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How much does catering cost in 2024?

The average price of catering is
£10 - £150 per head

depending on food choices (such as a buffet or sit-down meal) and the number of guests.

What should you expect to pay for catering? From buffet costs to five-course chef-inspired menus, our catering price guide has all the answers.

From the buzzing corridors of corporate towers to the serenity of a wedding venue, catering can make or break an event. The UK’s culinary scene is as varied as its weather, and understanding the nitty-gritty of catering costs can seem overwhelming.

If you're planning an event, you want to ensure the taste of success lingers longer than the bill. Here’s the comprehensive cost breakdown you’ve been looking for.

(Already looking for the perfect menu for your event? Find a brilliant local caterer here.)

Average Catering Prices by Meal Type

Catering at an event

From basic finger food to the finest oysters, the cost of catering very much depends on the type of cuisine you are looking to serve and to how many guests. What also will affect the cost is if it’s a basic spread or whether your guests need to be fed for the entire day. 

Type of cateringHighest average price Lowest average price
Sit down meal£150 per head£40 per head
Buffet£40 per head£10 per head
All-day events (several courses)£225 per head£100 per head

Let's get further into the specifics. As you can imagine, a cold buffet is a lot easier (and cheaper) to prepare than a hot one, and a three-course meal takes the crown as the most expensive option:

Meal typeAverage price per head
Cold buffet£10
Hot buffet£15
Business breakfast£4
3-course meal£32
Evening grill£15

Average Price of Corporate Event Catering in the UK

Catering outside

Hosting a corporate event is more than just reserving the conference room. It’s about strategizing the spread that nourishes both business relationships and palates. While costs can vary significantly based on company size, the type of corporate event, and location, a ballpark figure for a per-person spend could be £10 to £60 for a day meeting or a networking lunch. Service styles - be it a laid-back buffet or sophisticated plated courses - also play a key role in pricing, with the latter often hovering at the upper end of the scale.

Menu Planning and Variance

A simple finger-food layout might start at £10 per head, but if you're looking for finer cuisine, expect to allocate upwards of £30. For the main event - think a gala dinner - you could find yourself budgeting between £50 to £150 per person.

When in doubt, a basic spread that has plenty of options for those with any dietary issues is always a safe bet. If you want specialist foods served (such as oysters, lobsters etc.) then this will increase the price of your catering bill. 

Average Price of Wedding Catering in the UK

A wedding is a momentous occasion, and the memory of the meal shared amongst family and friends is one that you're likely to cherish forever. Couples getting married in 2024 can expect to invest a significant portion of their budget into catering, often the biggest line item after the venue. On average, the happy couple can expect to pay around £2,000 for catering on their big day. (Looking for wedding catering quotes? We'll get you connected.)

Three-course Meal vs. Buffet

For a traditional three-course meal served to your guests at any event, you’ll likely be budgeting £40 to £100+ per head. The ever-popular dinner buffet is a more economical choice, ranging from £15 to £50 per person. Exciting food trends like interactive food stations or themed bars come at an additional cost, usually adding a few pounds to the per-head rate.

The price will also depend on whether you want to serve hot or cold food. A cold buffet is the cheapest option to go for averaging at £10 per head. It will have things such as sandwiches, quiche and salad. A hot buffet requires the catering crew to stay on-site which is more expensive, averaging at £15 per head. It may include dishes such as carved meats, pizza, pasta, curry or roasted vegetables. 

Average Price of Party Catering in the UK

Chef

Whether it’s a birthday bash or an anniversary celebration, parties are as diverse as the celebrants they honor. The cost of catering for a party varies widely, from intimate gatherings to large-scale festivities.

All-in-One Party Packages

A package deal for all-day catering can streamline your planning and is typically priced at £100 to £225 per person. This includes everything from welcome drinks to a late-night snack, taking the guesswork out of menu planning and providing a per-person cost that’s inclusive of all the bells and whistles.

Per-Person Pricing for Different Party Sizes

Smaller parties might see higher per-head rates - as much as £15-20 for a quality spread - while larger guest lists can afford economies of scale, bringing the cost down to around £10 per person for bulk quantities of party favorites. You might also be interested in finding a personal chef instead of a caterer for smaller, more frequent events.

