy.

Tax - Always expect to have sales tax added on. Check with each caterer for the percentage they will be charging for your event. The tax is then added to the Food and Beverage costs. So if you are looking at an Albany County tax rate of 8% on the above example you would have to pay $1,400 in sales tax.

Service Fee - This is practically a guaranteed expense with every special events caterer. Some say it covers their operating expenses, while others say it is there to cover the cost of payroll to their employees. Whatever your caterer uses it for you can expect to be charged it. Caterers typically charge a service fee of 18-22% of your Food and Beverage costs which can increase your total costs pretty quickly. On the example of $175 per person and 100 adult guests if they were being charged a 20% Service Fee from their caterer that cost would be an extra $3,500 on their bill. So that per plate expense just went from $175 a piece to more like $210 a piece before tax.

Vendor Meals - You will have a set of vendors working with you through the course of your wedding day. These are people like your wedding planner/coordinator, photographer, videographer, and your Dj or band. These folks are working hard for you and they deserve to be served a meal. In fact most vendors have a clause in their contract that states you are required to feed them (and why wouldn’t you want to!). Every caterer is different but most will serve a hot meal to your vendors at the same time your guests are eating. This is usually either a duplicate of what is being served to your guests or an equivalent offering served as a buffet or on family meal platters. Because your vendors don’t get to enjoy cocktail hour or cake, and they shouldn’t be ordering any drinks from the bar, the caterer often charges you a reduced rate to cover these vendors. Every special events caterer is different but a lot of them charge around $45 or so for each vendor meal. So if you have 8 total vendors you will have a Vendor Meal cost of $360. Just don’t forget to add the Service Fee and Tax to that.

Children’s Meals - This is an area where you actually get to save some money! Anyone under the age of 21 isn’t going to be drinking alcohol so those guests are usually not charged at the full adult rate for Food and Beverage costs. Young adult guests, usually between 12 and 20, are considered to be receiving an adult meal but no bar. Any really young guests, usually between 3 and 12, also don’t get charged for bar but these little guys are often offered a meal of chicken fingers and french fries and their food costs are even lower. Each caterer is different so check with yours to find out what the costs are for your guests who are young adults and young children.

Other Expenses - It is always good to ask your caterer what other expenses you should expect to see from them, and get that info before you book with them. There could be travel costs, fees for renting cooking or service equipment, offsite catering fees, linen or china fees, costs for extra chefs or bartenders, etc. To ensure that you will not be surprised by any other charges on your final bill ask to get all of these extra expenses listed on your contract before you sign. Even better is if your caterer can give you a full BEO (Banquet Event Order) that lists all of the fees - Food and Beverage, Service Fee, Vendor Meal, Children’s Meal, Tax, and any additional expense before you book. Even if you don’t have all of the details planned that far out it is still a good practice to see what your BEO or final bill might look like so you can know exactly what fees to expect to see on your final bill.

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Photos above by Divine Light Photography. Catering by Lily and the Rose.