How to Budget for Office Catering

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From a snack-and-beverage gathering to a larger sit-down meal, any catered event held at the office will be more successful if you have a solid catering budget.

Creating and sticking to a catering budget does not have to be a daunting task. Estimating expenses, tracking costs, and negotiating with your caterer ensures that resources go where they need to go. As an added benefit, being fiscally responsible and taking the lead to improve the company’s brand and further business goals shows managers and executives that you are an invaluable asset to the team.

Start planning your catered event as early as possible: Holding the event at your office means you don’t have to worry about finding and booking a venue. However, it still helps to get ahead of the event as much as you can. Depending on the type of event, the season, and the demand for a caterer, book vendors at least six months ahead of the event date. While a shorter timeframe is by no means a lost cause, the more time you have to plan, the better you can set and stick to your event and catering budget.

Factors To Consider For Event Planning: Set up your budget: Categorize and track all estimated and actual expenses

Forming the initial vision of the event means it’s time to build a rough, itemized event budget in a spreadsheet, Evernote, or another planning tool. At this point, the priority isn’t a to-the-penny accuracy; it’s seeing how the budget spreads across various food and non-food costs. Expect figures and categories to change as you examine options, modify priorities, negotiate, and learn about any additional costs.

Often a simple spreadsheet can be all you need to track your event budget. As you go, your spreadsheet may grow too. You may add columns for provider name and contact details, options, and/or a checkbox for when management has approved something. Tools such as the Pocket Planner app can also help you figure out what you need per person. Of course, every event is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all spreadsheet for every event.

Event Budget Spreadsheet: Set initial estimates. As you receive formal estimates and pay final invoices, you can update the projected and actual expense columns.

How much have similar events cost? If your company has held catered events in the past, dig up and review those budgets.

Which preferred vendors would you want to work with again—or never again?

What was similar and different about past events and this upcoming event?

What were the individual and total costs?

Having information to draw on can help you justify your budget for the catered event you’re planning.

Who’s going to be there? The more accurate your headcount, the easier it will be to determine costs with your caterer—and the better you can calculate a per-person cost that fits your catering budget.

For starters, it helps to have an idea of how many people to invite. Here’s a good rule of thumb.

Local guests: Estimate that 85% of those invited will attend.

Out-of-town guests: Estimate that 55% of those invited will attend.

Also, make sure your numbers reflect whether or not spouses/partners and/or children will be invited.

As you discuss the guest list with your caterer, talk about the type of event and who is attending. Make sure any dietary needs or restrictions are taken into account, such as vegetarian/vegan foods, allergies, or sensitivities to gluten, dairy, and/or nuts.

Choose the type of event: Figuring out the right catering for your budget also depends on what type of event you want to have. Talk with your caterer about the mix of options, such as:

Type: buffet line, sit-down meal, or light snacks/hors d’oeuvres

Time of day: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or between meal times

Theme: type of cuisine, holiday, celebration, etc.

Formality: formal, business casual, or casual

Make sure the type of event you choose supports the company’s priorities. A lunch to present awards to employees and boost morale may have a different look and feel from an after-hours gathering intended to impress a potential big client.

Identify the type of food and beverages you want: Now the fun stuff, or at least, the tasty stuff. You have an estimated headcount. You know when the event will take place and what format you want for the food and drink. So, what will the caterer prepare and serve?

Catered Event Food And Drink Options: As you identify menu options, you and your caterer can set up times for tastings. When discussing the menu, don’t be afraid to discuss cost as well. Caterers can detail costs for different types of meals and service, including per-person costs. Caterers know that companies have budgets, and a good caterer will also be able to present options to help you contain costs while still providing a crowd-pleasing menu for your catered event.

Watch for additional fees and up-sells: Whatever the initial price, other charges might lurk. Make sure your caterer lists out all the costs you can expect to pay. Watch out for up-sells too. While a higher price tier can indeed be the right way to go depending on your needs, attempted up-sell packages can include extras you don’t need.

Hidden fees need to be disclosed and discussed. In fact, they can be perfect territory for some constructive and reasonable haggling. Instead of accepting an up-sell, use those additional options as leverage for negotiating.

Negotiate the cost: An estimate is just that: an estimate. Make sure you get the most for your catering budget by negotiating with your caterer. For starters, if you get bids from different caterers, you can use price and offering variances as negotiating points. And don’t be afraid to ask caterers if they can cut costs by:

Waiving or crediting fees: Offering a percentage discount based on the size of the event. Removing things, you don’t need, are outside the budget, and/or simply aren’t a fit for the event. Negotiating protects your budget and shows your boss you are working in the company’s best interest by getting a fair deal.

A catering budget is key for a successful office event: A solid catering budget puts resources where they work their hardest and demonstrates you are handling the company’s finances seriously and responsibly. Start developing your catering budget as soon as you begin to plan your event, and you’ll be far more likely to achieve success.