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How Much Do Wedding Caterers Charge

Updated on March 20, 2018
VVanNess profile image

Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, blogger at Healthy at Home, and educator. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.

How Much Do Wedding Caterers Charge
How Much Do Wedding Caterers Charge | Source

Like venues, catering services are one of the more expensive wedding vendors you will be working with during wedding planning. They are not usually as high-priced as traditional wedding venues, but are definitely the next highest-priced vendor. On average, professional caterers will charge anywhere from $50 to $250 per person (per plate) for any dinner and will convince you that this is an amazing deal.

Can you imagine visiting any restaurant and being told that your plate was going to cost you $250? How about $100? But people pay this price everyday assuming that it’s a great price for professional catering.They will tell you that you get what you pay for. They will tell you that every one else is charging the same amount, if not higher.

They will also tell you that couples are always surprised by the cost of having a wedding, but that their prices are normal. Weddings are expensive. But they will not tell you that you have tons of less expensive options, or that you don't really need all that they are offering as necessary.

You’ve already learned that professional caterers are not always the absolute best place to go for great food.They are also not always the best place to go for any other product or service either.

In fact, you are less likely to get the high quality food you are looking for from a professional catering company than any other food service location on the planet. However, I’ll share with you the typical range of prices offered by these types of businesses, and then we’ll look at restaurants, food trucks, and other food options.

Plate Cost Per Person - $30 to $500 per person

Hidden Charges:

  • delivery - $20 to $500,
  • rentals - $500 to $5,000,
  • staff - $500 to $2,500,
  • sales tax/service charge - 7% to 23%,
  • liquor permit and fire permits - $100 to $500,
  • liability insurance - $100 to $500,
  • administrative fee - $50 to $250,
  • draping, and florals/décor - $50 to $2,500, and
  • pre-determined tip which is typically 15% to 25% of the bill

In addition to these extra fees, be on the look-out for some sneaky extras in the catering contract that will also raise the price as a “hidden cost.”

Price-Escalation Clauses - These sneaky statements permit a catering company to charge more for menu items based on external factors, such as if the price of several key ingredients rises. Should your vendor not want to delete the cause, make sure an alternative, acceptable ceiling on costs is established.

Seasonal Changes - Often the prices of meats and fish fluctuate with the time of year. Make sure discuss this with your caterer ahead of time to avoid incurring extra fees, or start off by considering only items that are available at reasonable price at the time of your wedding.

Last-Minute Fees - Your catering contract may contain a clause that says you must nail down all the details a week before the big day—or else incur additional fees. Find out if the company has liability insurance. Many larger companies already carry it for their own benefit, but smaller catering firms may not carry liability insurance and may need you to do so. In that case, you should attach a rider to your homeowner’s or renter’s policy to avoid incurring last-minute catering fees. (BridalGuide)

Food

Food Service:

  • Buffet - $20 to $120 per person
  • Plated Service - $20 to $350 per person
  • Food Stations - $30 to $500 per person
  • Exhibition Service - $100 to $800 per person
  • Hand Service -$50 to $500 per person
  • Family Style - $18 to $45 per person
  • Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres – $17 to $70 per person
    • Passed hors d’oeuvres – $10 to $30 per person
    • Stationary hors d’oeuvres – $10 to $40 per person

Food Courses:

  • Appetizers - $15 to $40 per person
  • Salads/Soups - $15 to $35 per person
  • Main Dishes - $20 to $87 per person
  • Desserts - $11 to $25 per person
  • Wedding Cakes - $1.50 to $12 per person

Rentals

  • Furniture (chairs, guest tables, display tables) - $3 to $25 each
  • Linens (napkins, tablecloths, chair covers, table runners) - $1.50 to $15
  • China (dinner plate, salad plate, bread plate, bowl) - $2.50 to $14 a piece
  • Flatware (forks, knives, spoons) - $1 to $10 a dozen
  • Glassware (tea, water, soda) - $1.50 to $8 a piece
  • Stemware (wine glasses) - $1.50 to $8 a piece
  • Barware (shot glasses, cocktail glasses, etc.) - $1.50 to $8 a piece
  • Cake Stand - $4 to $50 to rent
  • Chocolate Fountain - $150 to $600
  • Champagne Fountain - $3 to $120
  • Dance floor (sold by the square footage) -$200 to $1,200
  • Chargers - $2 to $5 a piece
  • Plants – depends on caterer and plant
  • Draping – depends on caterer, type of draping, and type of fabric

