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How much to budget for office or conference catering (2023 edition)

It has been four years since I last wrote about how to budget for office and conference catering and I am back with a revised pricing guide. 

Why revised? 

The past three years have resulted in huge shifts in our economic conditions:

  • Supply changes have been impacted, particularly items that are shipped from overseas (think disposable packaging)
  • Our fresh fruit and vegetables is typically picked by backpackers (cheap labour) and they haven’t been allowed into Australia increasing the base cost of those supplies
  • Packaging requirements are now more restricted (the Queensland government has new bans on single use plastics)
  • Wages have increased.

This completely changes the landscape of catering prices and what you should budget for your events!

How much to budget for office or conference catering—revised!

If you are new to ordering catering for your office or taking on the responsibility of organising a conference for the first time, fear not! This article will arm you will the information that seasoned organisers already know. 

Step 1: Work out how many meals periods you must organise. 

Will you have morning tea? Or morning tea and lunch? Just lunch? Or all-day morning, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner?  

Step 2: Confirm if you need food individually packaged.

When in doubt people are ordering individually packaged food items as it is recommended as a COVID safety risk management. If you do not specify or have no preference, catering is typically served on platters that people then choose food from. Platters are cheaper as there is less packaging involved. 

Step 3: Work on a cost per person. 

Caterers work out the price of meals for each individual person. Why do we do this? Because you only want to pay for what people will reasonably eat, in the style that you want to eat.  

A great example of this is a $1,000 budget for lunch catering.  

  • If you have 10 people, $100 per person of food will get you something FANCY! Think smoked salmon, kale and imported fruits (maybe some gold leaf decoration too!)
  • If you have 100 people, $10 per person of food will get you something BASIC. Think sandwiches and seasonal fruit. 
  • Set a realistic budget. The only way you can keep within a $5 per person lunch is to get pizza or Subway. The following table will give you a rough idea of what you should be budgeting for office catering in Queensland, Australia for 2022. After that, you should expect the price to increase by about 5% per year. 

For different budgets you will be able to get different food options. For ease of understanding I have split catering budgets into three types: 

  • Basic catering = scones, fruit, sandwiches, wraps
  • Decent catering = two options for morning/afternoon tea, fruit and something other than sandwiches for lunch 
  • Premium catering = antipasto platters, artisan baked goodies, hot savoury snacks and hot lunch options.

NOTE: The more on-site service and staffing you require, the more it will cost you. These figures are based on minimal drop and go style catering with disposable plates where you self serve. 

Also, this does not include beverages! For drinks budget $5 per person, per drink. This can add up to $20 a day per person to your budget!

Morning tea (MT) Lunch (L) Afternoon tea (AT) All day (MT, L & AT) Dinner (main meal ONLY) 
Basic $5.00 $10.00 $5.00 $20.00$15.00 
Decent $10.00 $15.00 $10.00 $35.00 $25.00 
Premium $15.00$25.00 $15.00 $55.00 $35.00+ 
Add for drinks $5.00 $5.00 $5.00 $15.00 $15.00 

Things you should know about how much to budget for office or conference catering

  • Ask for quotes. It is absolutely acceptable to request a quote from caterers. Ask away! 
  • Hot food. Accept that hot food is going to cost you more! If you want it, increase your budget. 
  • Own your budget. Budgets are important! Any caterer who does not ask for your budget or isn’t able to respect a reasonable budget it isn’t someone you should be working with.  
  • Dietary meals. Any Coeliac/Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free, Vegan, Vegetarian, Fructose or Diabetic meal you order will have an additional cost to it. Keep in mind that these dietary meals will be between $3 and $5 extra per meal (if you are feeding your people morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea this can be an extra $15 per person per day) 
  • Location matters. The reality is, if you are after delivery and/or are not centrally located you will be charged for the service of getting your food to you. If you have ordered food for more than 15 people, it is usually worth the money to get it professionally delivered. Food always takes up more room than you think it will!

We have free delivery for orders in Toowoomba Central over $100, but for those in Highfields, Charlton, Wellcamp and even further out we have to charge $2.50 per kilometre to cover our costs. 

Check out our menu for inspiration.

Happy catering!
Amy (head Monkey)

Monkey Business Catering is a catering company headquartered in Toowoomba, Queensland.