How to calculate cost & quantities of catering food

Updated March 23, 2017

Catering is a common way chefs and cooks use their skills to start a business or to earn extra income. Caterers typically prepare meals on location for events such as weddings, business meetings and birthday parties. To have a successful catering business, you need to know how to calculate food costs and quantities needed for the event. Food costs can increase without a proper plan in place, meaning less money in your pocket when the event is finished.

Determine the number of guests. This will effect the cost and food quantity calculations.

Calculate food cost using a percentage. All Food Business proposes food costs between 22 and 34 per cent of total expenses. This allows for a minimum of 66 per cent for labour and other expenses.

Calculate food cost per plate. A more technical way to determine food cost is breaking down elements of the menu item into its individual cost. For example, a whole chicken costs £1.90 and makes three dishes. The cost per plate for chicken is 60p each. Continue this for each item in the dish.

Create a dish using standard portion sizes. Government or private organisations provide information on an average, per-dish food quantity. This can provide chefs and cooks with a standard guideline for food portion; however, buffet-style events may need more food than a plate event.

Prepare for 10 per cent more food. In general, adding 10 per cent to the amount of food you need is a simple way to have a few extra plates ready for the event. Caterers can include these extra plates in the price of the food for the event. Any extra outside of this may result in a price increase.

Offer inexpensive appetizers. This will cut down on food for the meal. Cheap appetizers can be filling and result in lower quantities of food eaten for the meal, reducing costs.


Each event is different. For example, weddings are more formal. Guests may consume less food than they would at a family reunion, where eating among friends and family is more common. Planning for these situations can impact food cost and quantity. Having a specific goal or amount of money to spend on events can help control food costs.

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