How Much Do Wedding Caterers Charge
How Much Do Wedding Caterers Charge | Source

Cooking and Serving

  • Trays - $.75 to $25 each
  • Utensils - $1 to $10 each
  • Chafing Dishes - $20 to $50 each
  • Hot Boxes - $80 to $120 each
  • Speed Racks - $20 to $40 each
  • Insulated Carriers - $20 to $50 each
  • Coffee Makers - $4 to $100 each
  • Waitstaff - $15 to $80 an hour
  • Bartenders - $25 to $100 an hour
  • Busboys - $7.25 to $11 an hour
  • Dishwashers - $9 to $23 an hour
  • Bar Setup (napkins, stirrers, coffee service and coffee accompaniments) - $9 to $50 a person
  • Valet - $15 to $35 an hour
  • Security - $20 to $35 an hour (off-duty police officer $40 to $75 an hour)
  • Coat Check - $18 to $30

Services

  • Cocktail Hour - $17 to $70 a person
  • Cake Cutting Fee - $1.50 to $9 a person
  • Setup and Cleanup - $100 to $500
  • Champagne Toast - $6 to $10 a person (about $350 to $500)

Other food providers, like restaurants, have better prices but not quite so many service options. This is where caterers truly make their money. They provide everything and the kitchen sink, making them an easy one-stop shop for couples seeking wedding services. However, the prices and food options may more than make up for all of the other services they provide, and then couples can simply turn to more specific vendors for all of their other needs. By no means do these options below cover all of the other food providers available, or all of the other options they offer.

How Much Do Wedding Caterers Charge
How Much Do Wedding Caterers Charge | Source

Alternatives

Restaurants:

  • Appetizers - $1.50 to $25 each
  • Salads/Soups - $3 to $15 each
  • Main Dishes - $4.50 to $50 each
  • Desserts - $2.50 to $30 each
  • Delivery - 10% to 30% of order total

Food Trucks:

  • Appetizers - $3 to $6 each
  • Salads/Soups - $7 to $9 each
  • Main Dishes - $2 to $15 each
  • Sides - $2 to $5 each
  • Desserts - $2 to $4 each
  • Service - $150 to $350 + service charge

…and now many food trucks are beginning to provide all kinds of extras as food trucks are becoming more popular choices for unique and creative weddings. They are creating relationships with other companies offering furniture, linens, china, flatware, glassware, etc. This way they can offer these services along with their food provision, and bring in more business.

Like I try to emphasize in all of my articles, the information held within is simply an estimate and a comprehensive collection of information from my own experience, my extensive research, and all other information available to the public via the internet.

It is always wise to discover this information on your own when searching for a wedding caterer for yourself. All caterers are different, offer different prices and services, and even food quality. This article is meant only to educate you and give you more information to help you in your research.


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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness

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    • VVanNess profile imageAUTHOR

      Victoria Van Ness 

      4 years ago from Fountain, CO

      I totally agree with both of you! :) Each and every wedding and caterer is going to be different. It's important to check with each one before making assumptions. It is also completely reasonable to believe that you can have fantastic catering at your wedding for exactly what you want to pay. Anything is possible! Thank you both!

    • profile image

      sean 

      4 years ago

      Over all the cost has to rhyme a persons budget, many cannot afford such services as noted on this blog. How-ever i do believe that with a little per-planning and specially if friends and family help out a very successful and plentiful wedding day can be accomplished. I am a driver and drive many wedding couples. www.nplimo.com

    • profile image

      Candice Harding 

      4 years ago

      This is such a great resource! It can be difficult to compile your own estimates when you're forced to look at the numbers for each company individually. This is a great starting place. Though, like you emphasize at the end, it's vital to talk to the companies you are interested in directly, because there are lots of variables and every catering company is different.

      Candice Harding

      http://www.austingourmet.ca/en/

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