I think this is the best post I have ever read about catering quantities and pricing. This was posted on The BBQ Forum by Elizabeth Lumpkin of the Boss Hog"s fame. I cook a little more and give the left over Q to my sponsors. Note the date of the post.
Re: Catering question (9/18/1997 4:48:55 PM by Elizabeth)
Hi Shake, I've fed groups of 100-300 for a couple of years. Been doing it for money for a year now. Figure on 1/2 cup of beans and 1/2 cup of your second side per person. If you're doing 3 sides, figure on 1/3 cup per person per side. In other words, a total of 1 cup per person of sides. Figure one gallon of bbq sauce per hundred people. On meat, figure 3 oz. and one bun per person for a light meal, 4 oz. and 1 1/2 buns per person for a regular meal, 5 oz. and 2 buns per person for a heavy meal. If you're feeding just ribs for the meat, figure 1/3 to 1/2 slab per person (that's for REALLY meaty ribs, like a top quality 1.75-2.0 lb. babyback, more if you're using a less meaty rib). If it's ribs in combo with other meats, figure 1/4 slab per person and 3 oz. sliced meats and one bun per person. The size of the plates you use will definitely affect how much people will eat. We use a 7 1/2 inch plate for light meals, a 9 inch plate for medium meals, and a 10 1/4 inch plate for heavy meals. Put your side dishes at the beginning of the buffet line, your buns and sliced meats in the middle. Put your ribs at the end of the buffet line. This keeps those retired football player types from coming through the line and taking a whole slab of ribs which would cause you to run out before everyone gets a chance to eat. We have our servers say "Brisket ma'am?" and "Baked Beans sir?" to make sure we don't load up someone with something they don't like. With ribs we say "Do you care for ribs?" Depending on the enthusiasm expressed for ribs, we will put 1 or 2 on the plate. If they are wildly enthusiastic about ribs, we put 3 on their plate. We always say "come back for more, there's plenty!" To figure out how much to charge, take your raw food costs and multiply by 4. That will cover your labor, your overhead, your utilities, your wood, your charcoal, your insurance, soap for the dishes, etc., and leave you with a 10-18% profit margin, depending on how carefully you manage your labor force and your other resources. Best advice for feeding the public is to never ever reduce the quality of your product. Let some other guy try to be the cheapest caterer in town: your reputation should be for the best food. I believe all of us who make honest traditional REAL barbeque cooked over wood/charcoal have a duty to be barbeque evangelists and spread the word about what barbeque SHOULD taste like. I hope it changes consumer expectations so that fake barbeque goes the way of the Edsel. But don't kill yourself trying to do competition level barbeque in volume either...it isn't possible. Just make it delicious and wonderful and know the limitations of volume Q. And have fun with it...if you're not enjoying yourself it's not worth doing.