A catering proposal summarizes the menu and terms that you and your client have been discussing. It is a preliminary step to creating a catering contract, which solidifies and formalizes this information. While a catering contract is legally binding, a catering proposal is an exploratory document and can be modified through additional negotiation. Although a catering contract isn't a finalized version of a menu and terms, it is still a serious document that should have the most current and useful information possible.
Talk to the Client
Schedule a preliminary conversation with the client to gather necessary information to write a catering proposal. Ask about the menu, budget and other requirements such as whether the meal will be plated or served as a buffet. Make a checklist before having this conversation so you can be confident of covering your bases. The purpose of this discussion isn't to settle on a final menu or arrangement, but rather to learn as much as you can about the potential client's needs so you can address them in your proposal. You can have this conversation over email as well. This is also a good opportunity to clarify what you can't do, so if the customer wants something outside of the scope of your services such as a chocolate fountain or ice sculpture, you can save both of you the time and effort of spending time on a proposal that's clearly a non-starter.
Create a Menu Proposal
Based on your conversation, draft a menu proposal. If your client sounded harried and not particularly interested in the details, present only one or two options for possible menus. If the client is excited about the food and asked questions about seasonings and ingredients, include more options and information. If the client expressed concerns about the budget, include multiple pricing options showing what you can do for a bare minimum price and what you can do for a little extra money. You can present this information as possible menu packages, or as a no-frills meal with possible add-ons.
For example, if your client wants a taco bar, you could offer a basic option for $10 per head with rice, beans, shredded cabbage, salsa, cheese and one protein. The medium-level option could run $15 per head with an added protein and roasted vegetables. And the deluxe option could have a third protein, guacamole and multiple cheese and salsa options for $19 per head. Alternately, you could offer a vegan lasagna with a green salad for $15 per head or a lasagna with grass-fed beef and a salad for $20 per head.
Your labor costs should equal no more than 33 percent of the price you quote to the customer. Include production costs for preparing the food off-site. State explicitly in your proposal whether the price of the suggested menu also includes the cost of setup, breakdown and service. If these costs are not included, break them out separately by the hour or by the task, whichever method makes the most sense. If you're listing costs by the hour, provide an estimate of how long you expect them to take. Try to anticipate variables that may affect the overall time. For example, if you have to catch a ferry to get to the venue, the ferry times may not coincide with mealtimes so you'll spend extra time waiting.
Dishes and Tablecloths
Include dish rental costs if you'll need to rent dishes and tablecloths. You may choose to provide these at cost or you may add a markup. Either way, be transparent and make sure to include extra labor hours for handling the dishes, based on whether you have to scrape or wash them. If you provide paper plates, forks and napkins, specify whether they're included in the price or whether there's an extra cost for them. If you'll need to rent equipment such as chafers, coolers and coffee urns, include these prices in the proposal as well, along with whatever markup makes sense for your business.
Include information in your catering contract about how the customer will pay. You may ask for a deposit upon signing the contract, to lock down the date and help you pay for ingredients. This deposit may be a set amount or a percentage of an initial estimate. Also specify when you need final information about the headcount, and when you require final payment.
Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.