Labor/time estimates?

Joined Aug 5, 2020
Bit of catering advice sought - how many worker-hours would you expect needed to prepare appetizers (3 types) and a meal (3 options) for 130, delivered and drop-off/set-up? In particular, it's a wedding that they can no longer hold at their original venue due to social distancing, so are moving to tents etc on a family property.

They're supplying all dishes, chafers, etc, so its largely just the food prep and delivery on our part, not on-site cleanup or service. In this case the client requested meatballs, crudite, and bruschetta apps, and for meals a sliced flank steak with onions and mashed potato, a puff pastry wrapped chicken with green beans, and a glazed tofu with veggies and rice. We prepare from scratch, including hand-forming meatballs and making our own puff pastry dough.

I did work a foodservice position in a retirement community, 2 of us working 10 hour days would readily do a lunch buffet and then plated dinners for 60-70 residents, pretty much from scratch and including our own dishes. Also worked a couple summers with a high-end off-site caterer, but wasn't part of the back-end commissary food production. I haven't done that scale in a while or at my current place, but am thinking 20 hours on the low end to 40 hours on the high. This is partly about quoting price for the service, and partly about scheduling the work and workers for the week/day.

When costing, do you have generic benchmarks for labor/time that you use? Hours-per-meal or meals-per-hour or? Or do you find you can just stick with a markup rate on COGS and that works out right anyway?
You often see discussions about pricing in terms of COGS and labor costs, but less about actual productivity.
Joined May 5, 2010
Welcome to our ChefTalk. I charge by the hour. My contract has an estimate but isn't complete until after the function is over and I know how many hours it took to make the menu. In your case, you'll know the timing and can add it to the bill.
You don't say how many people you have to prep this menu.

I wish you luck. You're menu is very perishable.
Joined Mar 1, 2017
The number of hours depends on the number of employees, the type of meals being prepared including prep time etc.

In a very general ball park sense, you're looking at a minimum of 24 to 36 man-hours to prep, prepare and deliver the food based on 3 people working 8 hour to 12 hours, not including yourself.

More details = better answers.

The real problem here is how you're going to deliver those menu items without significant quality loss, especially the pastry wrapped chicken.

Good luck. :)
Joined Sep 21, 2001
The real problem here is how you're going to deliver those menu items without significant quality loss, especially the pastry wrapped chicken.
I think what I'd do if I were to be delivering food like that would be to text pics of each entree, freshly packed, and how it looks and have my 'before' timestamped pics. That way if it sat around for and hour or more once I left it there at least I had proof it once looked as it should.

As for costing a giant to-go order, I would price by the item each, times number of items needed. I would set a delivery fee, based on loading, unloading, drive time and vehicle costs+ markup. Also be specific on gratuity percentage if you charge one.

Good luck!
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