Hidden Catering Costs That Can Blow Your Budget

You know what makes me an unhappy camper? Going for more than 2 hours without a snack.

My man-friend calls it "a case of The Hangers." You most likely know it as getting "hangry."

Which is why one of my hard and fast rules when it comes to planning a workshop is that, if you're going to keep people in your presence for longer than 2 hours, it would be really nice to feed them a snack, some cupcakes, or a fruit and cheese platter. Guess how much better testimonials get when you offer someone a cup of coffee and pound cake after a 3 hour lecture? (Hint: way better).

But if you're having an all-day event, you may want to consider offering people a tasty lunch if the venue isn't close to any restaurants, or if you want to foster some casual networking time during lunch (mealtime is the BEST time for people to get to know each other).

Hiring a caterer to bring in a tray of sandwiches or even serve a sit down meal can be a life saver. But if you're on a budget, it can also seem like an extraordinary expense. Here are some common items that are built into a catering contract that you may not expect. And of course, I've got a few tips on how to combat some of them.


If you're having a sit down meal at your workshop venue OR you're going to a restaurant, be sure to include service in your mental tally. With larger events (say, a wedding or a large convention), service is what forces the total up big time, as you have to have staff to help clean up empty plates and glassware, as well as serve the food, wash the dishes, and everything in between. Even for smaller events, check your contract; sometimes, caterers include a "Set Up" fee separate from a delivery fee that takes into account the time your delivery person arranges the food on a table.


Delivery fees are ones that I recommend paying, since who wants to be running around to a restaurant picking up steaming trays of delicious Thai food in the middle of a workshop, but that doesn't mean they won't break the budget. If you're super budget conscious, have a friend pick up from your caterer in exchange for a ticket to your workshop.


This is a cost that sort of annoys me, as it's often hidden deep in the fine print OR not mentioned at all. Most catering companies do not provide plates, forks, spoons, knives OR the utensils to serve each of these things with (which has been a problem on more than one occasion). My recommendation is to hit up Walmart or Costco the week before your event to pick up cutlery and serving utensils so you aren't caught off guard. For the eco-friendly among you out there, my favorite line of disposable, compostable flatware and plates is Bambu.


Also known as "tip," gratuity is a pretty unavoidable cost, unless you pick your own order up or your delivery person never shows up with your food. That said, be sure to check your contract with your catering company. Sometimes, especially if you're doing a sit down dinner or an on-site cocktail party, your caterer will add gratuity onto your final bill, meaning you may accidentally tip out twice if you're not careful.


Tax is unavoidable, but make sure that the tax rate is standard with what's local in the town you're holding your event. Also, make sure that the tax rate is JUST the tax rate and not tax and gratuity combined. I've seen some caterers do that and it can be confusing.

Here in Montana, we don't have sales tax (so maybe you should come plan your next workshop here!).

Notice that I didn't include the cost of the food. Typically, food cost can be 50% or less of total catering costs, since caterers get their food costs at wholesale prices. It's the human labor involved in delivery, service, etc. that is what will cost you the most.


1. Which one of these catering costs surprised you?

2. Have you ever had sticker shock when looking at a catering bill? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Lauren CaselliComment