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Catering Question

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    Catering Question

    Had a friend at work say they loved the BBQ I brought in for everyone about a month back that he'd like me to cater the pulled pork and my pit beans for his son's graduation party. I'm flattered as I've wanted to fire up a food truck but my real job (teaching) is my priority currently. I want to do this party. It's 75 people. I've done this for a family gathering of 50 before. Here's my question:

    What in the daylights do I charge? Do I figure out my costs and double it? Triple it? In my area I've seen pulled pork prices by the pound from $9-$15. Help?


    your first time out it will be pretty hit and miss. when I was doing taco cart catering it took me a few gigs to figure things out in regards to pricing. I basically called around to see what other caterers were charging for the same thing and then adjusted it to fit my needs/budget. i worked a couple jobs where I just broke even but I eventually got it down to where I was turning some profit. just make sure you are accounting for all of your costs - consumables like napkins, plates, utensils, foil, aluminum pans, hand sanitizer, latex gloves, spices, fuel (charcoal, log, etc.) all add up very quickly to the point that the cost of meat isn't really what you're most worried about. I'd say $9-15/head is a good starting point. I charged up to $12/head for tacos at many events.

    one last thing. don't forget to factor in your own time. how much do you want to make per hour doing this? will you have people helping you? Do you need to pay them? how much do they expect to make?

    Good luck and have fun!


      This is very tough to answer since circumstances vary widely in these situations. I am no pro at catering, and I've never done it as a money making project, but I will share what I've done in the past when cooking for crowds when the one hiring me was a pal.

      I've done a few 50-75+ people gatherings, mostly grad parties and a wedding reception or 2. They were all for friends of the family like you describe. Some I just donated my time as the honorary person or couples' gift from me, one dad tipped me $50 and gave a wheelbarrow full of oak for the fuel, and a couple I charged for after being begged to.

      When I charged I usually charged whatever the cost of the meat and supplies were for my time. So, say you're using the common formula of 1/2lb per person raw weight, so 38lbs pork butts roughly, so maybe 5 large butts. If they're $2.50/lb, it would cost maybe $80-100 in meat (huge ballpark here based on all actual factors). Then charge that amount for your labor. Then add whatever supplies you'd have for beans. Then your rub, your foil, your wood, etc if you need to. So for me, depending on my level of friendship w/ the one hiring me, and their means, I might charge $100-125 to smoke up 5 butts. More for sides like beans added in. See caveat below.

      If someone wanted me to cook them a single brisket, I'd charge them the cost of the brisket to smoke it. So a $55 brisket, they give it to me and I charge them $55 to smoke it. So in those cases I'd be charging effectively about $3/lb, or whatever the brisket cost, simply for my time, and they pay roughly $6/lb all total. If someone wanted me to smoke them 4 chickens, well a chicken is $6 and that's only $24, so I might charge a minimum of say $40 or 50 for my prep and cook time.

      Caveat: This isn't a money-making way of doing it. I never personally viewed it that way. My way has always been more so the person 'hiring' me, usually a good friend, felt like he wasn't getting a handout or taking advantage of me....so my advice takes this perspective into consideration. If you want to do this as a "what's my time worth" endeavor, then figure out what 12-16 hrs of your time is worth at your regular job I suppose and go from there.


        May want to call different caters or do a google search for your area, Which should give you an idea
        If doing it as non-profit, cover costs, meat sides, beverages.
        Lets us know.
        Thank You
        Sounds like you may have a side hustle in the making.


          I generally charge about $20. per head,if there are multiple meats it goes up. If you want to save him money charge by the lb.
          It also matters who will supply plates napkins drinks etc.
          good luck!


            I think Huskee’s and late night’s response cover it well.

            if you want to charge a nominal fee to cover your costs and minimal labor costs, perhaps $150-200. If you want to treat this as a business transaction, $750-$950 for 75 people is probably more realistic assuming $10-$12 a head.


              I do appreciate all the feedback! I little background. I want to cater/ food truck in the future. Too many hoops for jumping through for a business license so when I have people ask like this (first one besides family and a close friend - this is a co worker ) I want to be fair but I don’t want to totally undercut myself.
              I’m only supplying the pork and the pit beans so I’m not worried about buns, utensils, etc. I kind of like Huskee’s idea about just doubling my food costs. I mean it’s still not a great hourly rate but I love the idea of smoking meat and learning.
              As of what I have in my current notes , 40 pounds of pork butt at $1.69 per pound plus rubs, fuel, etc that I would need to end up with about 23-25 pounds of finished product would cost me about $100, so I would charge $200 total. I haven’t figured out the beans yet but I wouldn’t need much as that’s pretty easy.
              Anything else I’m forgetting? I’m beginning to think I just about have this locked down. The cheapest place in town is $9 a pound so I still beat that!
              Thanks again for the help!

