just started a catering business... just booked a 2,400 guest event...Help

Joined Aug 12, 2016
my wife and i just started our catering business.  we owned 2 food carts in portland ( sold them after having 2 kids in 2 years)  and i'm currently a chef. i have lots of event/banquet experience.. but nothing with this volume. the event is "bbq picnic" theme buffet and split in to 3 waves of 800 people with a couple hrs in between. its at a big corporation and will be held there (which i'm hoping means access to their kitchen for the event) for their staff. its outdoors. i have a handle on the basic idea of what ill need to make this happen or how hard it will be to make this happen...hiring staff,equip rental, timing execution of the food, ect. but i'm not sure how to cost this per person. do i charge less per person then we would on the same event for 240 guests? experience is knowledge.. that i don't have so any advice would be great. 

Joined Jan 31, 2012
less? You mean like a volume discount or sommat?
I would say the answer is....depends. What you charge
for any event "depends" as well. On any constants
and variables for your business, current situation and
the event itself.
Having a handle on your needs for staff, food, rentals etc
is exactly half the equation. The second half is plugging
in those numbers (converting needed staff hours to dollars
and cents] to get a total cost, your cost, to do the event.
And dont short yourself on estimated time--the larger the event
the more time consuming things can pop up.
Add in your desired profit divide by number of people to get
cost per person.
Back to your charging less for more people.....
that depends on your final cost numbers as well....
so if it turns out your cost is less per person than the 240
would be, due to say, getting some food in bulk for instance,
then if you want to pass that savings to the client...WHILE
maintaining your desired profit, then everyones happy.
But to make less profit, because its a bigger event...well
why SHOULD you?
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Well, if it were me, I'd calculate it the following way:

Cost of food, figuring on a buffer of 10% of raw stuff that is tucked away in a few coolers

Cost of rentals including bbq's, Cambros, chafers, hand wash stations, disposables, rental trucks, tents/awning, tables and chairs. 

Cost of staff, figuring on 2 shifts, need to factor in  travel time for staff, set up time, and break down time.  Even if you have excellent servers, you can't expect them to work 18 hrs straight, only owners get to do that....

Cost of YOUR site inspection that you do a week in advance, checking out the park/facility, avialblitly of water, washrooms, garbage protocol( do you need to haul it, or will it be picked up?) parking, and dirty water disposal.


your profit, say 10%.  Don't be squeamish, you're gonna earn it.

Future contracts/networks is not a bargaining chip, its a bonus, but not a bargaining chip for you to lower your pants--um, sorry, price.

Once you wrap your head around it, its very do-able, 3 shifts of 800 is a lot easier than one big rush of 2,400.  Just pray for good weather......
Joined Feb 25, 2005
10% profit is not nearly enough IMO. Profits on our catering events run between 35%-50%.

But everyone gave you great advice on how to cost out your job. It's just a matter of how much profit you want to make on an event like this. And no, why would you discount? 

Sounds like fun! I'm sure you'll do great!

Joined Jan 31, 2012
Agree, 35 to 40% percent sounds about right Gina.
Id personally not do event catering with an average
10% profit....its just too much damn work, not to
mention requiring a skill and organizational set thats
just....worth more than that.
And even when you clear 40, you sometimes feel you
were waaaay underpaid. lol
Joined Feb 8, 2009
If this is a employee event with all adult employees then I would charge an adult price per person. I "would not" give a discount because of the volume. If it's a employee family picnic with spouses and kids I would cost it out and figure the per person cost taking account that 400 of the 800 people could be kids. Lets say the adult cost of the meal is $10 and a kids cost would be $6, I would charge a flat cost of $8 per person. Talk with your client and figure how long you have to make the food available and what the logistics will be for serving the guests quickly. You can ask your client to hand out 4 different color tickets or name tags that will filter them to different buffet lines. You can have a GREEN, BLUE,RED,YELLOW with large signs telling people what buffet to bring their family to. This way you could have 200 of each color going to each  buffet line. This way you know how much food you need for each buffet line and how much staff is needed to service each line. Logistics, and knowing whats going to happen before it happens is the key to a successful event. It's important for you to control your food and how your food is served. Remember your client isn't a pro on logistics and how things should be done. All they know is they have 800 people and it's up to you to do what needs to be done. The more control we have over the function and how the food is served the better chance we have for success........Welcome to Cheftalk....I wish you a sunny day for your event. We all know what Portland can offer on any given day. I'm a few 100 miles east of you.......Good luck........Chef Bill

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