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New Year’s Resolutions: How to Plan Your Office Catering Budget

Olivia Kelley

January 9, 2020


The beginning of a new year is often a time of evaluation in the workplace: Evaluation of employees, benefits, company values, goals, and — maybe most importantly — budget. When it comes to office meals, you may consider adding an office catering budget for lunches. Or, maybe you already provide catering for your team, but it’s time to reevaluate how much you’re spending. 

Either way, one thing is certain: it can be challenging to know where to start when creating a catering budget. 

Caterers often use confusing language, add unexpected fees, and attempt to “upsell.” That’s why we put together this simple guide to help you get the catering you want at a price that works for you. Read more to find out how to plan your office catering budget.

Step 1: Consider what you are looking to get out of catering

The first step to providing your team with delicious meals at a price you can afford, is figuring out exactly what you’re looking to get out of your catering experience. What are your goals?

Are you looking to spend more time connecting and enjoying a sit-down meal with your team? Do you need catering that is fast and convenient for busy schedules? Or are you more interested in finding ways to celebrate with your team, like weekly happy hours or occasional birthday treats? Think about your workplace culture and what makes sense for your team. 

Consider the following:

  • How hungry will people be? Are people going to go back for seconds? Thirds? Or do most people tend to eat smaller portions in the office?
  • What does a typical day look like? If your team is running to different sites or meetings throughout the day, you’ll want to consider how to cater to varying headcounts throughout the week. 
  • Are you ordering catering for a special event?  A casual birthday celebration will require a different budget than a fancier holiday party, and you’ll have to consider costs of things other than food, like equipment, decorations, and maybe even staffing.. 

Answering these questions is the first step in understanding how to budget for your team’s meals.

Step 2: Figure out how flexible you are.

Now that you know what you want out of your catering, think about what your absolutes are and what you might be flexible on. Ideally, you will get everything you want within your office catering budget, but often you will need to make changes to make it work. What are your absolute must-haves for a meal? Is your budget negotiable if those things end up being too pricey? Knowing the answer to these questions ahead of time will help your caterer give you the best meal possible. 

Step 3: Get your total, all-in office catering budget.

Now that you have an outline of what you’re looking at for a meal, it’s time to set your all-in office catering budget. This is the maximum amount you can spend. 

If you’re planning a company event or meeting, you might get this number from your boss, CEO, founder, or finance department. If you’re setting up a meal plan, this may be a set number coming out of a team-building budget or a per-meal cap. Whatever it is, get the number and stick to it. 

If you don’t have a specific budget to work with, it’s important to create one of your own, or you may overspend. 

  • Don’t have any frame of reference? Try doing some research on Google. Look up the average pricing for catering in your city. You can also search for the percent of an event budget that should be devoted to food, based on the event type. For example, an executive meeting at your office shouldn’t require decorations or entertainment, meaning you can spend a higher percentage on food.
  • Consider the source of the funds. If the money is coming from an office discretionary spending budget, you will want to account for future events you’re planning, before setting a budget for this one. 

Step 4: Communicate your needs.

Now, you’re ready to talk to a caterer about your event.

Make sure and let them know all of your parameters, even if they don’t ask. Here’s what you should include:

  • #1 and #3, above.
  • Where are you located – either the exact address, or the venues you’re considering for an event. Sometimes, there are surcharges for specific venues. For example, if a venue only allows the staff entry 20 minutes prior to a booking, and you’re holding a full service event, you may be required to rent the space for an extra half hour to allow for setup.
  • How many and what kind of people you’re feeding. Caterers know a platter that serves 20 people may not be portioned for 20 professional athletes during training. Similarly, feeding 20 vegetarians may be cheaper than feeding 20 carnivores. And finding dishes that are gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free may be more expensive.
  • What kind of cuisine and/or ambiance you want. If you’re working with a single caterer, the chef may not be able to produce the specific menu items you want. If you’re working with a multi-chef caterer, they can gauge the availability of chefs that specialize in your desired cuisines. Remember to mention whether or not you need beverages, including alcohol or coffee.
  • When you need catering. Are you looking to order food every day for lunch? Or if you are hosting an event, what day is it on? Certain holidays or  days of the week may be more expensive due to your provider’s capacity. If you have an event scheduled, it’s always worth planning ahead to get the most out of your budget.
  • How many options you want to see. You will find the right option faster if you clearly articulate your goals. If you want to see at least three different cuisine options, you can save revision rounds by specifying that. If you’d like to see menus at different price points, feel free to ask for that too. Variety is a very important part of a catering program, but remember that too many options can also create challenges. For example, you may end up running out of food if you request too many options for a given meal, as your team may like to sample a bit of everything on the buffet.

These steps should help guide you to get the right catering at the right price for your company this year. When you work with a seasoned catering partner, like, they can make all of this easier for you. Let us handle the details and negotiations, while you enjoy more time with your team around the table!

Originally “How to Plan Your Catering Budget, In 4 Easy Steps,” written by Ana Levin.




“ has been able to get our employees from all different departments together, to get away from our desks, recharge, and be able to return to our work, happy and full.”

—Ellen K., Employee Experience Specialist,