              I also would note this isn't going to make me a ton of money right now but it's giving me more practice and making a little money on the side. I would love to be at the point I was charging $10-$12 a head but I'm not confident enough in my skills at this point to charge that (even though I think my BBQ is better than most of the BBQ joints in my area)
              Last edited by wisebri224; May 11, 2021, 08:18 AM.


              • bardsleyque
                bardsleyque commented
                Editing a comment
                my guess is your que is way better!

              That's how I looked at it- learn while you do a kind deed for basically a tip or beer money.

              I would caution you though to give this article a read for when you intend to branch out and make money at it, it has a lot of eye-opening details you may or may not have though about. Meathead has curated this advice from his contacts with many years in & around the BBQ biz.


                Originally posted by Huskee View Post
                That's how I looked at it- learn while you do a kind deed for basically a tip or beer money.

                I would caution you though to give this article a read for when you intend to branch out and make money at it, it has a lot of eye-opening details you may or may not have though about. Meathead has curated this advice from his contacts with many years in & around the BBQ biz.
                Thanks! Yeah, I had done my food safety course already and even secured a certified kitchen for my cooks here in Northern Illinois. Thought I was just about over the hump until I was told my smokers would have to be on the same property as the kitchen is. That's tricky for overnight cooks unless I camp out on the property! The health department person told me to just use liquid smoke instead (ummmm no). So currently it is stick with just family and close friends until I can find a nearby county that may give a little more flexibility or save up enough to buy me a small property that basically just becomes my cooking world. I can dream!! Thanks again!



                  You need to keep in mind the liability issue here. I'm really confident in my ability to cook things that won't make people sick but by the same token, I would not be serving food to others at a charge unless I was well covered with liability insurance.

                  EDIT: Even for free I'd be leery of doing this for 75 people whom I am not really close with.
                  Last edited by pkadare; May 12, 2021, 11:10 AM.


                  • Huskee
                    Huskee commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Right. A bad pitcher of tea from the homeowner could be pinned on your for making everyone sick, and one litigious person in the crowd could ruin things for you.

                  I’ve done this a few times for friends. I usually will write down everything I’m going to need, meat, rubs, sauces pans...etc. Then cost those items out and double it then make them aware of what I will charge and agree on the cost up front prior to buying everything.


                    Originally posted by pkadare View Post
                    You need to keep in mind the liability issue here. I'm really confident in my ability to cook things that won't make people sick but by the same token, I would not be serving food to others at a charge unless I was well covered with liability insurance.

                    EDIT: Even for free I'd be leery of doing this for 75 people whom I am not really close with.
                    Thanks for the heads up! I've already taken care of this via my insurance agent with an umbrella policy this past summer that I have in writing protects up up to a sizable sum in case of something like this.


                    • pkadare
                      pkadare commented
                      Editing a comment
                      That's good to hear. Wish you luck and keep us posted on your progress!

                    I have done my fair share of catering in the past, both BBQ and traditional menu items. There is a lot of good advice in this thread. latenight71 covered the traditional approach to estimating catering jobs. What Huskee described sounds like a closer fit to what you are doing for this job. Finally, with regard to insurance, you could explore some sort of a waiver as an alternative to having insurance. I was ServSafe certified and I never carried insurance in the past, but in hind sight that may not have been the best choice. One specific piece of advice from latenight71 that rings true is regarding your time. Customers never consider your time, so be sure to include that in a way that works for you either in making a profit down the road or doing it as a favor as Huskee did for his gigs. Your time includes planning, shopping cooking, setting up, serving?, taking down and clean up (on site & at home). I love the idea that you are using this as a learning experience, so make sure you take time to make some notes after about what went well & what did not, so you have a starting point for the next gig.


                      What I did when I went into business I did a little research. I got online and or went to various bbq joints in my area and looked at the menus. (Some prices were outrageous. 30 bucks for a full rack of ribs with 2 sides. And not to mention it was just ehh.it’s okay bbq). Then I decided the undercut them for better bbq. So they charge 30 for it I charged 22. Costs me 10 so I profit 12. I do the same for my other items. If a person just want the rack of ribs, then I take off 4 for the sides.
                      I left a little wiggle room in case the prices go up but I’m not in it to become a millionaire, just to have fun and introduce the state to real bbq. I’m not the best, nor do I want to be. But I’ll give em a run for yer money. Everyone that Eats my food, loves it and now I have a large group of followers that come from 2 hours away just to eat my bbq (thanks to meathead teaching me about the science of bbq)
                      when I do catering (which I just did for a large company on Tuesday in another state and pays more than what I ask), I average out per person.
                      so in the long run, if I was to do an event with just pork and beans, I would charge 12 a plate for up to 50 people, 11 for 100 people.
                      As long as I have a lil jingle in my pocket after all is said and done, then I come away happy and I’ve never meet an angry person on a full stomach.
                      another note, if ya keep yer prices low, not only will you get repeat customers, you’ll get more business.
                      every time I go to and event or catering party, I get 1 or 2 people that come to me to book another party or event.



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