How To: Determine the Average Food Cost for a Standard Event
By Kastina / February 23, 2019
Every event is different, but at almost all of them, we feed the guests, right? This ‘PSA’ from me to you provides details about how and why food & beverages cost what they cost.
The short answer: It’s going to cost you the same amount as taking your selected guests out to dinner – at a nice place. That’s how much. A good way to think about it is you are reserving the time of an entire serving staff for one night; you’re basically creating your own pop-up restaurant for ONE night. Ordering food in bulk doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any less expensive than a restaurant once you consider operational efforts (we’ll get into that below). So, let’s start breaking this down per person…
At a restaurant, appetizers are somewhere in the range of $10; you might split that serving size with 1 other person. So per person, we can say appetizers are $5/person. Next up, salad course if you order a side salad at a restaurant it’s likely a $4-$5; so again $5/person. Next, the main course – and this is coming out of the entree section; you’re roughly at $24 for the vegetarian to $28 for fish and $36 for a steak, right? So let’s do the midrange and say the $28/person for the main course. Finally, dessert. Whether it’s a cupcake and candy display or a 3 tiered cake; even for a small bite again – let’s throw $5/person on there for desserts. This brings us to a per-person cost that looks like this:
Appetizers = $5
Salad = $5
Main Course = $28
Dessert = $5
TOTAL FOOD COST = $43.00/person
Now, can you do this for cheaper if you had white meat or portions of pasta (starches), no steak or fish – throw it on a buffet; though buffets aren’t always cheaper! Buffets aren’t portion controlled so you need heavier quantities, but they are less labor and labor is pricey. Note, you could totally find your way to making the food at your event a higher priority and easily double this price point. But for this post, my goal is to help my fellow humans understand a number you should be prepared to see when looking at what it’s going to cost to feed people at your party. Next, drinks.
At a minimum, I always encourage folks to at least cover the cost of the non-alcoholic beverages. I get that you might not want or need to cover alcohol; but at least cover the water, sodas, juice alright? A great way to cover this is to do a non-alcoholic station the caterer can set-up; maybe water with lemon/lime and/or a fun sparkling punch they refill throughout the event. You can have some fun with beautiful beverage displays and AVOID bottled water costs (for you and our planet!). So let’s say $3/person x 2 servings throughout the evening; $6/person.
Next, if you want to cover some booze. Some people believe that hosting only beer & wine and not hard liquor helps keep your bar tab down. I say, it can sometimes – but honestly, people will likely go for the free stuff so I’ve never seen that big of a difference in the final tab (fun bar estimates are another post unto itself). For average’s sake let’s say: beer roughly $6, wine & low tier cocktails $8, mid-range cocktails $9; so let’s say $8 on average is what it costs for these adult beverages. $8/person x 3 servings throughout the evening is $24/person. Now, some people don’t drink, and others might make up for the beverages of the light consumers; so this is just a starting point.
Non-Alcoholic Beverages = $6
Alcoholic Beverages = $24
TOTAL BEVERAGE COST = $30/person
Service Fees + Taxes
Let’s Bring it all together. We have the food & beverage costs – now we need to estimate taxes and service fees. Yes, I know service fees, ugh – but remember you are creating a pop-up experience and it’s labor-intensive from the catering manager that’s planning and coordinating it, to the chef preparing it, to the service staff that day. A service fee is often around 20%. This goes to help pay for all that staff that’s helping create this custom experience for you. Also note (a big note), the hourly rate of the event servers is often higher than a normal serving job because they are not working for tips in this environment so they make more hourly to counter that BIG DIFFERENCE in take-home pay.
Taxes! For non-alcoholic items, it’s ~8% and alcohol is around ~12% depending on where you are in the state. For average’s sake again, let’s put 8% on the food and the 12% on all of the beverages (make up for your drunk Uncle Sam, get it? Cause we’re talking about taxes…). Tax is on top of service fees (I don’t make the rules):
Food = $43/person
+ 20% is $8.60 = $51.60/person
+ 8% is $4.13
Beverages = $30/person
+ 20% is $6 = $36/person
+ 12% is $3.60
TOTAL Food & Beverage Costs of an Average Dinner Event + Bar = ~$96.00/person
In conclusion, yes I’ve seen it done for less. I’ve seen it done for $60/person; it can be done. It can also be doubled, I’ve seen that too. The goal of this post is to offer a realistic breakdown of event costs for the most average dinner party. It’s just a starting point! Good luck out there.