The world of catering is diverse and ever changing. The challenges you face one day may not be the challenges you face another day. For new caterers one of the most daunting tasks to “learn” is how to price for catering services. In order to be a successful caterer you need to be good at pricing your services. The profits can be high but the possibility for underbidding exists around every turn. If you want to stay in the business long term you’re going to need to master the art of pricing your services. Here are a few helpful guidelines to consider before you set out to price your first event.
The Need to Know
There are a few questions you need to ask every potential customer before you’re able to accurately price their event. For starters you need to know:
Where will the event take place? Understanding where the event will take place helps you better understand your expenses. Make no mistake, transporting large quantities of food, equipment, and staff can take a sizable chunk of change. Miscalculate your transportation expenses and you might as well serve your profits for lunch.
How long will the event last? You need to understand the expected duration of the event. How long an event lasts will directly affect your ability to profit. For every hour you work you’ll have expenses which may include staff wages, equipment, transport, parking, or other considerations not listed here. Failure to correctly calculate the events duration can lead to a lower or non-existent profit margin.
How many guests are expected to attend? Having a solid grasp on the number of guests in attendance is one of the best tools in your pricing arsenal. Because catering profit is almost always dependent on head count it’s important that this number is high.
What special preferences will guests have? Certain guests may have special preferences that take more time or money to prepare for than others. Consider the diversity between preparing a vegan friendly plate vs. a traditional omnivore friendly dish. The unique diet requirements may add expenses across the board. Taking into consideration special preferences will help you avoid losing profit.
What to Do Next
Once you’ve determined the basic requirements your customer expects you’ll want to spend a little time doing some cost analysis. Price everything out and determine how much it will cost you to “break-even”. Once you’ve determined your break-even point you can begin researching what other caterers charge for similar service. Calling around is a typical practice in many industries and allows you to gauge your prices against the prices of your competitors. This should allow you to determine an upper end price, and a low end price. Once you’ve determined these two prices compare it against your break-even cost. If your break-even falls far below the low end price you’ll have maximum flexibility, but if your break-even falls above either price point it will be far more difficult, or impossible, to turn a profit.
How to Price
Fixed – A fixed pricing model requires that you set a price for your services on a per plate or platter basis. This kind of pricing may not be applicable or viable for every customer as it doesn’t allow much flexibility in services offered.
Tiered – The tiered pricing model is similar to fixed pricing except that the per plate price will get lower as the number of guests in attendance increases. This is a win-win for the customer and caterer because it encourages the customer to invite a greater number of guests so that the per plate price is lower which translates into higher profits for the caterer. An example of this would be charging $18 per plate for an event with 100 guests or $16 for an event with 150 guests.
Customized – Depending on the each customer and their needs, custom pricing may be necessary. Use custom pricing to offer customers discounts, or to make up for greater expenses related to customer needs.
Your ability to price your catering services well will directly impact how much profit you’re able to make and whether or not you’ll be able to stay in business. If you want to be in the catering industry long term you will need to become a master of adapting to quickly changing circumstances as well as become a skilled, well versed negotiator. Understanding these basics will help, but they’re not the end of the line. Continually educate yourself, stay current on industry news, and learn from the failures and successes of others.
Trisha Jefford, is a self-proclaimed foodie and wine enthusiast who loves scouring the internet for new ideas and trends in food creation and presentation. She currently blogs and writes for EZ Cater who specialize in a wide variety of options for your lunch catering needs.
Photo Credit: TEDxLasPalmas