Scheduling and Planning

How Much Does It Cost to Host a Dinner Party?

Hosting a dinner party can be a fun gesture to make to your friends and family, but many hosts often hesitate because they worry that it may be too costly.

So, how much does it cost to host a dinner party? The catering itself for most small- to medium-sized dinner parties will range from $500 to $2,000 total, depending on the number of guests and how formal the party is. Other costs like the venue and decorations can also be at least double or triple the catering cost, making the total dinner party cost somewhere between $1,000 to $6,000.

This is just an estimate, of course, but it should encompass the majority of dinner parties out there.

So let’s take a look at how this cost breaks down.


How Much Catering a Dinner Party Costs

The term “dinner party” has such a broad meaning, that it’s impossible to really pinpoint the exact price tag on catering.

A dinner party could be casual and simple, with only a few select guests on the guest list. It could also be a lavish, formal sit-down wedding reception dinner.

Meaning, a dinner party could cost just a few hundred dollars to cater, or it could well exceed tens of thousands of dollars.

Having said that, it’s probably best to break down the costs on a per person basis.

Catered dinner parties are considered a steal at just $25 per guest. Formal dinners will typically cost about $125 per person in the middle- to high-end side of the menu scale.

There are obviously more expensive options, but I won’t consider them here since they’re the exception rather than the norm for most average Americans.

For the purpose of simplifying, I will use the range between $25 to $125 per person. Most hosts will find themselves somewhere between that price range.

Here’s what the price of catering will look like depending on the number of guests:

# of Guests Total Cost at $25 per Person Total Cost at $125 per Person
15 $375 $1,875
25 $625 $3,125
50 $1,250 $6,250
75 $1,875 $9,375
100 $2,500 $12,500
125 $3,125 $15,625
150 $3,750 $18,750
200 $5,000 $25,000
250 $6,250 $31,250
300 $7,500 $37,500
350 $8,750 $43,750

This price tag is more likely to apply to a big life event like a wedding. But for less important dinner parties (like a birthday or anniversary party), you can expect to pay about a third or half of the pricing above.

Next, I’d like to mention a few ideas regarding catering.


Not All Catering Is Priced the Same

Focus on the value you’re getting, not necessarily the price. A $30 per person buffet may not give you as much value as a $45 per person formal sit-down dinner, even though on its surface it appears to be a better value because it’s cheaper.

So understand what kind of service you’re getting first. Are you pricing a buffet, family style dinner, or a formal, full service dinner?

Most people are aware of the buffet style dinner. While great on the budget, it’s not suitable for all types of parties since your guests will constantly have to get up to serve themselves.

Not all guests will be happy with the buffet option. In fact, many guests will inevitably think a buffet at important parties like weddings looks cheap or tacky.

Although they’re somewhat similar, buffets shouldn’t be confused with food stations, another budget-friendly option. A buffet will typically still have servers standing behind it to create the guests’ plated dinner.

A food station is a full self-service option without any servers whatsoever. Food stations are less ornate and don’t have the same white linens and centerpieces that a buffet would. A buffet usually is one large central table, while food stations may be scattered throughout the event space.

Food stations usually are all about a theme. Think carving station in one corner, a chocolate fondue bar in another, etc.

Depending on how casual the party is, a food station may be the only thing necessary (in which case all your food would be found there), or it could be combined alongside another type of dinner service.

Consider food stations as a way to decongest a crowded event space and allow for more flow among the guests.

Corporate events typically require their own kind of catering. It’s a little like a buffet set-up in that the caterer sets up the food and then leaves the attendees to enjoy their food without interrupting the actual event. Corporate events are usually catered as a buffet, box lunch, company picnic, or continental breakfast, for example.

I won’t talk about them in this post, but you should expect those to generally cost around $10 to $70 to cater per person.

Lastly, formal dinners are the least budget-friendly dinner service option, but they may still be a great value. Guests receive a plated dinner and are served just like they would be at a restaurant.

The costs of formal dinners can quickly add up since you’ll have a vast a la carte selection to choose from. Not only will you be selecting the menu dishes, but remember that the number of courses, the types of china, flatware and linen you end up selecting can significantly drive up the cost of catering.


What the Price of Catering Includes (And What It Doesn’t)

While it sounds great to be able to pull off catering for a dinner party for just $20 per each guest, you still have to consider a few things before you get started.

The good news is that a caterer will charge you a flat fee and won’t bother you with many of their business expenses like insurance, staffing, gas costs, and similar.

Caterers also include the cost of beverages in their final price, which usually includes alcohol as part of an open bar. The average cost should come out to somewhere between $3 to $8 per person. Remember, the more beverage options you have, the more expensive it will be.

The bad news is that there are a few costs that your caterer will charge extra for that you may or may not be aware of.

For example, you can expect to pay more during a busy season like New Year’s Eve.

Other things you’ll have to pay extra for are the table linens, table decorations, china, flatware, tables, chairs, and other things around the food.

The caterer typically includes those rentals as part of the price, although it’s perfectly acceptable to pay for your own party rentals, as long as there is an agreement between you and the catering company.

Don’t be surprised if your caterer assesses taxes, gratuities, a cake cutting fee or a corkage fee as well (a corkage fee is the charge you pay to have the server open and serve bottles of wine, champagne, or similar).


Other Costs You’ll Need to Plan For

There will inevitably be other things to pay for besides the catering.

Most people get stuck on the relatively high price tag of the catering, forgetting to take other things you’ll need to pay for into consideration until it’s too late.

Sure, you find that your 100-person dinner party will end up costing $3,000 to cater at $30 per person. Sounds like a great deal, except that the party will more than likely end up costing three times that or even exceeding $10,000 in total in many cases.

Party decorations cost a lot.

My father jokingly said to me a few years ago when I was starting¬† to plan a party for my niece, “How much do balloons cost anyway?”

Well, fast forward a few weeks later and he was surprised that those balloons ended up costing $300, which was quite a large portion of the overall budget.

So don’t forget about props, decorations, arches, backdrops, balloons, confetti, and all the other little things you’ll have to buy. They seem cheap at first, but the cost can easily exceed the cost of catering since you have to buy them in huge volumes.

Even though it’s a great idea to buy some decorations at the dollar store to save some money, I doubt you’ve ever walked out of a dollar store with a $1 receipt in hand. Little things can quickly add up and it’s easy to get carried away.

Another thing you’ll likely buy in bulk are invitations, and they too can eat away at your budget. It might be wise to just send en Evite if the party is casual enough.


Related Questions

How much does an average birthday party cost?

Depending on how much you’ll be doing yourself and how much you’ll leave up to a caterer or event planner, a birthday party will come out to about $15 to $30 per guest reasonably including food, drinks, the cake, and some light decorations. So, with 30 guests, that comes out to about $450 to $900. The cost of the venue you’ll have to add on top of that.

How much does it cost to hire a bartender for a party?

The average price nationally is roughly $300 to $400. The bartender may either charge a flat fee or an hourly rate.

Do catering companies provide dishes?

Yes, they usually do. Dishes are part of the rental fees you pay as part of the total catering cost.

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