Feeding my film crew myself with a mobile kitchen: better than hiring a caterer?

Joined May 15, 2011
Hello, I’m producing and directing a low budget, one-location film. It’s a 24 day shoot and since I was a fry cook for 11yrs, I had the idea of renting a mobile kitchen, hiring a couple of local cooks and feeding my 35 person cast and crew that way, instead of hiring a catering company.

Like I said, it’s a one-location shoot, so there’s no daily breakdown-move-setup hassles. I have a friend at a local restaurant, who would let me park some supplies in his walk-in freezer and cold box. He could also find me some dependable cooks.

My main concern is:
  1. Food cost – would it be cheaper in the long run than a catering company?
  2. The health dept. and permits. When I worked in food service, we all feared the health dept.
So, I’d like your input on this –
  • thanks Craig Tarry
Joined Feb 17, 2010
I worked for a movie caterer for 6+ years,

Let's say call time is 7am, your cooks are going to have to start at around 3:30am, prep, travel, set up ready to serve by 6;30 so the crew is ready to start at 7., Lunch at 1pm, lets say 30 min lunch,

tidy up, drive back to the base clean and wash everything, restock, prep, shop etc,...

If there are no hold ups, due to shooting, traffic, etc, they might be done in the 12 hr window.

Can you find a couple of cooks that can work these type of hours, can put out meals on time and understand that if they are 15 minutes late with a meal, it is costing you 1000's of dollars an hour for the crew to sit around and wait for them to serve?

What happens on a day that you go long and need a second meal? Are they going to work 18-20 hrs in a day?

It takes a special breed to do movie catering. We always brought out potential new hires for the day to OBSERVE, paid them $100 cash to go out, most did not make it till lunch. Some would straight out say this is not for me, others would just disappear.

Then you have the cost of renting a truck, insuring it, having health permits, etc.

Food cost, labor cost, don't know how much you plan on paying these cooks, but in 1999 I was making $22.71 an hr, today's rate for a chef/driver is around $38 hr, helper makes around $18, according to a friend of mine that is still in the business.

Remember that a well fed crew is a happy crew.

The other option is having a caterer do a drop off meal service, where the food is cooked at their commissary and brought out in hot boxes.

Are you in LA? or another area?
Joined May 15, 2011
Hi, and thanks for your reply. I'm about 40miles East of San Francisco, and I see your point. Sounds like a potential horror story. I'm producer and director of this production, so maybe food service would be too much.

Any idea what catering for a 24 day shoot would cost nowadays? I probably should start calling local companies - or if you can refer to a good one, I'd like to know, of course. Production is a long way off and I'm getting a head start on the budget.

Thanks again - Craig
Joined Jul 18, 2002
in a word - you are crazy to even think about doing this on your own and it's insulting to the professionals no  less.  The advice you got above from Bubba is correct and outlines just a few of the issues you would have to deal with.  

I wrote you a reply to your personal message but am not sure it went through - and probably better if it didn't because he was much kinder in his response - I was ready to rip your head off as  I was seriously offended by your question and suggest that having been a line cook in college or high school does not make you a food service professional qualified to put produce food and risk your crew and colleagues health.
Joined Sep 8, 2003
I'll be more gentle than Lisa ;-)     I can't  even imagine trying to oversee both projects!  Absolutely go the caterer route!  Your crew will be  happy, you'll be a director and producer without having to make breakfast because your food crew didn't show up,  and all you'll have to do is write the check.  Sounds like a win-win to me....
Joined May 15, 2011
Thanks lentil, I totally agree. I actually worked for a major restaurant chain for 11 years and we never poisoned anyone. Of course, tiger lady had already decided, so who am I to argue?

So I got the answer I needed and thanks one and all. Again, I'm just a new filmmaker looking for information and no offense intended.

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