Average Hourly Catering Rates

For events that don’t have a fixed duration, hourly rates might be the most cost-effective measure. These rates are commonly used for services like bartenders, servers, and even chefs for certain interactive cooking displays.

Staff-to-Guest Ratio

In the UK, you’ll be looking at around £15 to £30 per hour for each staff member, based on the complexity and formality of the event. High-stakes galas with extensive wine pouring and formal service will see greater hourly rates compared to a casual mixer that only requires minimal staffing.

Average Daily Catering Rates

For events that span the day or that require continuous food service, a daily rate may be the best approach. Wedding catering, corporate conventions, and multi-day festivals fall into this category.

Inclusive Services

Daily rates typically include set-up, service, and clean-up, often priced between £200 to £500 per day, per staff member. For chefs or culinary experts, this can increase to around £300 to £600 daily, depending on their experience and the culinary adventures they’re leading.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Catering

Man cooking

To derive at a precise estimate, it’s important to consider the multitude of factors that influence catering costs. The venue's kitchen facilities, for instance, can affect the complexity of meal preparation and, subsequently, the final bill. Here are some chief influencers:

Venue

If your venue does not have its own kitchen, catering costs could soar as an off-site setup with remote kitchens and equipment rentals can quickly deplete a budget.

Food Quality

From prime-cut steaks to farm-fresh vegetables, the quality of ingredients is palpable on the plate and in your price sheet. If you're opting for organic, locally-sourced produce, expect to dig a little deeper.

Courses

Each course increases both the time and expense of catering. Hors d’oeuvres and canapes are a lovely touch, but these mini-meals add up. The main course, complemented by sides and accouterments, threads through the budget much like they will the palate of your guests.

Expertise

An industry veteran with a five-star pedigree will command a higher fee than an up-and-coming sous-chef. Expertise is priced accordingly, and for good reason — experience often means less waste, better service, and, most importantly, unforgettable food.

Location

London’s culinary stage may be crowded, but it’s also significantly pricier. On average, catering costs in London can be nearly double that outside the capital. Regional specialties and local providers, however, can balance out the budget if you’re not set on a metropolitan menu.

How to Save Money on Catering

Food buffet

Balancing the scales of budget and flavor is no easy feat. But a judicious approach and a dash of savvy can whet the appetite without emptying the coffers. Here are some cost-cutting measures:

Plan Ahead

Jumpstart your planning to benefit from early-bird discounts. Caterers often appreciate the foresight and are more open to negotiating prices well in advance.

Opt for a Buffet Over Seated Service

Buffets require less labor and are often less expensive than plated meals. It’s a more casual approach that can jive with a laid-back vibe or a stretch-allocation budget.

BYOB or Signature Drinks

Beverages can pack a punch in the catering cost. Consider a ‘bring your own bottle’ model or a signature cocktail that’s cost-effective and adds a personal touch.

Catering Prices in London vs. Outside

The UK’s gastronomic capital, London, sets the benchmark high in terms of taste and price. With a diverse offering reflecting its cosmopolitan ambiance, the range reflects the city’s culinary kaleidoscope, from gourmet street food to exclusive fine dining. Expect catering in London to scale upwards from national averages, due to the city's higher rents, wages, and demand for quality.

Catering in provincial areas offers a different value proposition, with lower costs and sometimes equally impressive menus that champion local produce and regional specialties.

LocationMaximum cost (per head)Minimum cost (per head)Average cost (per head)
Outside London£30+£8£10
London£50+£10£20

Choosing a Caterer Based on Your Budget

Food truck

Your budget weaves every aspect of your event planning together, and choosing a caterer is a critical part of that. It’s not just about finding the most affordable option; it’s about identifying the caterer who can deliver the best value within your allocated spend.

Consider the caterer’s reputation, menu flexibility, and willingness to tailor to your budget. References and tasting sessions can provide a taste of what they offer, and transparent contracts ensure there are no budgetary surprises down the line.

Take the hassle out of planning your event - hire a professional caterer through Bark. 

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